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The Immersion: Lupe Fiasco’s “Gotta Eat”, & So Do IPosted by Dharmic X on 08/02/12 | Filed under Opinion, The Immersion
Nowhere is the intersection of the hip-hop and hustler lifestyles more self-evident than in the recent video from Torae for “That Raw,” a Pete Rock-produced single off his album, "For the Record". The video features Tor as a dealer of words, and follows him from the streets back to the connect who supplies him with a typewriter. The video thus serves as a visual representation of an oft-repeated phrase “Rap is like a hustle.”
It was another Brooklyn MC who advised me to “hustle hard in any hustle that you pick,” and I followed that mantra to the brink, stealing out of people’s bags, betting on sports and video games, even writing researching papers for other people. I even started hustling music in my own unique way: downloading a list of tracks and sending them over AIM to others. The return was minimal but in my mind, at least there was some return. I hadn’t yet grasped the concept of long-term investments, the type that can only spring from a solid education.
It was through “cyber-bootlegging” that I discovered Chicago’s Lupe Fiasco. His song “Superstar” was a major hit throughout the country, attracting the attention of teenage white girls, who would ask me to provide them with that song and others off of his second album, "The Cool". I became a fan of his music, not because it was catchy or popular, but rather because of the lyrical complexity in the material, something I was beginning to pick up on the more I listened to hip-hop. While mainstream America was appreciating the catchiness, I found Lupe’s catalogue in general--and "The Cool" specifically--to be a whirlwind of quirky references, extended metaphors, and triple entendres.
On one hand, “Gotta Eat” is a well-constructed, simple story of a man living a life of crime and eventually developing a guilty conscience for it. The first verse sets the scene and an environment that allows the individual to set down the path he chooses, the second verse details the actions he undertakes, and the last verse is an account of a conversation he has with a friar expressing remorse for his actions. Lupe’s flow and delivery is engaging and draws you in, as does the Soundtrakk-produced beat.
However, the story itself is just one layer to the song. Lupe laces the song with a plethora of food references (“Turn yourself into the paddy wagon, said no: bacon wouldn’t take him, half the pigs are on the payroll.”) There is a youtube video that analyzes a hidden message within the song, one that illustrates Lupe’s concern about the pervasive and noxious nature of large fast-food corporations in creating obesity through their greed.
The song’s message of indecision and confronting reality cut deep. My life of crime was beginning to get way over my head.
One day my gang and I hit up the library after school. The mission was a simple ransacking of the backpacks lying isolated on the floor of the room, and we all went wild. One bag in particular netted me a Burberry Wallet (money and bus pass included), an iPhone Classic, and a graphing calculator. I made sure to throw out the student identification card into a trash barrel one floor above the library, and I left the building that day confident that I had gotten away with yet another crime unchecked.
Towards the end of my first period class, however, I was in for a rude shock: our Assistant Principal called me into his office. I had never been in that kind of trouble before, and I was nervous beyond belief. I entered the room and sat down in the chair across from him, looking at the notepad on the desk in front of him in alarm. He noted down every detail of what I said happened the previous afternoon in the library. I told him that I had seen a wallet lying near a chair but didn’t pick it up, lying through my teeth. After finishing his questions, the Assistant Principal informed me that the brother of one of my friends (one of the kids involved in our spree) had let him know that he thought I was the culprit in this incident, and that a police report had been filed. That said however, I was not prime suspect in the investigation, simply because I had no prior record: for some reason or another, I didn’t look like a thief to him.
I walked out of that office relieved and at the same time still nervous. I remained apprehensive for the next couple of weeks, but eventually the case died down. I don’t believe it was ever solved.
“Will he give up his life of crime? Or will he stay?”
The outro of “Gotta Eat” tormented me at night. As much as I had been acting out in class and giving off an attitude of recklessness, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go down a road that could bring about this type of trouble for me. I knew that getting arrested or getting suspended would lead to nothing but trouble. But still, there was money to be made, and there seemed to be no other easy way to make it. I was reaching a pivotal turning point in life. The moment came on yet another morning.
This time it was gym class. A couple of members of my crew shared the class with me, and we all put our clothes and bags in the same locker. I was the one with the lock, but I let my homies lock up the locker as I went up to the gym and the bleachers. That said, I usually was very paranoid... Leaving stuff in the grasp of known thieves is never a good option. Unfortunately on that day, I made a careless mistake: I left my PSP in the pocket of my hoodie.
I assumed that the PSP was inconspicuous enough, that nobody would bother to rummage through the hoodie and take it. Sadly, I was grievously mistaken: after gym I came back to find my PSP gone. I was fairly certain of who the culprit was, but the kid vehemently denied it (he was the type of kid who would probably deny it to this date if asked about it). I was frustrated and pissed about the entire situation. And then it got even more complicated.
One of my homies came up to me during the class we had together. He gave me an iPod Nano. “This is that kid’s iPod. Hold onto that, and make him give your PSP back. And if he doesn’t, you at least have the iPod.”
I had no plans of initiating a confrontation of that nature. It wasn’t my style. But the ball wasn’t really in my court.
Walking into my English class later that afternoon, I find the kid that stolen my PSP standing at the front. He wasn’t in my class though. “I know you have my iPod,” he says, ending all pretense of avoiding a confrontation.
“Okay... well, if I did, you have my PSP.”
The kid denies it, but then he decides to rummage through his pocket. “If I don’t get my iPod back at the end of the day...” In his pocket, as I was well-aware, was a switchblade knife. The threat was clear enough.
This wasn’t what I had in mind when I decided that I needed money.
(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: Chamillionaire Rides & a Hustler is Born