First things first. If you don’t have The Love Below by Andre 3000 on repeat, you need to reconsider your Valentine’s Day routine. Here’s an obvious track to start with.
Secondly, I present my top five favorite hip hop heart references, with just a little lip service paid to their scientific validity.
#5. “Everything Man” – Talib Kweli (Ear Drum)
Our list starts with “Everything Man” by Talib Kweli, playing on the Ear Drum album title. And a heartbeat bassline courtesy of Madlib (skip to 1:10).
After an intro of…
Feel the heart beat
on your ear drum.
…Kweli plays on Langston Hugh’s “A Dream Deferred,” (1:20):
Yo, what becomes of a dream deferred?
That never makes it to the world to be seen or heard
Do it breath? Do it got a heartbeat? Is it alive?
Do it leave? Only to become a star in the sky?
I’m a Kweli fan but let’s be honest – he doesn’t really hold a candle to the original. But it does bring up some provocative questions about what constitutes life (heart beat? brain activity?)… for another time.
I’ll leave you with this brag, despite the fact that he’s implicitly referencing one of the great neuromyths of all time: “This ain’t my full potential. I’m only using 10% of my mental on instrumental”.
#4. “Wheelz of Steel” – Outkast (ATLiens)
First, note Big Boi’s educational mission in the intro: “I’m fittin’ to enhance yo brain!”
Then skip to 1:39 to hear Andre 3000 deliver the best self-conscious poop joke/metaphor/braggadocio in all of music:
We take no sh*t like, ummm, stopped up commodes.
Right after that line Andre earns his spot on the heart list (with bonus points for anatomical specificity):
Got a collect call, they done locked up my folks.
Low blow, hit me in the left ventricle.
As you all know, the left ventricle is the largest of the heart’s four chambers, as it has to pump blood through the whole body (whereas the right ventricle only has to pump it up to the lungs to be oxygenated). Leave it to Three Stacks to weave humor and biology jargon into tales from the streets.
#3. “FatBellyBella” – Jay Electronica
For those of you who need to make an apology today, here is Jay Electronica saying sorry to his ex, Erykah Badu. I try to ignore the astrology, and focus on the raw emotion, honesty, and lyricism.
At 1:03 Jay explains that he is (and acts) “cold like New York“, but his “heart is warm like Miami.” Cute.
Then he finishes with:
It’s a luxury
Be grateful that a mustard seed
Is enough to be
Enough to move a mountain
My pen is an artery
My heart is a fountain.
Great rhyme. Nice biblical reference. Powerful poetry on unrequited love.
Plus a nice bio metaphor. You may recall that arteries carry blood away from the heart. So his heart is a fountain (it kind of is, in a certain way). And his pen is the vessel through which his emotion bleeds onto the page.
#2. “Us” – Brother Ali (Us)
The heart has shifted symbolism from soul (Kweli), to sadness (Andre), to heartache (Jay Elec), to… Brother Ali’s love for all humanity.
Watch from the beginning, but the lyrics below start at 0:22.
I’m blind in the eye, so I see you with my heart.
To me all of y’all look exactly the same:
Fear, faith, compassion and pain.
And try as we may to mask, it remains,
Such as your religion or your past or your race,
The same color blood just pass through our veins
And tears taste the same when they splash on your face.
The world’s getting too small to stand in one place.
It’s like we’re roommates just sharing a space.
Can’t separate and still carry the weight.
Gotta heal, get away from the fear and the hate.
Gotta shake free from them chains.
You gotta see what remains, just a human being at the end of the day.
Don’t matter to me what name you gave your spiritual plane.
Close your eyes and you’ll see what I’m saying.
Veins, as you remember, carry blood back toward the heart. The veins from the lungs are full of oxygen-rich blood, and the blood in those systemic veins are ready to be replenished. This verse is so sincere I don’t even have anything snarky to say about it.
The full version of Brother Ali’s song can be found here.
1. “Dr. Carter” – Lil Wayne (Tha Carter III)
Now I’ve got to admit. I’m not the biggest Weezy fan (The reality is that I never gave him much of a chance after his start in the 90’s with Cash Money Millionaires. How could someone who hung out with the Birdman be a talented emcee?).
But this song is genius. And a classic. If you haven’t spent some time studying these lyrics – do your self a favor (full lyrics here).
For example (2:10):
“Arthritis in my hand from writing,
But I’m a doctor. They don’t understand my writing.”
If you forgive him the fact that he rhymes writing with itself, the line is pretty clever. Doctors jot notoriously sloppy notes. And a lot of his punchlines are over people’s heads. Boom.
And let’s be honest. “Fly. Go Hard. Like Geese Erection” (3:04) is one of funniest lines ever, and happens to mention an important aspect of reproductive biology. (Couldn’t find much on goose boners, but here is some cutting-edge science on ostrich erections).
The heart references themselves don’t jump out on their own (1:41 – “Respect is in the heart. So that’s where I’mma start.”). It’s the overall concept that’s key.
All of these “patients” – either whack rappers, or hip hop itself – are unhealthy. Dr. Carter examines them (0:45 – “And I come to fix whatever you shall break. Where is your originality? You are so fake”) and treats them (2:23 – “Now let me put some more vocab in your I.V.”).
So as “Dr. Carter” fades out, and you contemplate the symbolic and literal power of of your pulsating muscly organ, let that heart beat of hip hop bang on your tympanic membrane. Happy V-Day.