“And they say 21, I was suppose to die, So I’m out here celebrating my post demise.” Jay-Z & Kanye West, “Murder to Exellence,” Watch the Throne, 2011

BALANCE. HARMONY. RECIPROCITY. My professor had a picnic at his home, and he told each of us to pick a lyric that was meaningful to us. The lyric that I chose was one of Jay’s verses on “Murder to Excellence”. This song is by far the most captivating on Watch The Throne. The music is phenomenol. The chanting is tribal. And the story that both Hova and Ye tell about stopping black-on-black violence as a start to redefining Black Power and celebrating Black Excellence reminds me of KRS-One and Kool Moe Dee’s verses on “Self Destruction.” The verse also embodies me: a recently-turned 22-year-old out here in Southern California doing the law school thing. I guess it’s like I’m celebrating my post demise too. In his book Decoded, Jay-Z talks about being inspired by Basquiat’s “Charlie Parker I.” In his signature scribble, Basquiat scrolls the words “Most Young Kings Get Their Heads Cut Off.” The “Young” is crossed out. Dr. Joyce wrote a two part DDR during April’s 30 Days of Jay-Z under the same title. She explored this Basquatian thought through the reality that Basquiat died at 27. Tupac would be dead at 25. Biggie would be dead at 24. Eazy-E would be dead at 31. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X would both be dead at 39. Jesus would be crucified at 33. Most young kings get their heads cut off.

There’s always been this obsession in hip-hop culture about dying young. See Rick Ross’s “Live Fast, Die Young” ft. Kanye West or Jay-Z’s “Forever Young” ft. Mr. Hudson. It’s a consequence that some rappers attribute to success. See Jay-Z’s “Allure.” Death in this sense can be literal or figurative. This is such a recurring theme in hip-hop that it causes many of our young hip hop artists to re-examine their life and their success. We’ve seen this in artists such as Kid Cudi, TI, Eminem, and even Kanye West, who went as far as to include the Sword of Damocles on his “Power” artwork. It‘s a fitting image to have someone with power and success with a sword constantly swinging above his or her head. It questions the listener to think how they would act when they have the power.

The DDR: What’s the point of it all? How will you act when you have the power? There will be people in your life whose only purpose is to plot your demise. There will be times when they get the best of you, and maybe you’ll stumble and have to re-examine your life’s successes and re-focus. But you can’t let that keep you down. Some people aren’t able to master the trick of falling before they fall for good. The trick to falling is to dust yourself off and try again. (Word to Aaliyah). In life you got to go through pain to become YOU. (Word to Jay-Z).

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