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More vice and gambling than Las Vegas, Nevada

A row of one armed bandits in a casino

Image: Benoit Dare via Unsplash

  • Track: Once Again (Here To Kick For You)
  • Artist: Handsome Boy Modeling School feat. Grand Puba and Sadat X
  • Album: So…How’s Your Girl?
  • Year: 1999

You get three types of good hip-hop tracks in my book: those carried by a great beat, those carried by great rapping and those delectable rarities that manage both. This is one of those rarities.

The beat is beautiful. It swaggers lazily along, supported by that irresistible organ sample. It’s like two old friends leaving the pub after one too many ales, stumbling into the early Sunday evening sunshine. That quality of the beat is little surprise: Handsome Boy Modeling School comprises two of hip-hop’s all-time greatest producers, Dan the Automator and Prince Paul.

On vocal duty are two thirds of Brand Nubian, Grand Puba and Sadat X. Lord Jamar was presumably on his holidays or something. They rise to meet the challenge admirably, particularly Puba. His verses dominate this track (and indeed the simile count). Puba’s lines are also easier to follow, Sadat X’s being a touch more raw and obscure.

1999’s So…How’s Your Girl? is an album chock full of similarly excellent tunes, and myriad similes. We’ll probably come back to it at some point. To understand the album entirely, you’d need to be an expert in surreal US sitcoms. I’ve never heard of Get a Life but it sounds great. This is probably the only album based on a single episode of an obscure 90s sitcom. The whole thing is readily available on YouTube.

If the album’s stand out track (The Truth) had a glut of similes, it’d be here instead. But sadly, in terms of similes that tune is as dry as an empty glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

To understand Handsome Boy Modeling School entirely, you’d need to be American or a professor of obscure American pop culture. That’s partly what I like about them, and some of Dan the Automator’s other work. Obscure references abound, and to the UK-based listener, open a door to a strange, unfamiliar, but enticing subculture.

Apologies in advance, as things get quite complicated early on. You’re best off sitting down. I’ll be defining a new tool to my simile-scrutinising arsenal, ‘the law of the one-sided simile’. As the planet’s (only) leading hip-hop simile researcher, I’m well placed to do this. When people in universities worldwide study this stuff they’ll probably invite me to give seminars about it. I’ve already sketched out my TED talk.

This track is front-loaded with similes. After the half-way point, they tail off a bit. I’d invent a stupid term for this phenomenon, but one per post is enough. Maybe next time.

The lyrics

View full annotated lyrics on Genius.com.

[Intro]

Yeah
Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh, uh huh
Grand Puba, Dattie X…dig it

[Grand Puba]

Get up out my way, it’s Grand Pub’s turn to shine
Hood MCs ride the pine and get paid no never-mind
One time as I sew it up like Dr. Frankenstein
Chickens ride the pony cause the rhyme flow genuine
As I do it like that, do it like this 
Shorty watch your step or you might get Rocked like Chris

Right. Dust off those thinking caps, because we’ve got some proper taxonomising to do.

Ignoring the two legitimate similes for a second, let’s consider the phrase ‘I do it like that/this’. This is a pretty common declaration in hip-hop. But is it a simile? This question will no doubt go down in the annals of rap simile research as being of utmost importance.

But hang on. There is precedent here. I once refused to let Young MC get away with ‘I kick it just like this’. This was on the grounds that Young MC wasn’t making a direct comparison between two things. The two sides of the simile coin are:

  • the manner in which Young MC is kicking whatever ‘it’ is
  • what that is like (i.e. whatever ‘this’ is)

That’s two unspecified things that Young MC is inviting us to compare. With nothing to actually compare, there’s no imagery. The listener is left clueless.

In Grand Puba’s verse here we’ve got the same problem. When he says ‘as I do it like that’ we could infer he’s referencing his rhyme flow from the previous line. But it’s not explicit enough for me.

Why, then, did I allow an entire song’s worth of unspecific similes in when the Beastie Boys rolled into simile town? Partly because I felt like it, but also because in each of those similes at least one thing is being explicitly referenced.

The law of the one-sided simile

This bit has gone on so long it needs a sub-heading. To formalise a new ihhsdb.com rule, then, from here on in I will only admit similes in which at least one side of the simile is explicitly referenced. Folks, this is the law of the one-sided simile. And I’m very proud of it.

So according to the law:

  • ‘I kick it like that’ is not a valid simile
  • ‘I kick it like an annoying pigeon’ is a permitted simile
  • ‘I kick this nerd’s sandcastle like an annoying pigeon’ is definitely permitted

Apologies for that lengthy diversion, but I’m sure you’ll agree that the world is a far better place for the law of the one-sided simile. Give time for the academic community to catch up with my underappreciated genius, please. I’m sure it’ll rank alongside the theory of special relativity for generations to come.

I suppose I should say something about the more straightforward similes here. The Dr Frankenstein one is nice, isn’t it? I tried to find a good image of Dr Frankenstein (not his monster) for the image but it’s surprisingly hard.

The second Chris Rock one is a classic switcheroo (I’m thinking of creating a glossary of my stupid simile-related terms, watch this space). More on this shortly, as I’ve rambled too long here.

Are you feelin’ this? You dig the way it’s going down?
Now we back in town watch all the chickens crowd around
Niggas try to duplicate my flow but it’s difficult
Like a game of Yahtzee

Chickens stress me out like paparazzi

It’s been a while since I played Yahtzee but I don’t remember it being that difficult. Still, it’s a cool rhyme. ‘Chickens’ is a rather strange euphemism for ladies, and not an entirely affectionate one I’d guess.

