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Sample Saturday – Isaac Hayes et Jay-Z: Can I Live?

We invite you to, somethin epic y’all know?
Where we hustle out of a sense of hopelessness
Sort of a desperation
Through that desperation, we ‘come addicted
Sorta like the fiends we accustomed to servin
But we feel we have nothin to lose (everything to gain)
So we offer you, well, we offer our lives
What do you bring to the table?”

I was twelve years old the first time I heard Can I Live. Jay-Z’s lyrics were superb, the album was a glimpse into the mind of an ambitious yet at the time mildly successful hustler with dreams of overcoming harsh socio-economic conditions and making the most out of his opportunity. Reasonable Doubt in general was an introspective journal, a raw look into the often neglected internal conflicts of life in the underworld.

 Whoever said illegal was the easy way out, couldn’t understand the mechanics and the workings of the underworld…”

The album addresses the pressures of youth in the ghetto, morality, dreams, realities, materialism, inequalities and the inherent challenges of overcoming such conditions. The concepts and ideas are presented with an elegance and clarity that makes it worthy of best selling author. By no means did I live a hustlers life but I grew up around all of it. It was in my vision, in my family and constantly making me question and challenge my path. From a young age the duality of my life would have me shaking hands presidents one day and  around drug dealers, hustlers and rebels the next – “Laughing hard happy to be escaping poverty, however brief…” 

This album dissected concepts that I vaguely understood but fully related to and it rocked my world. It was my coming of age, it was poetry, it was Jay-Z at his absolute best.

My mind is infested with sick thoughts that circle like a Lexus,
if driven wrong it’s sure to hurt you
Dual level like duplexes…

The two verses are classic. Everything is represented – confidence, struggle, success, failure, confusion, growth, ambition, I mean it’s so loaded that till this day I’m impressed by the Jordan-esque zone Jay was in at the time…

When it boils to steam, it comes to it
We all fiends, gotta do it, even righteous minds go through this
True, the street schooled us to spend our money foolish
Bond with jewelers and watch for intruders
I stepped it up another level, meditated like a Buddhist
Recruited lieutenants with ludicrous dreams of
Gettin’ cream, ”let’s do this!” It gets te-di-ous
So I keep one eye open like C-B-S
You see me stressed right?!

Both verses lead up to one of my fondest memories as a young, the epic question that summarizes his hunger, his will and desire to finally get his chance. It was three words -

Can I Live?”

I swear to you the first time I heard that my eyes watered up. I’d never heard such a musical progression combined with words of frustration and hope like that. I thought about everything I wanted, everything I was doing and I froze… Have you ever wanted something so bad that you’re willing to put everything you have into it? You work day and night for it but you still haven’t quite got it, all you what is a chance to show yourself, your moment in the spotlight, your moment to live?

Looking back now it was a combination of a lot things that made me feel that way. One major factor was Issac Hayes mind blowing incredible arrangement. When you’re young everything is new to you and with all the music that I’d heard in my life up to that point I’d never experienced such an epic moment as when those horns come in on the chorus. Jay enhanced that 10 fold with three words and it’s a moment I’ll never forget. I’ve recently started to understand just how great some of the best rappers are as song writers. We tend to overlook that for whatever reason but listening to the original it’s hard to imagine the song without Jay on it and that serves to show just how well he connected with that instrumental. Classic all around, enjoy.

I’d rather die enormous than live dormant…”

Jay-Z – Can I Live

Isaac Hayes – The Look of Love

Rocafella y’all…

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