Saturday, June 20, 2009

When Cam Could Still Rap (Well), 'Lord You Know' Edition/Kanye's A Biter

As I imagine many of you know, 'Lord You Know' began its ill-fated life back in 2003 as a Heatmakers-lite, Sam Cooke-sampling mixtape cut, featuring a blasphemic chipmunked sample of Cooke's 'A Change Is Gonna Come' on the hook and a raw Juelz batting cleanup. The twisted humor (or, depending on how, um, progressive your views on drugs and incarceration are, the perfect appropriateness) of Cam appropriating Cooke's civil rights anthem to decry his drug-lord friend's ten-year sentence was, I imagine, lost on the Cooke estate. So back to the drawing board, where Cooke got replaced by Jaheim - real even trade there - and Juelz's formally messy but quite affecting, triumphant, and, dare I say, even visionary verse got replaced by a virtuosic 16 from Cam that, given the context, is both a little too technically showy and a whole lot too concerned with his beef-stew G2 and GQ wardrobe to have any business being inserted into this song. Given the loss of the sample, the Juelz verse, which explicitly engages with and quotes the Cooke original (his verse actually begins, "now I was born by the river in a little tent/little gate, little fence, I climbed over"), may have had to go, but it's quite a loss. At their collaborative best, there was a humanism to Juelz, or at the very least a youthful optimism, that leavened Cam's world-weary cynicism. (Indeed, in the endlessly entertaining but ultimately pretty bleak universe of classic Dipset Cam, isn't, oddly enough, Juelz's rising stardom Cam's sole point of hope for the future? How many Cam tracks are a grim catalogue of rapes, murders, coke sales, and sundry other horrors, only to end with him urging us to "watch Santana"? Cam on Crime Pays, bereft of Dipset members to shout out, is very much like a pathetic cult leader who's lost his acolytes, but also like a father who's lost his son.) That's very much the case here.

At any rate, the version with Jaheim was the one that ended up on Rap City. Which unfortunately is where it ended. As Cam immortally explained on 'Stop-N-Go,' "Purple Haze will be out this December 7th. Sorry for the delay. But it's business, never personal. New people, new money. I had to get that check." With the enormous delay, 'Lord You Know' had grown stale, and Cam left it off the album in favor of its abysmal B-side, 'Hey Lady.' So it often goes for first singles off pushed-back albums. Next disc, Cam learned, and put all his best songs out regardless of age, upon which he was of course bashed for hawking an album full of old material. To which I say, fuck that. If it weren't for idiots constantly fiending for new material, Purple Haze would be one song closer to being the album of the century.


Listen, with my muscle you'll be dazzled, but hustlin's a hassle
Percocet, Demerol, capsules of Paxil
Cops wanna cuff you, niggas wanna clap you
Bitches might burn you, they runnin' with that clap too
But the monster made it, do it for those incarcerated
Had it confiscated, hate it
When they take powder, upstate he take showers
Baby mom on Greyhound for eight hours
See her man face to face through a glass
On the phone, ten years he got chasin' that cash
Cocaine, he had the game in a smash
Fell like the towers when the planes went on crash
It wasn't 9/11, but it was 911
Gave him 9 plus 1, dropped a dime on dunn
I told him get his nine and run
Turned himself in, I had to find that dumb, that's too long

Aiyyo them niggas from the 3-2, said I can't breeze through
The forty if I cop bottles, we can't believe you
Me, who? Please, boo, landin' in that G2,
Same color as beef stew, favorite letters: GQ
That's me, true, peach blue, Hebrew
Lawyer on my side keep me out of jail, the fee stew, steep, whoo
But it might lead to, that R2D2, the mobsters creep through
We the new PE, shittin, PU
To the hood y'all don't need me, I need you
'Cause my mission's insane, you couldn't vision the pain
Always a snitch in the game, what you want, prison or fame?
Neither one, dunn, long as my digits are sane
He lookin' frigid, dig it, make sure them digits get changed
'Cause I can't be in hell's cell, shout out to Mel Mel
Cash and Hell Rell, Zeek doin three, he even fell, hell
He comin' home an '07 and 12 cells
'Cause you must have known, I can't trust the phones
For the dough you'll be like d'oh, stuck at home

Nowadays, dog, they raid up in the ballparks
Blaze 'em when they cross sharks
We raiders of the lost ark
I'm like a ballplayer, shake up and cross narcs
They get mad when I lay up in the Porsche Box
More props, R.I.P., my poor pops
Can't see his son shine like the Four Tops
My antennas will block the scanners
I got blammas, you'll drop your hammers
Lawyers to watch lawyers, cameras to watch cameras
Niggas to watch bitches, Nana to watch Grandma
In pajamas I snuck out to watch Santa
Now look at Killa, you gon' watch Santana

Cam'ron f. Juelz Santana and Sam 'Chipmunk' Cooke, 'Long Time Coming,' Diplomats Vol. 5 (2003).

