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The Immersion: Living By the Code Jay-Z Laid Down in “No Hook”

Posted by Dharmic X on 07/12/12 | Filed under Features, Opinion, The Immersion
Despite being currently defined by stubborn individualism and a unique identity in every context of the word, my love for hip-hop sprung from a desire to conform, from a need to appear “normal”--even though being “normal” was a different thing to each demographic within my high school. That said, each year felt like a transition for me, especially in 9th and 10th grade.

Right before I entered my freshman year, my family moved from our two-bedroom apartment off of Commonwealth Avenue in the Allston-Brighton area into a house in West Roxbury, well-known for being a more affluent--and simultaneously, more Caucasian--part of the city. I wasn’t comfortable in this new suburban neighborhood we had settled into. Instead, I was jarred by the abundance of greenery, the barking of dogs as I walked passed houses, and the eerie silence of a night devoid of the clanking and whistles of moving trains and the yelling of boisterous bar patrons.

Besides, I wasn’t friends with the kids of West Roxbury at school. My friends were from the Hyde Park, Roxbury, and Dorchester neighborhoods.

By tenth grade, I was entrenched amongst this circle of people, changing my attire and appearance and intently listening to more and more hip-hop. This was the year Jay-Z dropped arguably his most underrated album in his catalogue, "American Gangster". Before listening to the album, I watched the movie it was inspired by, blown away by its depiction of the intersection between ambition and a code of ethics. In his album, Jay was able to use the stories of his past to match the theme of the movie flawlessly.

The most ideal example of this also doubles as my favorite Jay-Z song:



The Sean C & LV-produced beat, minimalistic in its style, serves as the blank canvas that Hov uses to craft an autobiographical masterpiece dropping lines like “Guidance I never had that, streets was my second home, welcomed me with open arms: the place I studied math at.” It’s a street tale laced with perspective that can only come from experience, and coupled with the masterful use of internal rhyme (“But I do lift weights like I’m using ‘roids, Rolls Royce keep my movements smooth while maneuvering through all the manure in the sewer that I grew up in,”) makes this a powerful song indeed.

But the line that captivated me most was a pearl of wisdom I still hold onto. In the midst of comparing and contrasting himself to Frank Lucas and Ludacris, Jay says, “Frank Lucas is cool but I ain’t tryna snitch; I’mma follow the rules no matter how much time I’mma get, I’mma live and die by the decisions that I’mma make.” As a tenth grader who was starting to turn down a dangerous path of recklessness, the line was a simple reminder of the universal street code: snitches get stitches.

But over time, I’ve still retained this quote and remember it always for a much broader reason. The line speaks about accountability, something inherently lacking in a society where everyone can find fault in others and yet they refuse to look internally to identify the sources of life’s mishaps. The line reminds me that nobody is perfect, but we can all learn from our mistakes by first acknowledging that we’ve made them. More importantly, I can look back at the mistakes I made back then, around the time I first listened to this song, and recognize that even though I find myself regretting these vices, the decisions were all my own and mine to accept.

But by this time I had been introduced to “No Hook,” I was beginning to get hooked onto a life defined by greed and marred by deception. The year was very tumultuous, and it seemed to be guided by the example set by Hov and the character of Frank Lucas. In my rush to assimilate, I was no longer simply trying to find common ground on ethnic lines--I was trying to become a hustler.

@DharmicX

(DJ Dharmic X is the host of This Culture Never Dies, 11PM-1AM Saturday on wnyu.org. Fans and haters, can follow him on Twitter and check him out on Facebook.)

See Also: The Immersion: Papoose & Learning to Love the Underdog

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