[Article] History Lesson Gone Wrong — Utterly Stupid Rap Lyrics

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[Article] History Lesson Gone Wrong — Utterly Stupid Rap Lyrics

In light of the horribly inaccurate line on Kayne West‘s track Black Skinhead – “I keep it 3hunna like the Romans”, it seems that historical accuracy is not factor for MCs when stringing together a rhyme scheme. Read this hella informative piece on Nas and Historical Inaccuracy by Balogun.

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The Bottom Line To all you so-called socially conscious rappers – be careful what you say; you just might be as dangerous as the rappers you constantly criticize

INTRODUCTION: So, does anyone remember that Nas song from his 2002 album, God’s Son, that ever so inspirational “I Can”? Better yet, does anyone remember what he said in the third verse?

Be- be- fore we came to this country

We were kings and queens, never porch monkeys

There was empires in Africa called Kush

Timbuktu, where every race came to get books

To learn from black teachers who taught Greeks and Romans

Asian, Arabs and gave them gold when

Gold was converted to money it all changed

Money then became empowerment for Europeans

The Persian military invaded

They heard about the gold, the teachings and everything sacred

Africa was almost robbed naked

Slavery was money, so they began making slave ships

Egypt was the place that Alexander the Great went

He was so shocked at the mountains with black faces

Shot up they nose to impose what basically

Still goes on today, you see?

Now, as an African (to be more specific, Nigerian) and a longtime history buff, I was rather disturbed when I first heard it. As much as I love Nas’ work (which I proved by getting God’s Son the day it was released), and as much as I respect him as one of my favorite rappers, I was very disappointed with the third verse of “I Can”. As intelligent as I still think he is…I mean, how could he…?

Anyways, on to dissecting the large portion I lifted from the third verse of “I Can” to let you guys know the number of things that I found wrong with it.

ANALYSIS:

Be- be- fore we came to this country

We were kings and queens, never porch monkeys

Okay, I’m not even going to discuss the main ways in which slaves were obtained for the Atlantic slave trade; let’s just stick to using common sense – if all Africans were kings and queens, who did they rule over? Obviously he was trying to counter a more recent racial slur placed upon black Americans, but there should be a wiser and more realistic way of doing so than using that all-too-common romanticized concept about all black Americans descending from kings and queens. If that’s the case, I should have royal blood running through my veins, not the warrior-class blood of my ancestors. Please!

There was empires in Africa called Kush

Timbuktu, where every race came to get books

To learn from black teachers who taught Greeks and Romans

Asian, Arabs…

Okay, so Nas gets off to a good start here. Yep, believe it or not, we Africans had our own several glorious political units before the colonial era – from the mighty trading states of Ghana, Mali and Songhai to the flourishing forest kingdoms of Dahomey, Oyo and Benin; from the long-standing empire of Kanem-Borno to the west to the dynamic Zulu Empire of Shaka south of the continent.

He is also right about Timbuktu. Founded in about 1100, Timbuktu – which is now situated in the West African republic of Mali – gradually grew to become the heart of the Songhai Empire (1464-1591). It also became Africa’s most famous city, becoming a metaphor in the West for an exotic and distant land, thus the saying: “from here to Timbuktu.”

One of the reasons for its fabled status is its scholarship – indeed, it became one of the centers of literary tradition in Africa, and this attribute is its contribution to Islam and world civilization. Timbuktu had several centers of Islamic learning, the most famous of them being the University of Sankore (it served as the center of the Islamic scholarly community in the city). It produced its share of renowned black African scholars – the “black teachers” Nas refers to. Ahmed Baba (1556-1627), perhaps the most famous of them all, is best known for his chronicle on West African history – the Tarikh al-Sudan.

It is no surprise that people outside the African continent were attracted to Timbuktu. But did “every race” come to Timbuktu to “get books”? Obviously Nas focuses on the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when Timbuktu was at its scholarly peak. Being that the scholarship was Islamic, it would make perfect sense that the visitors to Timbuktu’s leaning centers were Muslim, thus they came mostly from the Middle East and North Africa. So Nas was correct in throwing “Arabs” in there. But “Asians”? That’s very questionable. When people think “Asians,” they automatically think “Indians,” “Chinese” or “Japanese” – the Muslim influence never penetrated that deep into the Far East. If Nas was in fact using that term to apply to Middle Easterners in general, he surely used a really vague, ambiguous and misleading one.