As I flip a flow you desire
Dattie blaze those trees and let’s start this forest fire
My rhymes carry like the weight on Barry
Stack cheddar like Combs and buy homes like Larry
I be smoother than Tal, Sharp-ton like Al
When you ballin’ everybody want to be your pal

Well you could blow me down with a feather! It’s switcheroo heaven over here. If you’d just calm down a bit, we’ll get to that in a second.

There are five – five! – similes in this six-line section, 41.67% of the song’s worth. That is a seriously impressive simile density. This has just given me another idea for a stupid hip-hop simile-measuring metric.

Because I like it when themes start to emerge, I should point out this is the second reference to Barry White to go into the database.

The cheddar (i.e. money) line is obviously a reference to megabucks hip-hop guru Sean ‘Puff Daddy’ Combs. He is seriously rich. So we can let him off choosing ‘Puffy’ as a stage-name. Maybe he has allergies.

Smoother than Tal is less than obvious. In fact, it’s a complete mystery. It’d be a switcheroo if there was someone called Tal Smooth, but that seems unlikely. No clue from Genius either, so it’s going in as uncategorised. But squeezed among them are two classic switcheroo similes:

So that makes nine switcheroo similes out of 143 logged so far (Christ, it already feels like I’ve been doing this forever). This suggests that about 6% of hip-hop similes take this form. Most of them (so far) riff on a celebrity’s name.

It’s pretty easy to create your own switcheroo simile, which might explain their popularity. Just think of a celebrity with an adjective, verb or noun as a name and off you go. Why not have a go at home? Here are a few hip-hop switcheroos I prepared earlier:

  • I’ve got balls like Ed
  • Your crew withers like Bill
  • I’ll boycott your shows like Geoff
  • Grab your cash like Pat
  • Rob banks like Gordon
  • Weigh it out on the scales like Prunella
  • Leave your trousers brown like Charlie

You get the picture. There’s a reason I write about hip-hop and don’t perform it.

No dilly-dally, baggin’ up the shorter alley
Bouncin’ in German cars, still playin’ shot-ball
Brand Nubian cats, here to flip one for you
For sure dog ‘cause this is how we do

I’ve already dilly-dallied quite enough for one post, so let’s move on.

[Chorus]

Just an old fashioned love song, playing on the radio
Brand Nubian cats, here to flip one for you
Just an old fashioned love song, playing on the radio
Brand Nubian cats, here to flip one for you

It’s a nice little hook. That killer organ part combines with a sample from the same song, 1971’s An Old Fashioned Love Song by Three Dog Night.

Next up it’s Sadat X. Like I said before, his lyrics aren’t quite as lucid as Grand Puma’s. But let’s have a go. We’ve come this far.

[Sadat X]

Ah shit, I see I’m in the mix
Watch the green van ‘cause inside’s the dicks
The prayer beads bleeds from the crucifix
Went tight comin’ out boy I be down in six
Or when the sun go down, or when it’s round in the BX
Cats on the concourse, still call me DX
Bums on the street often ask me for change
What’s change when I’m tryin’ to save up for the Range?
I want the whole world and my old girl back
Change that, I want half the world, and fuck my old girl
You can play the hell out, like those that came before ya
Your style is butt, similar to a coconut

Interesting. The first one here is a bit dodgy, but still fits into the definition of a simile, and passes thanks to the law of the one-sided simile™.

The second simile is only the third to date to use ‘similar to’. As the purest form of the simile, I’m surprised we don’t see it as often.

And you might not think that coconuts look much like arses, but you’ve probably never heard of the big bum coconut. Peachy.

That’s your pimp strut
But what you foes is really doin’
Is leaving your empire in ruins
I’m the problem solver
I got the brand new revolver
But I got a new album too
I want to be here for that money and the rest of my crew
Y’all know it too, a nigga like me is due

And that’s that for the second verse. I’ll tell you what else is due: the chorus.

[Chorus]

Just an old fashioned love song, playing on the radio
Brand Nubian cats, here to flip one for you
Just an old fashioned love song, playing on the radio
Brand Nubian cats, here to flip one for you

There are only two short rhymes left, one from each MC, and just the one simile. So we’ll rip through them.

[Grand Puba]

Now you know I gots to come back strong
See I been doing this too goddamned long
For me to ever try to come back wrong
Check my pockets and my empty light just came on
Don’t wanna do wrong so I think I’m best to make this song
Undeniably satisfiably master microphone mutilator
None greater, ain’t no Automator
Grand Puba and Dattie, riding shotty in the Maserati
As we come and blaze you niggas body

Pity poor Sadat X, having to follow on from Grand Puba claiming to be the most appropriate artist on this song. I think it might explain why he’s so chomping at the bit to tell everyone how awesome he is.

[Sadat X]

Corner poets get smacked and hit, savagely bit
I go git and then you out of it, permission to quit
I mean right, I keep the green light specials
Half price a slice, you blink twice
I done picked up the dice
I’m that nice, Dattie X the party-starter
Number one heart-ripper-aparter
More vice and gambling than Las Vegas, Nevada

This is the track’s final simile. Quite the boast, but I’m going to have to side with Grand Puba on this one.

I try harder every day
It’s all work and no play

[Chorus]

Just an old fashioned love song, playing on the radio
Brand Nubian cats, here to flip one for you
Just an old fashioned love song, playing on the radio
Brand Nubian cats, here to flip one for you

And there it is. We’ve reached double figures for tracks, remarkably. A reasonable simile performance for this nice, dreamlike tune.

More importantly, I’m glad to have finally formulated the law of the one-sided simile. I’ve needed it for some time. Like an overly tight bra, it feels good to have gotten that off my chest.

The stats

Similes:12
Words:561
Words per simile:46.75
Length:3m 56s
Similes per minute:3.05
Unspecified things kicked:2

1 Comment

  1. Pingback:She talk so big like she could fit Godzilla in her mouth - Internet Hip-hop Simile Database

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