Menu Close

You lying like a politician

A protest sign of Boris Johnson as the Joker from Batman

Image: Jannes Van den wouwer via Unsplash

  • Track: Good to You
  • Artist: Talib Kweli
  • Album: Quality
  • Year: 2002

Oops, I did it again. I’d done a lot of the legwork (believe it or not it takes a while to pull these together) for this before it dawned on me I’d selected yet another New York rapper. That makes five in a row (ooh, one for each borough!). As I’m close to the arbitrary deadline I set myself, I can’t turn back now. Let’s pretend it’s some sort of strategic content marketing stunt. Though this one is a little different, as we enter the 21st century (just about) for the first time in a while.

Talib Kweli is one of those artists that I listen to a bit, but not loads. His work as one half of Black Star (with Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def) is a high point, and he appears as a guest on lots of good stuff. But I don’t know a great deal about the man himself, let alone how to consistently spell his name right. Kweli’s in the minority of rap artists who don’t adopt a pseudonym, and only the fourth rapper from nearly 60 in the database entered under his real name. He joins the likes of Erick Sermon and Wyclef Jean as those lucky enough to have a cool name from birth.

Credit to the Genius contributor who points out that this track was meant for Mos Def, whose tardiness proved to be to Kweli’s benefit:

‘This was supposed to be the first Black Star track we worked on… Well anyway, I met Kanye when he was slopping by the studio to give Mos a track, but Mos was late. So I always get these tracks by default.’

Quality album liner notes

Yes, it’s that Kanye, who produced a handful of tracks on Kweli’s 2002 debut Quality. You must at least admire him for not going with Kwelity. I know I would have.

The song itself is decent enough, although comfortably in the ‘last third of the album’ zone. It’s mostly flexing, a story we’ve heard in hip-hop a million times before: rapper meets rapper, rapper proves himself superior to other rapper. Roll credits. Soul legend Al Green lends us the sample, from 1972’s Simply Beautiful. I don’t think it’s being too critical to say that it’s the production and sampling that carries this one. It seems Mos Def’s loss was Talib Kweli’s gain.

Still, I admire Kweli’s punchy delivery and fondness for wordplay. The similes in this track fall into one of two categories: mundane to the point of being uninteresting, or completely unintelligible. It’s going to be an exercise in futility trying to unpick some of the weirder ones.

Sometimes I get halfway through writing up a post and wonder if I should bin it, and I admit this is one such post. But like playing Monopoly with a serial killer, the taxonomic analysis of similes can’t be all fun and games.

The lyrics

View full annotated lyrics on genius.com

[Intro]

Yea (yeaaah)
Come on
Uhh
Yeah
Kweli
Yo Yo

[Bridge…I guess?]

Ayo my silent moments, loud as the crack of thunder
My hunger like the crocodile that attacks the hunter
It ain’t commercial or underground, it’s true ’cause I

I know it looks like the lyrics drop out but it just goes to that Al Green sample, which I don’t include in the word count.

When I can’t think of much to say about a simile, I tend to turn to the statistics. I’m going to be doing that a lot today. These two are nice enough but nothing special.

Young MC was our last rapper to compare something to thunder, way back in track six. But it’s a debut for the crocodile, our 27th beast. Animal similes are an easy win: a lot of English idioms use them, and they offer simple mental leaps to imagery.

[Hook]

Call it skill, call it game, call it glow, call my name
Like the Lord
, all in vain, screaming like you all in pain
Treat it like a drug, all up in ya vein ’cause

Alongside animals, religion is another common theme in hip-hop simile. This time I’m not so confident I know why. Although the big man/woman/thing hasn’t been name-checked before this.

Our second simile here is the subject of some dubious analysis (pot, kettle etc.) over on Genius. The pain here is apparently equivalent to the suffering caused by belief. Not sure I buy that, but credit for pointing out the ‘take it in vain’ pun. Nice work.

[Verse 1]

We make the squares dance, and get the doe like dosey
Y’all niggas roll with pussycats like Josie

More wordplay ahoy, with this cleverish reference (a do-si-do being something or other in square dancing, whatever that is). Cute.

