(Turn the music up turn the lights down I'm in my zone)
Thank God for granting me this moment of clarity
This moment of honesty
The world'll feel my truths
Through my Hard Knock Life time
My Gift and the Curse
I gave you volume after volume of my work
So you can feel my truths
I built the Dynasty by being one of the realest n*ggas out
Way beyond a Reasonable Doubt
(You all can't fill my shoes)
From my Blueprint beginnings
To that Black Album ending
Listen close you hear what I'm about
N*gga feel my truths
When Pop died
Didn't know him that well
Between him doing heroin
And me doing crack sales
With that in the egg shell
Standing at the tabernacle
Rather the church
Pretending to be hurt
So a smirk was all on my face
Like damn that man's face was just like my face
So Pop I forgive you
For all the sh*t that I live through
It wasn't all your fault
Homie you got caught
And to the same game I fought
That Uncle Ray lost
My big brothers and so many others I saw
I'm just glad we got to see each other
Talk and re-meet each other
Save a place in Heaven
Till the next time we meet forever
The music business hate me
Cause the industry ain't make me
Hustlers and boosters embrace me
And the music I be making
I dumb down for my audience
And double my dollars
They criticize me for it
Yet they all yell "Holla"
If skills sold
Truth be told
I'd probably be
I wanna rhyme like Common Sense
(But I did five mil)
I ain't been rhyming like Common since
When your sense got that much in common
And you been hustling since
Go with what makes sense
I know what I'm up against
We as rappers must decide what's most important
And I can't help the poor if I'm one of them
So I got rich and gave back
To me that's the win-win
So next time you see the homie and his rims spin
Just know my mind is working just like them
(The rims that is)
My homie Sigel's on a tier
Where no tears should fall
Cause he was on the block where no squares get off
See in my inner circle all we do is ball
Till we all got triangles on our wall
He ain't just rappin for the platinum
Cause I really been there before
Four scores and seven years ago
Prepared to flow
Prepare for war
I shall fear no man
You don't hear me though
These words ain't just paired to go
In one ear out the other ear
My balls and my word is all I have
What you gonna do to me?
N*gga scars'll scab
What you gonna box me homie?
I can dodge and jab
Three shots couldn't touch me
Thank God for that
I'm strong enough to carry Biggie Smalls on my back
And the whole BK n*gga holla back
1. The most famous lines in this song are about my philosophy of music and the tension between my commercial instincts and my instincts as an artist. But the first verse is all about my father.
2. After Reasonable Doubt, my next three albums were called Vol. 1, Vol. 2, and Vol. 3, with subtitles—In My Lifetime, Hard Knock Life, and Life and Times of S. Carter. The Volume series was meant to emphasize the connection between the albums, that each was a continuation and expansion of the same basic story.
3. This sounds cold, but the truth is that my father left my family for good when I was young and didn't reenter my life until I was an adult. Three months after we had our first conversation in twenty years, he died. My mother had pushed for the meeting because she knew he didn't have long and she didn't want him to die with our issues still unresolved. So at the funeral I was more intrigued than devastated.
4. When I did finally see my father again and we stood face-to-face, it was like looking in a mirror. It made me wonder how someone could abandon a child who looked just like him.
5. My father and I didn't have a lot of deep conversations before he died, but we did have one important one. When I first reconnected with him, I hit him with questions and he came back with answers until I realized nothing he could ever say would satisfy me or make sense of all the feelings I'd had since he turned his back on us. In the end, he broke down and apologized. And, somewhat to my surprise, I forgave him.
6. The death of my father's brother, my uncle Ray, changed everything for my pops. Ray was murdered outside of a crowded Brooklyn bar and everyone knew who did it, but the police didn't do anything about it. My dad swore revenge and became obsessed with hunting down Uncle Ray's killer. The tragedy—compounded by the injustice—drove him crazy, sent him to the bottle, and ultimately became a factor in the unraveling of my parents' marriage. As a kid, I didn't know all this. I had no idea that it was the death of his brother that undid my dad. When I found this out I realized that yeah, of course every father that bounced had a reason. I didn't excuse him for leaving his kids, but I started to understand.
7. Although this verse starts off on a cold note—I seem indifferent and even smirking about his death—that's only me being honest. I didn't cry. I didn't know him that well. But at the same time, it was so important that we did meet up before he died. It was important for me to hear him say he was sorry and for me to hear myself say, "I forgive you." It changed my life, really. I wish every kid who grew up like me could have the same chance to confront the fathers who left them, not just so they can lay out their anger, but so they can, in the end, let that anger go. That anger still stunts so many of us.
8. I was lucky in some ways to have come into the game on my own two feet—along with my partners Biggs and Dame—and not because the industry wanted to make me the flavor of the month and then throw me away.
9. I love that this has become such a popular line for people to riff off of in hip-hop—Lupe Fiasco did a great song called "Dumb It Down" that brought the whole thing full circle, for example—since the point of the line was to provoke conversation.
10. Kweli is a great MC—as is Common—and they've both carved out impressive careers without big records. They're great technical MCs, but there is a difference between being a great technician and a great songwriter. I deeply respect their craft, but even the most dazzling lyrical display won't translate to a wide audience unless it's matched with a big song.
11. This whole lyric is overstated—and I love Common—but I'm trying to make a point. I didn't come into the rap game just to enjoy my own rhymes; I could've done that by myself in my house with my tape recorder. I came into the music business to reach as many people as possible—and to get paid.
12. I use "sense" or "since" six times in the preceding nine lines, alternating between them, a technical flourish that works as its own commentary.
13. Ultimately, every artist has to make a choice about what makes the most sense for them, and I'm not mad at whatever they decide. To honor the art of lyrical rhyming on one hand, and try to reach a wide audience on the other, is an art form in itself. It's not easy, but that's just another challenge that I love to take on.
14. The homonym of tiers and tears connects prison tiers with crying—but you can't cry in prison (at least not out in the open).
15. This geometric series—block/square, ball/circle, and then triangle—is the kind of unnecessary technical challenge I like to drop into songs just to give the lines extra energy and resonance. The "triangles on our wall" refer to platinum plaques; Billboard magazine's symbol for platinum sales is a triangle.
16. Even though earlier I made the point about doubling my dollars, here I'm being clear that the rapping isn't just for sales, because I've already sold millions—so there's still something deeper at work.
17. A play on Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address—except instead of his "four score and seven years ago," my "four scores" are four number one albums, and "seven years ago" goes back to the beginning of my career.
18. This is about not having fear: "Scars'll scab" means that even if you injure me, I'll recover; "I can dodge and jab" means that swinging on me won't stop me; and even "three shots couldn't touch me." The whole point of the "moment of clarity" is that after I confront my own demons, I'm left with nothing but "my balls and my word," which makes me untouchable.
19. Biggie was huge, arguably the greatest of all time. Carrying him on my back means taking the weight of all he represented. But the image of Biggie—who wasn't skinny—on my back reinforces how hard it is to do.