In 2010, I wrote the most amount of lyrics in my rhyme writing life. Since I’ve been rhyming now for exactly half of my life, that’s either wildly unproductive or quietly prolific depending on how you feel about blog rappers today pumping out seemingly 200 songs a year for free. But for a writer like me, it takes ALOT to pen a verse.
I used to think I took too long to write, but then I read various interviews with GZA about the making of Liquid Swords where he confessed that he missed out on a track like “Incarcerated Scarfaces” being on his album because Raekwon outpaced him and snagged the track. GZA writes his rhymes painfully slow; he’ll start a verse, then finish it weeks later. He’ll start a verse and finish it in an hour, but come back to it later on and make changes. If you think about the way Raekwon raps, it’s very fluid, almost electric because he writes his rhymes fast; his flow is always moving because his pen is always moving. GZA is more declarative. His rhymes read like sentences because he is writing complete thoughts in each bar. To summon 48 complete thoughts for one song takes discipline. It takes time. I’m not comparing myself to GZA as an emcee or writer, but I relate more to his method than Raekwon, a guy I envy and respect because he makes it seem effortless even though his level of brilliance is executed like a 10 minute bank robbery. GZA’s method is a two month stakeout on the national treasury.
I bring up this piece of writer’s commentary because last year, right around this time on the calendar actually, I was sent the track “Color Bars” by Half Past Never Band straight outta Helsinki. Their new album Cubicle Coma is due out shortly, and I was lucky enough to bless another song on there called “Sammy Jankis”. And here’s a secret that might be less obvious to some — when rappers are approached by outside folks we’re not aware of, we don’t tend to give them the $600 coat off the rack. We’ll do our best to appease someone excited in our work, sure. But typically you’re getting $70 porkpie hat in return. The good shit stays behind the register.
But “Color Bars” for me represents my favorite piece of songwriting to date, 14 years into writing rhymes, from looseleafs in high school that I used to number and store in a Wu-Tang Forever folder I bought at Sam Goody in ’97, through 2011 where 90% of everything I write is on a keyboard or touch screen, stored in electrical nests in the sky or some microchip in my pocket.
Writing rhymes and writing songs are different animals to gut. Writing a rhyme is like killing a boar with a bow and arrow. Writing a song is knowing how to use every piece of that boar’s body for food, clothing, and shelter. It’s more disciplined and tacit and stringent, and it sometimes you just want to toss your tools on the ground and grab a milkshake. But the rewards last longer than the instant gratification of taking down a giant. I’m envious of guys who keep 19 verses fresh in their head to bust open at any given moment because I don’t write rhymes anymore to be the arrow that strikes the listener. I write rhymes that tie into something bigger, for better or worse. It’s tedious and often dreadful; I empathize with someone like GZA because who wants to spend 2 weeks finishing one verse for one song?
“Colors Bars” was written for someone special, and I tried to arrange it as such. The guys in the band gave me thorough notes on how to improve the song once it was written. Who knew the most thorough producer instructional performance notes I could get would be emails from Helsinki? The results, at least in my opinion, were outstanding. In a year where I wrote more, for more collaborators, in various BPMs and genres, more often, “Color Bars” is the bar I set for myself to topple this year and beyond. I hope you give it a listen.