Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Street Sermons

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Today's emcee's (rappers) are our nouveau streetcorner seers. Modern day griots who have mastered the art of storytelling, with much greater effect than your average everyday English Literature instructor (I had some lousy ones who produced weekly snoozefests on the TDSB's dime). Tonight its all about Mos Def, a rapper who Christian Lander, author of Stuff White People Like writes is "everything white people dream about: authentic ("He's from Brooklyn!"), funny ("He was on Chappelle's Show!", and not white ("I don't see race"). While he's arguably loved by the black community for altogether different reasons, still not enough people understand the man's essence, his breadth of lyric slinging. Having spent much much time in New York (En Why) over the last decade, pushing dot coms, interviewing every rapper imaginable, among other things, this track "Respiration" (I've included his verse below, and the youtube link so you can karaoke this mofo) truly captures the essence of what your average hip hop generationer slash Noo Yawker might be thinking about navigating life in the city. Peep the references to oncoming and inevitable gentrification. White and blue collar crime. Crooked cops. Fight or flight survivalist mechanisms. Open Book Toronto-ites, meet The Mighty Mos Def, courtesy of Usain Dalt aka Dalton 5000 aka Daltpak Chopra aka Dalton Digital (a few of my varied nom de plumes). This is the first verse in the song, and the chorus (the rest of the song features the contributions of two other brilliant wordsmiths, Common and Talib Kweli, who I'll reserve for future blog activity).

"The new moon rode high in the crown of the metropolis
Shinin, like who on top of this?
People was hustlin, arguin and bustlin
Gangstas of Gotham hardcore hustlin
I'm wrestlin with words and ideas
My ears is picky, seekin what will transmit
the scribes can apply to transcript, yo
This ain't no time where the usual is suitable
Tonight alive, let's describe the inscrutable
The indisputable, we New York the narcotic
Strength in metal and fiber optics
where mercenaries is paid to trade hot stock tips
for profits, thirsty criminals take pockets
Hard knuckles on the second hands of workin class watches
Skyscrapers is collosus,
the cost of living is preposterous,
stay alive, you play or die, no options
No Batman and Robin,
can't tell between the cops and the robbers,
they both partners, they all heartless
With no conscience, back streets stay darkened
Where unbeliever hearts stay hardened
My eagle talons STAY sharpened, like city lights stay throbbin
You either make a way or stay sobbin,
the Shiny Apple is bruised but sweet and if you choose to eat
You could lose your teeth, many crews retreat
Nightly news repeat, who got shot down and locked down
Spotlight to savages, NASDAQ averages
My narrative, rose to explain this existance
Amidst the harbor lights which remain in the distance

So much on my mind that it can't recline
Blastin holes in the night til she bled sunshine
Breathe in, inhale vapors from bright stars that shine
Breathe out, weed smoke retrace the skyline
Heard the bass ride out like an ancient mating call
I can't take it y'all, I can feel the city breathin
Chest heavin, against the flesh of the evening
Sigh before we die like the last train leaving"