Sunday, July 17, 2011

Politics and Promises

This is for SpinTunes 3, Round 3. The challenge is to write a rap. Sooo... we decided it would be most difficult to avoid nerdcore and hit the challenge head-on. So here it is.

Production-wise, absolutely nothing went our way this week... the instrumentation entirely unlike what we had hoped to do, but we make do when things fall through.

I'll follow the lyrics with a bit of song bio...

william hoover

Politics and Promises
I lie awake each night
And think of all the lucky men who died before the fight
And those who still are with us
Who revel in delight
To use our simple apathy to get ahead in life

Six a.m.Thursday how late this city sleeps
A stray dog chases pigeons up and down the empty streets
There the Hyland donor wrenches out his wrinkled hands
Counting all his needle marks and wishing they were friends

Just up the street, on 23rd and Main
There stands an all glass building where our laws are made
Transparent to some, mirror-like to most
Who cater to the press and wear those fancy clothes

[Instrumental break]

You can sing me to sleep
With your billy club in hand
But does the riot become quiet
With the silence of just one man?

Breathe your words on me
Have me lay my weapons down
Find a compromise to satisfy
The hatred we found.

I can take a piece of you
You can take a piece of me
Someone dies - someone cries
Maybe friends or enemies.
Brother let me tell you now that your hatred is wack
If it's ok to you then you're on the wrong track.

[instrumental break]

Beside the all glass building there stands a golden steeple
A symbol of religion to all god-fearing people
People who confuse beliefs and making laws
Who bend the system far enough to grease some local palms

Yeah, go ahead, does it make you feel better
Read a selection from the Good Book's letters
Read me the part about love thy neighbor
And read me the part about a baby saviour
But read for your own how to cast the first stone
And read for your own how friendship is sown
So yeah, go ahead, did it make you feel better
Did the baptism take or just make you wetter?

[Instrumental break]

Broken glass promises
In the shadows of the Big House
The White House
It doesn't matter what louse
Is makin' 'em
they're fakin' 'em
they're takin' 'em
and breakin' 'em
they're tellin' us
they're savin' us
and all the while
they're playin' us

Six a.m. Thursday how late this city sleeps
The politician awakes from his adulterous deceit
Political ambition taken from the donor's hands
And the promise of reform ain't gonna change his plans
(and he's got plans, baby)

Politics and Promises
I lie awake each night
And think of all the lucky men who died before the fight
And those who still are with us
Who revel in delight
To use our simple apathy to get ahead in life

Song Bio
We started out determined to do this as a straight rap and avoid "nerdcore", partly due to the company we're keeping in this competition (which is mostly geeks, "Dr. Lindyke" not excluded). 

So, having decided to meet the rap challenge head-on and not try to avoid or deflect it in any way, we had to decide what goes in it. Since rap is often concerned with socially relevant topics, of course we went with politics and religion, as you've seen.
Basically, the lyrics are set up as follows:
  1. Set the stage
  2. Can't we all just get along?
  3. Judgement
  4. Politics
That's a lot to cover in a short song, but we're not trying to flesh anything out. The "rapper" persona here is simply a guy who feels as though he's been stepped on, but isn't savvy enough to know who is doing the stepping, or why. So it's a general declaration of dissatisfaction without focus.

Some of the lyrics are not what they sound like. For instance, the "Hyland donor" isn't a drug addict... he's just a poor guy just trying to make ends meet by donating blood at the Red Cross in Hyland Park. The "golden steeple" isn't just a religious symbol... it also stands in for the court systems, which are housed in buildings replete with religious symbolism (for instance, the ubiquitous statue of "Justice" is a goddess of the Greek pantheon), and the justices -- who wear priestly robes -- begin their proceedings with prayer. The verse is a little stab at "legislating from the bench", and serves to segue from politics to religion. The symbolism of it being the courts is further driven home by the physical proximity to the "all-glass building" which is a stand-in for our Federal building. This leads into a verse that's superficially about the Bible, but is actually, more generally, critical of being judgemental and hypocritical. The punchline is my favorite line of the song.

This leads us from hypocrisy to broken promises, which we assume to be deliberate. Again, our rapper is stepped on, and to him it doesn't matter what face or party is in office... so a bit of conspiracy-mongering is in order.

Almost all of it is inspired by actual events, though, including the "billy club" verse (which also intended to replace the famous (and now worn out) Rodney King "can't we all just get along?" sentiment). Edric actually used that line in the last round, so we needed an alternative; I think William's solution to that is better... "does the riot become quiet with the silence of just one man?"... I like that.

The rap is bookended with a chorus sung by Katie Prince. Thanks, Katie!


This song is very unlike what I had planned.  I bought a copy of "How to Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip-Hop MC" by Paul Edwards, and one of the best tools listed in there was a "flow chart". Now, if you're a programmer, this is entirely unlike what you're used to calling a flow chart. Instead, it's a tool to break the song down syllable by syllable, plotting your breaths, and ensuring that the song flows well along the beat. I did chart this, originally having an extra measure in the 2nd and 6th lines of each verse. I changed that after I started putting it to music.

I had other instrumentation, but put in the piano when Edric Haleen made a comment about piano and rap. I originally had planned electric piano for the solos, but wound up working for two of the vacation days I had scheduled, so didn't get around to writing it. Hence the "aaaah's", and the overall sloppy sound. I might finish it properly one day.


I don't mind saying that didn't feel very very good about this song when I submitted it. I had taken 3 days off work so I could work on the production, but didn't get to do it, as I was called in each of the three days. So, this is the latest I've worked on a song and had to cut the instrumentation I'd planned, and cut some of the stuff I'd actually recorded because it wasn't working.  Also, since it was the only piece of social commentary in a sea of party and nerdcore rap (excluding Charlie McCarron's surrealistic piece and Caleb Hines' non-rap), I felt it risked being old-fashioned and stuffy by comparison... so we'd either stand out as being different and brave, or we'd crash and burn.

It's too early to tell which will happen, but I'm gratified that early reviews don't exactly suck. Jon Eric, another competitor, who has had more experiencing rapping than anyone else in the competition, posted some very positive comments on his blog. Even Spintown liked it, and he's a self-professed fan of funny songs. Given that we're not doing terribly bad in the popular vote, either, even if we don't make it through to the next round I feel quite happy with the song, if not the delivery.

Here's the Negative Reinforcement from Sammy Kablam. "You're no Ross Durand." Well, that's hardly news... my wife has said the same. I feel both honored and puzzled that we have been left relatively unscathed. 

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