And how the heck did “Greeks and Romans” get into the mix? The Islamic faith was founded in, what, the seventh century A.D.? Hadn’t both peoples long faded by then in terms of power and influence? The Greek civilization had dissipated long before Jesus Christ was born; and the Roman Empire, at least the western half, had collapsed in A.D. 476, a century and a half before the prophet Mohammed walked the earth. So what was Nas thinking? Oh, did he mean the eastern half of the Roman Empire, the newly-christened Byzantine Empire? Couldn’t be – it was as Greek Orthodox Christian as you can possibly get.

Or did Nas use “Greeks and Romans” as a generalizing phrase for “Europeans”? Not likely, I suppose – he can’t be that stupid, can he? In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Europe was firmly Christian. In fact, the Europeans have been giving shout outs to Charles Martel ever since he routed a Muslim army at the Battle of Tours in A.D. 732. If he had lost, Islam could have swallowed Europe just like it did North Africa and the Middle East. So what business did Europeans have going to Timbuktu if not to engage in Islamic studies? Wealth, perhaps? Yeah, but that was not until three or four centuries later, long after Timbuktu’s heyday. Ironic, eh?

As you can see, I’m trying to help my man out here, but Nas’ inaccuracies mar whatever good research he has made. Anyways, onward we march:

…and gave them gold when

Gold was converted to money it all changed

Money then became empowerment for Europeans

Ah, the beauty of gold! If only these empires, most particularly Mali, had the same value for it as the Europeans! I mean, look at Mansa Musa (c1280-1337). The greatest of the Mandingo emperors and a devout Muslim who ruled Mali from 1312 to 1337, Musa embarked on a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 and gave out so much gold in Cairo, Egypt that the commodity’s value there did not fully recover for the next twelve years! Musa’s extravagance was exemplary of the abundance of gold in this side of the world – West Africans had gold up their a*ses.

It’s just that they hardly used gold as currency – it was a medium of exchange in trade for the things that West Africans needed or wanted, like salt, dates, horses, luxury goods and firearms. This complex trade network between and among West and North Africans led to a gold trickle to Europe.

By the time Musa died in 1337, he was an international superstar. Due to his expensive hajj, he and Mali were popular in both the Islamic and the Christian worlds. In fact, he was depicted in world maps afterward, with a fat-a*s gold nugget in his hand.

That must have whetted the Europeans’ appetites tremendously – a mere gold tickle wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Hey, why not just go out there and jack the poor bastards for their bling? By the end of the sixteenth century, the golden glory of Mali had long passed. But no, that didn’t stop them from getting gold from somewhere else – that’s why the Spanish had decided to pay the Aztecs and the Incas a visit. Before the rest of the world knew it, gold became the basis of the European monetary standard, and it led to the development of a system that is partly responsible for the West’s future world economic dominance – capitalism.

Damn it, if only the West Africans knew…

Anyway, good job, Nas. Too bad he couldn’t keep it up.

The Persian military invaded

They heard about the gold, the teachings and everything sacred

“The Persian military invaded” where, Africa? That never happened. Or perhaps Nas had the Moroccans in mind, but they are certainly not Persians! Undoubtedly they knew about the “gold” and the “teachings” of the Songhai empire, which had by this time replaced the crumbling Mali as the largest and most powerful political unit in West Africa; and inherited the attributes that had made its predecessor great. That prompted the Moroccans to defeat the Songhai forces at the Battle of Tondibi in March 1591 and effectively end Songhai’s reign as the premier West African power. As for the “Persians”? Well, let’s just say the Shah of the Persian empire at that time – Abbas I – was more concerned about maintaining his territory in and around Iran than going on some military excursion to some distant land thousands of miles away.

Yep, the Persians never invaded Africa.

Africa was almost robbed naked

Slavery was money, so they began making slave ships

That is correct. Enough said.

Egypt was the place that Alexander the Great went

He was so shocked at the mountains with black faces

Shot up they nose to impose what basically

Still goes on today, you see?