The other simile is the track’s only switcheroo simile, and a reference I’d never have got in a million years. Josie and the Pussycats is a 70s comic and kids cartoon. Its 2001 big screen adaptation may well have been on Kweli’s mind. It looks like the sort of thing you wouldn’t forget in a hurry, for all the wrong reasons.

All spoiled rotten like ghetto groceries yo
I clutch the mic like ya grandma clutch her rosary yo

Some grade A dissing going on now, with Talib daring to bring family into the proceedings. No-one’s going to be too impressed with him rhyming ‘yo’ with itself though. One might expect to see a lot of family-based rap similes, but they’re not that common so far.

Rap has of a reputation for ‘your mama’ stuff (The Pharcyde memorably so, Mr. T less so).

This isn’t true of the similes I’ve looked at to date, with only the two examples:

Swooping the industry, like a bird of prey
My stanzas has got stamina, ya verses lack vertebrae

Again, fairly mundane animal stuff. But let’s ignore that, because the next section has got some cool lines in it. What Kweli has against Star Wars isn’t documented.

I heard them say I was a conscious rapper
But I’m a monster when I hafta smack the shit out of a nonsense actor
Using my hands solo’and I don’t need Chewy
Over your head like Yarmulkes and Kufis yo

For those not experts in headwear, the Yarmulke is the small cap Jewish men wear, with Muslims (in the US at least) favouring Kufis. It might be a bit tenuous, but I’m putting both in as religious-themed as well the more obvious headwear-themed.

I write screen gems y’all niggas act in B movies
Type of niggas proud to be groupies
Followers in the herd running over the cliff
I’m the Buffalo Soldier, smoke ya like a dreadlock rasta blowing the spliff
Loading a clip to spit high like you holding blow in a stolen whip, rolling the strip

Hmmm. It’s getting harder to think of interesting things to say at this point, but please hang in there, it gets better.

We’ve seen your classic spliff-smoking Rastafarian in these parts before, courtesy of Nas. This example isn’t particularly noteworthy, although it’s a nice nod to Bob Marley, with ‘dreadlock rasta’ obviously coming from Buffalo Soldier.

I won’t pretend to know what spitting high in a nicked car with drugs is to do with anything here, but it sure sounds cool. I don’t think the lyrics in this bit warrant much scrutiny. We get it, Talib. You’re a bad boy.

Looking to hit cops, now that’s a 4 alarm
Black queen falling on my arms, you could call it charm
Matter fact call it what you want, it’s up to you bro’
Yea
Yea
Yea

So some decent if uninspiring similes in the first verse. Let’s see if that continues after the break. Stay tuned.

[Hook]

Call it skill, call it game, call it glow, call my name
Like the lord, all in vain, screaming like you all in pain
Treat it like a drug, all up in ya vein cause

I’m sure everyone reading this is a big fan of ihhsdb, so you’ll know we only count repeated similes once.

Time now for verse two, in which Talib’s got more questions than Bamber Gascoigne. Not many similes though.

[Verse 2]

How many niggas ever been in love?
How many niggas really think they thugs?
And can’t think without the drink and drugs
How many niggas can’t get in with hats and sneakers on?
Say ‘fuck security’ and get inside and keep them on
How many niggas think that gats make the weaker strong?
Can’t do for self and wanna snatch the plate you eating on
That don’t take heart, slave nigga play ya part
I’d rather jump overboard nigga, face the sharks
We stay doing it, later for the conversation
Hammers is cocked and waiting, niggas is not debating
We ain’t got the patience. You found popping shit
Come into town just to run you down like poppa ditch

Err, what? I’m not sure if this is down to bad transcription, or if Google’s just letting me down, but I’ve got no idea what this is all about. I’m glossing over this one.

And dig a proper ditch, you lying like a politician
Your proposition meets opposition like contradictions

Not the most biting of satire, but it’s something. And the second simile sure sounds nice, even if it’s pretty meaningless wordplay. Still, it’s a simile in my book, and in it goes.

