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Writing like Shakespeare on the top tier

An 18th century bust of William Shakespeare

Image: Birmingham Museums Trust via Unsplash

  • Track: Horror Show
  • Artist: DJ Shadow feat. Danny Brown
  • Album: The Mountain has Fallen EP
  • Year: 2017

Break out the party poppers and prosecco, it’s landmark time. I’ve reached 500 hip-hop similes. So let’s celebrate with a tenuous Halloween-related (and a week late) post from one of my favourite DJ/producers. This bizarre tune, featuring Detroit’s Danny Brown, veers from threatening to self-loathing and back again. It’s a journey through a very troubled-sounding mind. Appropriately, it also features one of the grossest similes we’ve seen so far.

Please ignore the fact I didn’t get my act together in time to post this before Halloween. I’m also planning a Squid Game special post that’ll probably be ready in a year when everyone’s forgotten about it. As it happens, Brown’s latest tune is a cameo on another Halloween-appropriate track, Vampire. It’s great.

A couple of weeks ago I started reading Naked Lunch for the first time. It’s hard not to draw parallels between William S. Burroughs’ magnum opium and this track. They’re both hellish explorations of drug addiction. I think, anyway. Like Naked Lunch, Danny Brown’s lyrics and delivery are tricky to pull apart. I’ve made a couple of corrections to the Genius lyrics, but there are still bits that are way beyond me. It’s the similes I care most about though, obviously, and I think I’ve nailed those. But credit nonetheless to the anonymous Genius contributors who have given it a good stab.

I’ve been a fan of DJ Shadow for a long time, but I’d not heard of Danny Brown until this 2017 EP. But it turns out he’s been a darling of the indie hip-hop scene for well over a decade. His flow lands somewhere between ODB and Zed from the Police Academy films. There’s a hint of Kool Keith – self-proclaimed inventor of ‘horrorcore’ – here too.

Because of writing this post, I’ve listened to a bit more Brown recently. He’s a master of the simile. Several tracks from his debut album (like this beauty) have way more similes than this track. So it’s likely we’ll see him again at some point. (Of course we will: it’s my goal to analyse every simile in every hip-hop track ever recorded. I’ve managed 32 so far. Ever the optimist.) Oh by the way, I’ve got a Spotify playlist:


To say Brown is unconventional is putting it mildly. They call him ‘the hybrid’ for a reason: his flow is all over the place, a kind of controlled chaos. He’s quite the talent. But from what I’ve heard, his common themes are extremely bleak: lots about addiction, depression and the trappings of celebrity. If you need any evidence of Danny Brown being a bit messed up have a watch of this. Yet despite all the grimness, Brown’s lyrics frequently make me laugh out loud, and I wasn’t surprised to discover he also dabbles in comedy.

If you only listened to the first verse of this one, you’d be forgiven for thinking Brown’s actually a cheery chap. We find him in cocky mood, seemingly living a stereotypical rap life chock full of drugs, women, fancy cars and fancier food. But as we’ll see, just beneath the surface lurks something far more sinister…

The lyrics

View full annotated lyrics on genius.com

[Verse 1]

I’m Einstein
Off two lines and moonshine
Too lit, hit two bitches at noontime
Spiritless like prostitutes that deal shit
Limitless like when them chemicals mix

Like I said in the intro, we arrive to some fairly standard rap bragging. But Brown is setting us up for that second verse. It’s a shame he went for metaphor in that first line, I’m not interested in those. And anyway, Albert made his simile debut in the last track.

As it is then, the track’s first similes are this charming little couplet. Genius has this as ‘steal’, I hear ‘deal’, but it doesn’t matter I suppose. Both acts lack spirit, though dealing fits more with the Naked Lunch vibe, so I’m going with that.

The second simile is, I think, Brown saying that mixing his drugs makes him feel invincible, despite what he’s about to say.

I’m mentally unfit
I’m physically on tilt
Eyes puffy from the grants like Horace
Put the D on her like Warwick

Again, it’s not that clear that this is actually the line, but I think it’s close enough. I don’t understand what it means, but I’m going out on a limb and guessing it’s to do with narcotics of some sort. I can tell you that Horace Grant is a basketballer though. He’s not to be confused with the man who dedicated his life to introducing Christianity to South Korea. Ooh ooh, Squid Game something something.

As we’ve seen before, basketball is the de facto sport of hip-hop. Or hip-hop similes at any rate. And I think Grant is the 10th basketballer to go into the database. In other words, 2% of all hip-hop similes are about basketball players.

That simile is followed immediately with a switcheroo (my term for these types of pseudo simile). Here’s Dionne Warwick making her database debut. Also, D is 500 in Roman numerals. It must be a sign. A sign that I’m a massive nerd.