This is what I believe is the most ridiculous and bizarre part of Nas’ inconsistent history lesson. The “mountains” Nas is referring to is the famed limestone Sphinx, a sculpture that was built by ancient Egyptians and is at least thirty-five centuries old. But let’s start from the beginning. Yes, Alexander the Great not only “went” to Egypt; he conquered it. At least he got that part right. But was Alexander a racist towards blacks? Nobody knows. Even if he was, how the heck did he “shoot” off the “Negroid” nose of the Sphinx in the desert, with arrows and javelins?

Oh, wait a second! Does he not mean Napoleon? It is a popular Afrocentric theory – that the troops of the famed Corsican general, on his expedition to Egypt in 1798, were so angered by the wide nose of the gigantic sculpture that they ended up shooting at it with their firearms, to the point that today the Sphinx’s face looks more like a skeleton.

Then again, they could have done it “just for kicks.”

Regardless of the motive, it has never been proven, and the Napoleonic theory is just one of the many embarrassments in the Afrocentric approach to history, which now eschews reasonable thought for blind passion and irrational romanticism; which now condemns European history as the evil counterpart to the history of people of African descent; and which has gradually descending from a balancing and remedial outlook on human history to a pseudo-science that has become tantamount to the racist ideologies of 18th and 19th century European imperialists.

See, there is even a fallacy in Nas’ fallacy.

And what is up with this black American obsession with Egypt? I could care less about ancient Egypt’s accomplishments, or the race of its inhabitants. I’m West African. The African ancestors of black Americans are primarily of West African stock, and ancient Egypt was like, where, North Africa? So what the heck are we doing with Egypt – or with Kush, Axum, Meroe and Abyssinia for that matter? Do we necessarily have to look outside from our region of origin? I don’t think so – West Africa alone has a lot to offer. There’s the aforementioned Mali and Songhai, famed for their trading fortunes, centers of learning, and efficient administration. There are mythical golden empires of Ghana and Asante. The Yoruba kingdom of Ile-Ife and Benin are world-famous for their classically-styled sculptures, and the latter is also known for the brass plates of historical depiction adorning the walls of the king’s palace. The region has its own stories, folktales and achievements, its own share of heroes and statesmen and warriors and rulers – Idris Alooma, Ewuare the Great, Queen Amina, Jaja of Opobo, Sango…who was deified in death as the Yoruba god of thunder…

I could go on and on…

If these Afrocentrists want to use a certain civilization as the center of African cultural inquiry, or black people in general are looking for a source of inspiration and identification, there are surely better examples than Egypt.

And as for Nas’ implication that inferiority is being “impose[d]” upon the black race by teaching bad history, well, that is another topic altogether…

CONCLUSION:

Whether they like it or not, rappers have a considerable influence on American society. No matter how utterly stupid some lyrics from these rappers are, there are people who are just as stupid, and who treat the words of their favorite rhyme spitters like Christians and Muslims do their holy scriptures. That is why you have some misguided youth shooting a state trooper and blaming it on 2Pac. Or Eminem writing about an obsessive fan that grows to resent the perceived neglect he gets from his favorite rapper and commits femicide, feticide and suicide.

Or, more recently, that fat buffoon. The guy defended his use of the N-word when clobbering a black kid by implicating rappers’ general use of it as a term of endearment instead of an instrument of hatred.

Yeah, they’re some really gullible people out there. Bloody robots will do anything they hear.

Bearing that in mind, Nas – as well as rappers who consider themselves socially conscious – have to be really careful. Much props to him for attempting to teach the youth a history lesson, and in a song released as a single at that. Considering that many young black Americans – and Africans, I might add – care so little about learning from or preserving their history, his effort is really commendable. Moreover, he did get a few thing right. However, by putting out inaccurate history – and indeed, inaccurate information – socially conscious rappers can just be as harmful as the materialistic and nihilistic ones. Having to hear that all whites are devils is just as dangerous as having to think that all black men care about is making money and having sex. The third verse of “I Can” is a prime example of what happens when a rapper lets his zealousness go too far.

Jay-Z of all people certainly wasn’t joking in “Takeover” when he said, “Your s**t is garbage, but you try and kick knowledge?” – hey, at least Nas tries to kick knowledge. It’s just too bad he stumbles with “I Can”. Nice try, Nas, but you need to step your game up.

Besides, I surely don’t want to hear that Mandingos ruled over England in the eleventh century anytime soon.

Written by: Balogun

 

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