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Pullin’ out rhymes like books off the shelf

A woman with books flying around her head

Image: Lacie Slezak via Unsplash

  • Track: Know How
  • Artist: MC Young
  • Album: Stone Cold Rhymin’
  • Year: 1989

Today’s voyage into hip-hop simile sees us take our first trip to the 1980s. This was an important decade in hip-hop history (hipstory, if you will). The twilight years of the 80s ushered in hip-hop’s ‘Golden Age’. Artists began to innovate more, and many acts found mainstream success.

This track, from Young MC’s 1989 debut album, has that inherent funkiness that’s the hallmark of hip-hop from this era. It’s helped along by two pretty familiar samples: Isaac Hayes’s Theme from Shaft and The Incredible Bongo Band’s Apache.

Apache is a hip-hop staple. whosampled.com lists no fewer than 557 (!) tracks that sample from it, most notably MC Hammer’s magnum opus Turn This Mutha Out. There’s even a documentary about it.

Young’s lyrics come at you fast in this one, rarely giving you a chance to take it all in. Which is good, because lyrics are what we’re here for. Rap without lyrics would be like houmous without the garlic. (As you can see, I’m still working on my similes.)

Young MC was never interested in flexing his gangster credentials. Instead, he’d use his intelligent and often funny lines to boast about his rapping chops or his popularity with the ladies. His work sometimes gets labelled as ‘pop-rap’: it’s wholesome stuff that the entire family can enjoy. That’s not a criticism. The production is tight and his delivery slick.

I always thought Young MC was an odd choice of stage name. He is now 52 and is yet to reinvent himself as Middle-Aged MC.

The lyrics

View full annotated lyrics on genius.com

[Verse 1]

Some of the busiest rhymes ever made by man
Are goin’ into this mic, written by this hand
Are comin’ out of this mouth, made by this tongue
I’ll tell you now my name, my name is Young
But do you think that it’s your destiny
To get the best of me? But I suggest to be
Quiet, bro’, don’t even try it from the East and West of me
Takin’ it and never breakin’ it or even shakin’ it
Groovin’ it and always movin’ it, ‘cause I’m not fakin’ it
Pullin’ out rhymes like books off the shelf
Born in England, raised in Hollis, taught to go for myself

Interesting choice of imagery in our first simile. Pulling books off the shelf quickly doesn’t strike me as particularly difficult. I suppose ‘Pullin’ out rhymes like tipping a bookshelf over’ doesn’t have the same effect.

I’m being facetious. Young’s referring to his literacy. It’s no empty boast: he was discovered while studying economics at USC.

Like DOOM, Young MC was born in London (as Marvin Young, so his pseudonym might not be that daft after all), not far from my old stomping ground. Wimbledon Common crew represent! He moved to New York at a young age (as did DOOM) and the rest is history.

Allow me a moment to talk about something that’s been on my mind of late: how to spell the contraction of ‘because’. Genius’s transcribers are shockingly inconsistent with this. The Genius lyrics for this track use ‘cuz’, which is ridiculous. My preferred spelling is ’cause’, which I’ll use from now on. I’m going to need an ihhdb.com style guide at this rate.

This is stone cold rhymin’, no frills, no fluffs
And it’s no accident that these rhymes sound tough
I’m goin’ off, baby, there’s no turnin’ back
I’m on your TV, on your album, cassette, and 8-track
And when the show is finally finished I’ll be takin’ my bow
My name is Young, and yo I got know-how, you know what I’m sayin’?

Always nice to see 8-tracks referenced. If you’re wondering where the similes are, hang in there. They’ll get here eventually, like a stoned bus driver. Amuse yourself in the meantime by trying to spot the album title drop in this bit (clue: it’s not no fluffs, I think TLC took that one).

I’m not sure this really qualifies as a chorus, but it’ll have to do.

[Chorus (of sorts)]

I got know-how
Party people
I got know…how
I kick it just like this…

Eagle-eyed similespotters might wonder if ‘I kick it just like this…’ is worthy for inclusion into the database. I’m going to say no. Young doesn’t specify what ‘this’ is, so we can’t say he’s making a direct comparison with how he kicks things to whatever ‘this’ is. If you see what I mean (just pretend you do).

[Verse 2]

I got juice like the President, I’m makin’ rappers hesitant
Invite me to your house and I’ll be chillin’ like a resident
Yes, ‘cause I’m that type of man
‘Cause I make myself at home no matter where I am

That juice is definitely not Ribena. According to dictionary.com: ‘one has juice if one has respect, influence, power, authority, or sexual desirability’.

Young MC would be thinking of Ronald Reagan, who was in office when this was written (although George Bush came to power before he released the track). In terms of the incumbent President, I suppose one out of five isn’t bad (and I’m not talking about sexual desirability).

The second simile here is a little odd if you think about it. He’s basically saying ‘invite me over and I’ll make myself at home, insist we watch Coronation Street, complain about your snack selection and put my feet on your table’. I don’t get why this is a good thing to boast about. If you’re that type of house guest, Young MC, you can watch Corrie on your own, mate.

