There are a lot of tracks, hell, there are a lot of things that I am aware of, but never took the time to actually check out. “The Message” is one of those things.
So three years has passed since “Rapper’s Delight”. Party tracks dominate hip hop. As you wrote in your reply regarding DJ Kool Herc–he commercialized the block party. He took the party from the clubs and brought it to the streets. Well, this is where “The Message” takes place.
That first verse is so full of imagery. It’s so vivid. Already from the first verse we see that the black party had gone, and now reality is setting in–“Broken glass everywhere / People pissin’ on the stairs, you know they just don’t care / I can’t take the smell, can’t take the noise”. This is that evolution you speak of. I imagine this not only as a stereotypical picture of shitty NYC project, but rather as the literal end of the block party. The broken glass from the broken beer bottles from partygoers. People pissing wherever because they’re too drunk to care. The smell is common at this point. Think of the bar, EXIT in Hongdae. Smells like shit, but it’s the noise of the party that would drive you crazy. This is were the verse shifts to more of a residential verse–talking about the living conditions of New York. Now, I’m sure you could apply this to a commentary onto all of society, but I don’t particularly care to do that. Being from a small town, having always grown up with so few people, I don’t think a lot of the equation between big city society necessarily fits with all of society. I could write a bunch on this, but I’ll spare you.
Although I feel there was some elements of conscious rap in “Rapper’s Delight”, but nothing to the level of Melle Mel in “The Message”. I think now, today, about the top conscious rappers today, Talib Kweli, Lupe, Kendrick, obviously Grandmaster Flash pioneered the way for these rappers. When it comes to poetry, this is what makes Melle Mel’s words more poetic than that of say, the guys from Sugar Hill Gang–consciousness. He’s rapping about reality. He’s rapping about life. Again, I’m not saying that there wasn’t some of this in “Rapper’s Delight”, but nothing to the extent to that of that last verse.
“A child is born with no state of mind / Blind to the ways of mankind / God is smilin’ on you but he’s frownin’ too / Because only God knows what you’ll go through”. It’s this idea that we’re all born the same, but that it’s where we’re born into that can dominate and control our lives. This is that urban element. Of course the “jungle” referred to in the hook is that of the concrete jungle. Which can be also seen as irony, as slaves were often taken from the jungles of Africa and brought to the United States. Yet, the jungle they now find themselves in, after all these years, is one much more dangerous than the one they were taken from.
The ending to “The Message” is really, almost sickening. “Now your manhood is took and you’re a Maytag [a prison fuckee] / Spend the next two years as a undercover fag / Bein’ used and abused to serve like hell / Til one day, you was found hung dead in the cell”. To be so blunt, to be so candid and real, after all, this is the reality of prison, really shows that the vessel that is hip hop can be used for more than just the party. There is nothing glamourous or ritzy about “The Message”. That’s probably the point, that once the block party is over, everyone must go back to their realities and be forced to live their lives. Each verse in “The Message” really illustrates these different perspectives of the hard-knock life.