Arms I wear for the porridge
Porsche out the storage
Cayenne truck, watch me floor it
Eating calamari with the swordfish
Penthouse enormous
Doing blow in silk garments
Smoke so much
I think I need a farm of it
Writing like Shakespeare on the top tier
Ten in life bid with his shank near

Danny’s really laying the rap tropes on thick now. Interestingly, this is the first simile to reference The Bard. You’d think the business of writing good lyrics might make comparisons with the greatest writer of all time common. But that’s not the case. Basketballers, yes; playwrights: less so.

To be or not to be what the question is
A brackhead blacked out off the medicine
Evident I’m heaven sent but hell bent
Two licks got her pussy wetter than whale piss
All getting money know you tell bitch
With a bag of drugs looking like trail mix

Hamlet’s famous question about taking his own life is our first clue that things might not be as great as Danny would have us believe. Brackhead is a thing, as it turns out.

This first simile, a comparative, is the gross one I mentioned. It’s the first time I’ve regretted letting comparatives into the database to be honest. What am I supposed to say about that? Let’s talk about trail mix instead.

Trail mix is apparently also known as scroggin, gorp or schmogle. I thought they were characters from Lord of the Rings. It’s a delicious mix of granola, dried fruit and nuts that’s sometimes completely ruined by the introduction of those revolting flakes of coconut.

I think that’s enough about trail mix. Danny is about to eat his bag of trail mix-looking drugs, just in time for the chorus.

On the road to riches got it mapped out
Doing all these drugs ’til a nigga black out

[Chorus]

Welcome to my horror show
Horrible how I will do all of you
Try the undeniable sire of diabolical
What, welcome to my horror show
What, welcome to my horror show
Horrible how I will do all of you
Try the undeniable sire of diabolical
What, welcome to my horror show
What, welcome to my horror show

And here we go. The chorus was an appropriate prelude to this trip down self-loathing lane. Only four similes remain, but the rest of the lyrics are worth reading carefully.

[Verse 2]

They think drugs gon’ kill me
But all these drugs they kill you
Snorting on some igloo
Smoking on some mildew
Writing that apocalypse
Stronger than the Black Panther fist

The transcription has this one down as being about the Marvel superhero (and misses a ‘the’). But I’m pretty sure it’s about the black power fist (also used by the Black Panthers). So it’s going in under that.

No philanthropist
For the scandalous
Drink a can of piss
My manuscript
turn evangelist to Satanist
I’m faded with this
Struggle with one another
For faith in it
Devilish acts
Praying I get away with it
Sitting waiting patient
Taking everything sacred
Even your imagination
Can’t think when you’re in hell
‘Bout to lose everything
Like Jack and Jill’s pail
Got a nigga’s brain captured
Like SeaWorld whales

And here it is. ihhsdb’s 500th simile. Woo. We recently had an entire track dedicated to nursery rhymes, so Jack and Jill’s bucket is in good company.

SeaWorld has come under a lot of scrutiny for its treatment of orcas, especially since 2013’s Blackfish . I thought they’d promised to stop keeping them, but they still have loads. Bastards.

I’m a nigga from the hood
But I see the world well
That’s why I get fucked up
‘Cause I can’t lift up the veil
Lookin’ in the mirror
Like I love myself

I love to end on a bit of controversy. Is this a simile? I think it is. If you hadn’t worked it out by now, this verse is an ode to Brown’s hatred of himself. He’s comparing the act of looking in the mirror to the act of someone who loves themselves looking in the mirror. If you see what I mean. He can’t look in the mirror without seeing someone he hates looking back.

That’s why I get fucked up
‘Cause I can’t lift up the veil
So I look into the mirror
Say ‘I love myself’

And the verse ends with Brown seemingly giving up and pretending to say he loves himself. This is his horror show.

[Chorus]

Welcome to my horror show
Horrible how I will do all of you
Try the undeniable sire of diabolical
What, welcome to my horror show
What, welcome to my horror show
Horrible how I will do all of you
Try the undeniable sire of diabolical
What, welcome to my horror show
What, welcome to my horror show

Horror show indeed. It is an unnerving track. When I listen to Danny Brown lyrics I find myself believing them. I hope he’s ok.

It’s put me in a reflective mood: why am I cataloguing hip-hop similes? What exactly is the point of all this? Like a detective who’s lost their magnifying glass, I don’t have a clue. But somebody’s got to, otherwise how will humankind know who is the similest rapper of them all? Perhaps I’ll go and read some more Naked Lunch, that’s bound to cheer me up.

I’ve now collated a ridiculous amount of hip-hop similes (DII for any ancient Romans who happen to be reading). So I think in my next post I’ll look at some of the most common themes in hip-hop simile. You’d be more than welcome to join me.

The stats

Similes:11
Words:436
Words per simile:39.67
Length:3m 33s
Similes per minute:3.10
Stupid terms for trail mix:3

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