Stream: Positive K “Shakin'”
Few rappers are as memorable or convincing as the god Positive K at his peak. Although he rarely incorporates the 120 Lessons directly into his lyrics, his persona is that of a particular strain of five percenter —the suave, dapper mack exemplified by his friend Big Daddy Kane— that coexisted alongside the militant vanguard and afro-centric bohemian types. Positive K is like the anti-Lakim Shabazz: all charismatic, flashy Brooklyn street kid, all of the time. I imagine that his lyrics are partly inspired by the stories the older gods trade about NGE founder Clarence 13x’s fondly remembered penchant for vices like gambling. His idea of show and prove is to ensure that his swagger is the center of all attention, and he never slips.
His friendship with fellow conflicted debonair godbody Grand Puba1 —with whom he shares a fascination with the ribald storytelling and conceited posturing of Slick Rick— also informs his showy, witty approach. “Shakin'”2 sounds as if it was penned by a wisecracking too-cool-for-school student of early 80s style masters like Spoonie Gee and T La Rock who was also addicted to Warner Brothers animated shorts. It is a song that is essentially about nothing that manages to be quite eventful; even if you walk away from the song without remembering a single line, you’ll be humming one of Positive K’s flows. He gets busy like that.
In recent years, bloggers and critics have expressed disdain for whimsical “golden era” or “throwback” rap styles, suggesting that rappers whose verses include lines that are not directly related to the hook are at worst, frivolous, at best quaintly corny.3 I cannot for the life of me imagine this genre without those verses whose lyrics jump from topic to topic and image to image, while the emcee switches up his delivery to add to the inspired madness. I want more rappers to do the equivalent of breaking out into a Kool G Rap impression mid-verse; where exactly is the joy in rap that sticks to scripts as a matter of principle? — Thun
- Manifested in likable, arrogant splendor on their collaboration “Grand Puba, Positive, and L.G.” from the Brand Nubian debut One For All. [↩]
- From Positive K’s only full-length release, Da Skills Dat Pay Da Billz [↩]
- Exceptions are generally made for any rapper under 30 residing below the Mason-Dixon line. I haven’t figured that part of it out yet. [↩]