Cam'ron f. Jaheim, 'Lord You Know', Lord You Know 12'' (2004).

Cam'ron f. Jaheim, 'Lord You Know' (A Capella). Not many rappers' a capellas hold up; it's a testament to the tightness of Cam's slow flow that this one really does. There are also a couple extra bars in the third verse for the completist.

Bonus: Cam'ron, 'Dynasty Intro Freestyle,' Diplomats Vol. 5 (2003). This unremarkable, even disappointing freestyle is notable for one reason: that it seems to be the source of Kanye's one good punchline. You may remember, back when Rap City was on its last legs and the set had famous lines from great rappers on the wall ("Is there a heaven for a G" was one), that Kanye, in one of his appearances, not-so-jokingly demanded that his "killin y'all niggas on that lyrical shit/mayonnaise colored Benz, I push miracle whips" make the wall. Which was nutty enough, but what if Kanye stole the line? College Dropout dropped in '04, this mixtape dropped in '03, and here's the quote from the freestyle (1:11-1:20):

Step to Cam, damn, on some lyrical shit
Slash spiritual tip, it's hysterical, dick
Just call my car mayonnaise, Miracle Whip

Now maybe Kanye was running around the Roc studios trying to impress everyone with his so-so punchline a year before the album dropped and Cam picked it up, but I seriously doubt it. The way Cam phrases the line, it's put the way he would have put it if he had written it. Kanye clearly took Cam's tossed-off throwaway, polished it up a bit, used it as the coup de grace of the closer on his debut album, and then turned it into a trademark. Google Kanye and miracle whips; it's downright sad how many people cite it as his best line, or even as the moment when they were sold on Kanye as lyricist. Charges of plagiarism in rap don't make much sense and I give Jay a ton of slack on his compulsive Biggie homage, but when you're stealing a line that nobody but the good people of Harlem and Jewish Cam obsessives have heard, and then build your whole reputation as a lyricist around it, that's beyond the pale.


bding7 said...

"it's downright sad how many people cite it as his best line"

Now he certainly has more emotionally affecting lyrics, but what would you say is his best punchline? Because, sad it is, that is the best candidate. Also, Cam's version just makes it look so easy. You can tell too much Kanye sat long and hard about that line

tray said...

No, I mean, it's sad that so many cite it at his best line when it's not really his. I have to say I like Kanye's version better, it's a lot more calculated (even though he didn't even write it) but, on account of that, packs a greater punch. Cam's punchlines are so elliptically put that you often don't even notice them. I always thought his verse on "Pin The Tail" was awful and never even realized it contains this goofy gem: "The marble's mad, yes, the floors are heated."

Jordan said...

"Now maybe Kanye was running around the Roc studios trying to impress everyone with his so-so punchline a year before the album dropped"

dunno if this is actually the case, but he does claim he was doing that during the kinda insufferable kinda charming outro on "Last Call," that he spit a verse to Jay which included the line and Jay liked the line but wasn't hot on the verse. And you Kanye would repeat that line constantly to everyone if he thought Jay liked it. So Kanye as the line's originator seems more likely to me.

tray said...

And then Cam used it on a mixtape freestyle in a totally garbled form? Why would he do that? I suppose it's possible.

bding7 said...

If it weren't for idiots constantly fiending for new material, Purple Haze would be one song closer to being the album of the century.

I'd really like to hear your comments on Come Home With Me at some point in this series.

tray said...


ghengis blond said...

hahahaha great post. cam's setup line is better but kanye's punch gobbles the cake. has the latter ever used it in a released song?

tray said...

In a released song?? Yes, 'Last Call,' the closer on College Dropout. Then he made a big fuss about how clever it was in hundreds of interviews.

scjoha said...

Tray, please reupload the Lord You Know acapella? Can't find it anywhere else.