I got it rollin’ like thunder, makin’ y’all wonder
Why I’m on top with all the other rappers under
I make no errors, mistakes or blunders
It’s like a wedding, let no man put asunder

The first simile in this bit is perfectly nice, and one could say it even deserves a clap. (Thunderclap. No? Sorry, I won’t do that ever again.)

The second references a bit of the Christian wedding ceremony (from Matthew 19:6). Young is saying that his God-given rap infallibility can’t be pulled apart by man. I like that. That website notes that ‘asunder’ was originally two words (‘a sunder’). This would have raised the words per simile score of this track by 0.06. So it’s lucky for Young MC he wasn’t writing this track in the 16th century.

My name is Young MC, I like to rock mic well
‘Cause when I get up on the mic I just release my spell
It’s no hocus-pocus, I’ll just get you into focus
And swarm all over you just like a horde of locusts

I’m not sure if Young MC is deliberately invoking the Bible with this simile. It would be a nice follow up to the wedding one, but you’d think he’d say ‘plague’ instead of ‘horde’.

Smooth operator, female persuader
Spot a fly girl and in a week I’m gonna date her
I got the kind of style for the here and the now
And I can do it ‘cause I got know-how, you know what I’m sayin’?

Oh, we know what you’re sayin’ Young MC. Now it’s time for the chorus-type bit.

[Chorus (if you can call it that)]

I got know-how
Party people
I got know…how
Bust it!

[Verse 3]

MCs I’ll ruin, ‘cause I know what I’m doin’
I’ll treat ’em like Doublemint gum and start chewin
I spit ’em out when the flavour’s gone
And I repeat the chewin’ practice ’til the break of dawn ‘Cause I’m tough like a bone, sly like Stallone
Rockin’ and clockin’ on the microphone

If you’re wondering how tough bone is, you should watch this discussion of how much force it takes to break bones, delivered with all the chirpiness of a morning TV weather presenter. I think if I ever got diagnosed with a terminal illness, I’d want the presenter of that video to deliver the news. Anyway, it turns out that bone is very tough indeed.

The Stallone reference is another of those types of half-similes, that in a previous post I decided to call switcheroos. I regret that, but still haven’t thought of a better name.

Smooth like a mirror, in hearts I strike terror
Rhymes like runs and hits with no errors
Cold like a blizzard, on the mic I am the wizard
With the funky fresh rhymes comin’ out of my gizzard

After the bone thing, I genuinely Googled ‘how smooth are mirrors?’. I think this is a bad sign that I’m taking things a little too seriously. Mirrors are obviously smooth.

This runs and hits simile is a bit of a mystery, but I think it’s something to do with baseball. I know nothing about baseball, but I’m guessing ‘errors’ are bad, and ‘runs’ and ‘hits’ are good. At least with rounders, you know where you stand (unless you’re fielding, when it becomes guesswork).

I need a breather after that blizzard of similes (along with thunder that’s Young’s second meteorologically-themed simile in this track). That’s six in just ten lines. Spectacular.

Never sneezin’, never coughin’, I rock the mic often
Hard as a rock and no sign I’ll soften
Makin’ sure I get respect, on my mind rhymes connect
I start to build like a builder from an architect

I only spotted the ‘hard as a rock’ simile when I was proofreading this. This shows that even seasoned similespotters can have off days. But most wouldn’t then spend half an hour fastidiously going back over all previous entries to check for missed similes.

I’m like a Captain Ahab of hip-hop similes. I won’t rest until I’ve catalogued them all. Or ironically died chasing the finest hip-hop simile in history, overthinking meanings of throwaway rhymes until I have a brain haemorrhage or something.

Movin’ all around, above and under the ground
You see my face, and then you hear my sound
Comin’ atcha with the mic in hand
I’m gonna take command just the way I planned
‘Cause I’m a one-man band and you are my fan
Don’t you understand? I’m like Superman
Yeah, the Man of Steel
, don’t you know the deal?
You better be for real, I got sex appeal
This is what I feel, and this here’s my vow
And now you know the brother with know-how, you know what I’m sayin’?

After a really strong start, this verse kind of runs out of steam I think, reflected in the inclusion of only one meagre and fairly pedestrian simile. Although it does give us our second superhero simile, so that’s something.

And that leaves us with the outro, notable for an oddly out of place dentistry-based boast.

[Bring it home Young MC]

I got know-how…
And I’m chillin’
Never illin’
In my mouth, I got two fillings…
Whatever!
I’m on the mic, cold stone gettin’ over
My name is Young MC, known as the fly casanova, kick it…

So that’s a very respectable 15 similes all told, and a strong showing of 3.73 similes per minute.

Having ‘analysed’ six tracks now, it’s interesting to note that there seems to be some sort of simile sweet spot around the 14 or 15 per tune mark. It’s too early to say, but I think I might have discovered the ‘golden ratio’ of hip-hop simile. You read it here first. Keep it under your hat for now, please.

This brings the total number of similes catalogued tantalisingly close to 100, so expect some kind of extravaganza next time out*.

The stats

Similes:15
Words:613
Words per simile:40.87
Length:4m 01s
Similes per minute:3.73
Episodes of Corrie watched:0

*don’t expect this

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