There will now be a pause for Kweli to finish his verse, hit the chorus again, and then stretch our patience with a weird little breakdown.

Get out my House, you ain’t no real Representative
I make it happen, you ain’t official, you tentative
Niggas is sensitive, see how they catching feelings
It’s so hot, the sweat rise and it wet the ceiling
Barracuda, Spitkicker nigga that’s the crew

[Hook]

Call it skill, call it game, call it glow, call my name
Like the lord, all in vain, screaming like you all in pain
Treat it like a drug, all up in ya vein cause

[Weird little breakdown]

Whoo!
Come on
Yeah
Well alright
Yo
Yo
Yo

[Verse 3]

Niggas be claiming shit, find a gangsta movie, put
They name in it, biting like there ain’t no shame in it

For someone who’s sometimes labelled a ‘conscious’ rapper, Talib’s shown little of it in this tune so far. But here at least he’s not afraid to call out the hypocrisy of presenting your life like you’re living in a gangster film. In this context, ‘biting’ means to copy or plagiarise.

You the hardest on the beat, I’m the fire that you playing with
You a artist from the street, I’ll give you the blood to paint it with
So yeah I’m positive, I’m positive I’m the best
Spit bullets to split ya vest and deposit them in ya chest
Dark is the flesh on my bones, calling Brooklyn home
Hang up on niggas like I want you to meet my nigga tone, word
Leave me alone like Michael Jackson

Right. I’ve not broached the subject of ‘the n word’ before, but it’s a little hard to avoid here. There are several good reasons for this. Foremost is that, as a white middle-aged male, I’m not best placed to lay out the nuance of the argument for and against it. I don’t believe I have the right to use the word, but I’m not about to censor it either. Also, if Twitter is anything to go by, the Internet is not best placed for these discussions. I hope we’re all adult enough here to accept that.

So deftly dancing around that, Talib’s obviously making references to telephones (hang up, tone) and maybe a friend called Tony. Maybe.

I’ll leave an obvious white male joke aside, and just point out that this is the first time we’ve welcomed the King of Pop to the database. In you come Michael, you are not alone here.

Or there will be more than butterflies in your stomach
Waiting to see what happens
You see me out, know that my crew is flawless
So called gangstas need more security than the Rawkus office

I was telling a porky when I said earlier that things get better. I just didn’t want you to leave. This is it for a disappointing (simile-wise) verse. But it ends on a good one: Rawkus records (Kweli’s label at the time) were legendary on the East Coast scene. They were also co-founded by James Murdoch, and majority owned by proto-Bond villain Rupert. How weird is that?

So all that remains is for Kweli (and Al Green) to see us out.

Yo, I thought you bust ya gun
You just a big joke, thinking you a Big Pun
Yo, Kanye this is the big one
me and my niggas having big fun

[Return of the bridge]

Yo Yo
Ayo my silent moments, loud as the crack of thunder
My hunger like the crocodile that attacks the hunter

[Hook]

Call it skill, call it game, call it glow, call my name
Like the lord, all in vain, screaming like you all in pain
Treat it like a drug, all up in ya vein cause

[Outro]

Come on
BK and
BX and
Q boro and
Manhattan and
Harlem niggas and
Long Island
The whole world rocking
Yo the whole world rocking
Ayo uhh

All in all, that’s 20 similes. Good in terms of quantity, then, but not great in terms of Kwality.

On the plus side, we’ve categorised and filed away another 20 hip-hop similes. We’re now, remarkably, only 33 away from the big 500. I’ve also just realised this site’s reached its second birthday. What a rate of simile cataloguing that is. I’ll try and plan something interesting for the next outing, but will more than likely just roll out a turn of the millennium New York classic.

Until then, good simile-folk.

The stats

Similes:20
Words:712
Words per simile:35.60
Length:4m21s
Similes per minute:4.60
Years it will take me to catalogue 1,000,000 similes at this rate:4,291.8

Leave a comment. Bonus points for similes.