IASPM 2014 – Intertextuality and Lineage in The Game’s “We Ain’t”


Justin Williams, University of Bristol

[Friday afternoon here in the music dept at University College Cork, and after an early start (most of us flew in this morning) the first paper wakes us all up with some solid classic gangsta rap.]

Justin’s paper focuses on “We Ain’t” by rapper The Game (prod. Eminem) as an example of intertextuality in Gangsta rap lineage. Useful quote (didn’t get the origin?) – “the artist starts by imposing a culture on himself and ends by imposing it on others”. Justin discusses lineage, both literal (e.g. Rock Family Trees) and cultural, and expands on the themes from his book ‘Rhymin’ and Stealin’ – https://www.press.umich.edu/3480627/rhymin_and_stealin.

We hear verse 1 and the first chorus of the song – video below.

The lyric excerpt under discussion is as follows;

Me and Marshall ain’t start shit they listen to our shit

They talk shit about us but that shit is foul when

I’m tryna feed my son and drop multi-platinum albums

Make my mother proud that her son made it out

But its hard when they hate us and think ‘Em a racist

They say shit but fuck them,

Shady one of the greatest like Biggie n’ Pac was

We started throwin cinthi and decided to chase ’em

Me, him and 50 racin’ this rap shit is basic I followed that Jay shit

Thinkin what I wanna say, step in the booth in one take and

How could I not sell a million when I’m rappin’ on Dre hits

Then spit that classical LA, NWA shit

The media is bullshit now we can’t even say bitch

They accusin Michael of touchin kids in the wrong places

At first they embraced him, had a couple of face lifts

Now people wanna place him with murderers and rapists

They comin’ I can taste this swear to God I ain’t racin’

Put the clip in and wast ’em before I go out on that fake shit

I’m so sick and tired this black shit this white shit

So I sit here and write shit, Em they ain’t gon’ like this

[Chorus:]

[The Game]

So they callin us

We ain’t goin no where so fuck you

We ain’t goin no where so fuck you

[Eminem]

This day the game won’t ever be the same

[Dre]

Things just ain’t the same for gangstas

[Eminem]

The game just isn’t the same its changing

To new Game

You’re now about to witness the power

Musicological elements are identified (form, harmonic loop and basic beat) and some elements are compared to equivalents in other genres and discussed by other scholars (e.g. Allan Moore). Justin terms the ‘basic beat’ to be a run of uninterrupted quavers (eighth notes) and compares to simple examples in rock (e.g. Black Sabbath’s Paranoid). [JB note – I don’t personally agree this is a particularly intertextual comparison – runs of quavers appear in almost all popular musics (perhaps all musics)]. However the comparison of The Game’s use of rap emphases (pushing and lengthening every third 16th note) and Eminem’s equivalent vocal performance is illuminating.

We then see a table of ‘flow’ (that is, influences of other rappers on The Game) with specific examples provided, followed by a brief discussion of allosonic (original) and autosonic (sampled) content (after Serge Lacasse), although Justin acknowledges that this distinction is a deliberate simplification of Lacasse’s work.

We then hear several hooks, including the (very powerful) chorus, followed by an allusion to the tensions between lineage copyright clearance. Justin argues that some rappers create immortality for each other by amplifying referential content in their lyrics. He uses the term “the imagined community of the hip-hop nation” – a fascinating description of crowd-sourced understanding of the interpretation of lyric meaning. I infer that Justin is arguing that intertextuality in hip-hop is a an intentional (and designed) self-perpetuating mythology, based on a tacit collusion between artists and fans, collectively and silently deciding which texts have meaning and which can memetically breed through fandom.

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