Tragedy, Nas, Ak Skills, and Meyhem Lauren: Q-Boro Continuum

Download: Meyhem Lauren “7000 Thoughts”

Relative newcomer Meyhem Lauren’s ((For more coverage and information on Meyhem Lauren, check Unkut and Steady Bloggin.)) fierce delivery and fixation on themes like contingency, ruination, and self-annihilation brings to mind the brief but memorable discography of the late 90s Far Rockaway, Queens native Ak Skills. ((Click here for more information on Ak Skills, plus downloads.))  Meyhem’s emotionally charged, deceptively unrefined rhyme style is not easily mistaken for Ak’s matter-of-fact delivery, but both rappers borrow vocal and poetic techniques from the anxiously introspective exposition of Nas’s verse on “Life’s A Bitch.” ((Though it has been overshadowed by AZ’s stellar debut verse, Nas’s verse from “Life’s A Bitch” is one of his best ever, in this blogger’s humble opinion.)) On “7000 Thoughts,” Meyhem channels Nasty Nas at his most poignant in a manner reminiscent of Ak’s cautious explication of the pitfalls of street life on his lesser known songs “One Life To Live” and “One Thing Or Another.” Even more impressively he evokes regret and pathos in a conversational tone that hearkens further back to one of Nas’s principle influences, Tragedy Khadafi (formerly Intelligent Hoodlum). ((Two great examples of Tragedy’s ingenius everyman approach are the remixes of “Street Life” and “Grand Groove.”))

Rap fans and critics are sometimes reluctant to assign praise to an artist whose influences are instantly recognizable; rap’s reception culture is famously dismissive of overt musical or poetic borrowing. But the genre is clearly indebted to the acquisitive traditions of the blues idiom; ((Read more on the blues idiom and borrowing.)) rap artists construct songs and even verses from a pastiche of disparate source elements. ((Read up on rap, signifying, and pastiche.))  Ak and Meyhem’s are not biters; their derivations are strategically smarter, better executed, and more artistically generative than the attempts of lesser artists to crudely mimic Nas’s Illmatic-era cadence and somber tone.

Ak’s fixation on the minute details of the street life distinguishes him from his predecessors; Meyhem’s personable style works similarly in his favor. Meyhem’s spits his verses in a straightforward, down to earth manner that also  teems with emotive intensity. The poetic self he brings to the table in the form of his likable populist voice constitutes an innovation; you are persuaded to forget about the lingering superficial similarities to the source material. Put another way, Mayhem isolates the right aspects of Nas’s early style to extract and incorporate into his repertoire in much the same way a talented producer chooses to isolate the tiniest fraction of a record to best suit his vision for a new song. This is not sophistry; the listener is rewarded for his patience and discernment.

Nas’s verse on “Life’s A Bitch” is tragicomic, almost depressing. After the listener’s awe at Nas’s verbal dexterity and perfectly situated use of internal rhyme in lines like “I switched my motto: instead of saying ‘fuck tomorrow’ / the buck that bought a bottle could’ve struck the lotto” subsides, he is dumbstruck by the bleakness of the sentiment. Ak Skills’ verses are similarly inundated with pessimistic and remorseful musings that take center stage amidst lines of impersonal criminal braggadocio. Meyhem builds upon these formulas. He engages in bittersweet contemplation, spending the majority of the song nervously pondering whether clearly negative and even seemingly positive life decisions may have unintentionally impeded his quest for wealth and happiness. Such a gesture can take a nasty turn towards navel-gazing or melodrama, but Mayhem knows better. By dropping appropriately sparse rhymes, posing sensible rhetorical questions, and eschewing preachy stoicism in favor of a realistic conversational tone, he speaks directly to the listener. This matters. — Thun

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