Michelle Wallace and Illmatic

The World Is Yours (Remix)

Rare is the person who can conceptualize the hood,
in all its pain, beauty and promise.

Two pieces that do this are Nas’s Illmatic and
Michele Wallaces, Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman.
Whats strikes me about both pieces is that they illicit an
emotional response. In addition, Black Macho is particularly
moving because Michele focuses on how gender influences
the lives of Black women in urban environments. She writes,

Now I want you to picture a little black girl in a jungle
that has no
tigers and lions, but poverty, ignorance,
welfare centers, tenements,
rats, roaches, inadequate
schools, malevolent teachers, pimps,
Forty Second Streets,
heroin, hypodermic needles and methadone,
opportunistic
preachers and community leaders, a narrow range
of career
possibilities , always impending pregnancies, sterilization

and illogical court system, and two races of men who prey
upon her
as sexual chattel and a beast of burden. And
suppose that behind this
black girl, there was a whole
string of little black girls who had faced
this same jungle
with their imaginary advantages and been defeated.
Would
it not be an act of unkindness, of extreme justice really, to
tell
her that she was a woman of strengths, of exceptional
opportunities.

Any one of the above mentioned phenomena, my seem
innocent
on its face. But when the “ignorance, welfare centers,
tenements,
rats, roaches, inadequate schools, malevolent
teachers, pimps,
Forty Second Streets, heroin, hypodermic
needles and methadone,
opportunistic preachers and
community leaders, a narrow range
of career possibilities”
are taken together, it becomes very
clear exactly what some
young black women are facing in their day to day lives.

Looking at the The World is Yours video isn’t a reminder of what
young men and women in Harlem, Detroit, Oakland and Philly
are facing, yet I do feel a sense of urgency when watching it.
It’s not that the jack moves portrayed feel intense, its the foreshadowing,
the moment right before that has me on needles while I watch it.
This video 4 minutes of 49 seconds of sheer grimeyness.

On the song Memory Lane Nas opens, giving a description
of the hood that came to mind while reading the above
Michelle Wallace passage. He raps,

I rap for listeners, blunt heads, fly ladies and prisoners
Hennessey holders and old school niggas,
then I be dissin a unofficial that smoke woolie thai

I dropped out of Kooley High, gassed up by a cokehead cutie pie
Jungle survivor, fuck who’s the liver

My man put the battery in my back, a difference from Energizer

Sentence begins indented with formality
duration’s infinite, moneywise or physiology
Poetry, that’s a part of me, retardedly bop
I drop the ancient manifested hip-hop, straight off the block
I reminisce on park jams, my man was shot for his sheep coat
Chocolate blunts make me see him drop in my weed smoke

It’s real, grew up in trife life, did times or white lines

Both Nas’s and Michelle are saying I present
to you the stories of some folks who are trying
to survive in a world, stories of folks who have been told
at every turn that their survival is irrelevant.

This is why both of these two pieces move me.

Wow. I think this was an actual thugs, feminist and boom
bap post. Nice.

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Comments

  1. the prisoner's wife says

    ugh. just posted a comment, then there was some sort of malfunction.

    but anyway…

    interesting connection. i am writing a novel (yes, i said that aloud) and Nas managed to work his way onto some pages. not because the store is about hip hop, but because they say you should write what you know & he's had a profound impact on my life.

    the Michelle Wallace quote reminds me of the time i was on the C train at the Nostrand station, and this guy paced back & forth on the train (we were in the back), then all of a sudden he tried to snatch this girl's chain. crazy. nobody moved until dude did a Wesley Snipes off of the moving train & his the platform. splat!

    it's crazy what people in the hood deal with. it's a wonder so many of us have "made" it.

  2. M.Dot. says

    interesting connection. i am writing a novel (yes, i said that aloud)
    ======
    GET EM GURL.

    NO MORE SILENCE.

    it’s crazy what people in the hood deal with. it’s a wonder so many of us have “made” it.
    ========
    Amen.

  3. Anwar says

    I love writers that have the ability to transform their words into a bouquet whose aroma can be enjoyed even by those that lack the sense of smell. Wallace?s ability to stir up an emotion with her piece reminds me of a scene from A Time to Kill when Matthew McConaughey paints a picture of a violent crime for the jury to begin deliberation. Seamless interaction between words and thoughts always evoke the spirit of enlightenment. These two poets, Nas and Wallace, force themselves into our minds with masterpieces of reality. Excellent write M.