5 Hip-Hop Tracks That Influenced Olympic Butter Gold

By Jonathan Moody

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1) “Get Up, Get
Into It, Get Involved (Rare Live TV Appearance 1971)
” by James Brown:

There’s no way around writing a poetry book
about hip-hop without listening to James Brown. I could’ve easily selected
“Funky Drummer,” but hip-hop heads are familiar with that track because of
Clyde Stubblefield’s ridiculous drumming. I chose the condensed version of “Get
Involved…” that I discovered on YouTube because when the horns come in at the
56 second mark it launches the beginning of a gorgeous break-beat that almost
entices me to rock the body body into backspins and windmills.

 2) “My Melody” by
Eric B. & Rakim:
Nothing more I can say about this amazing song that
probably hasn’t been said before. There are so many quotable lines in this
track such as “My unusual style will confuse you awhile/ If I was water, I’d
flow in the Nile” that evoke powerful imagery, wit, and science: qualities
that I want my poems to manifest.

3) “Cell Therapy”
by Goodie Mob:
I’ve studied this disturbing song over the past twenty years,
and I learn something new after each listen. What’s so frightening is that the
social commentary on the track addresses the sneaky ways that the U.S.
government engages in covert operations and domestic surveillance: “insane
plain, soldiers coming in the dark by plane/to enforce the new system by reign,
tag my skin with your computer chip.” The
second section of Olympic Butter Gold entitled Freistil Battle is indebted to
“Cell Therapy.” I reference how America treats its citizens like potential
suspects and how, at times, we live in a militarized state.

4) “Ice Cream” by Raekwon (feat. Ghostface, Cappadonna, and Method Man): My erotic love poem
“Lovelust á la mode” is where I try to channel Raekwon’s cool demeanor,
Cappadonna’s disarming sincerity, and Ghostface’s vivid detail. The day I
achieve success as a poet is the day when I describe my wife the way Ghostface
describes women: painting a picture so colorful that readers who’ve never met my
wife would instantly recognize her in public based on my imagery. I have a long
way to go, but the idiosyncratic way in which I combine compassion with
debauchery comes off successfully.      

5)  “The Genesis”
by Nas:
When I first heard “The Genesis” at 15, the movie excerpt that Nas
sampled was lost on me.  I couldn’t
understand what the two guys were arguing about: “… be a man! There ain’t
nothin’ out here for you.” “Oh yes there is. This.” Where the hell was “here”
and what was the “this” that the guy was referring to? For me, I experienced
Illmatic in media res; it wasn’t until I was in my mid 20s when I realized
where those voices came from: Wild Style (For some reason, I didn’t see that
movie growing up). I realized that Nas had sampled one of the most memorable
scenes from the film: the argument between the protagonist “Zorro” and his
brother who’d returned home briefly from the Army.  The “here” was South Bronx and the “this” was
hip-hop: graffiti to be exact.  Zorro’s
brother didn’t just call Zorro’s dreams of being an artist into question: he
explicitly stated that his younger brother’s dedication to art was childish:
“Stop fucking around and be a man!”

I could relate; when I told my parents I wanted to apply to
graduate creative writing programs to study poetry, they shook their heads in
disbelief.  I’m not sure if Nas had any
haters in his corner, but I’m damn sure that he knew his craft: not just with
creating intricate rhyme schemes but with creating a sonic collage.  In “Genesis”, Nas’s inclusion of that
argument from Wild Style as well as DJ Grand Wizard Theodore’s “Subway Theme”
from the same film influenced the way I alluded to DJ Kool Herc and borrowed a
line from Augustus Pablo’s “King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown” in my poem “Son of
a…”: to acknowledge hip-hop’s genesis.
For Nas, he focused specifically on South Bronx: the birthplace of
hip-hop.  For me, I touch upon South
Bronx (Kool Herc) but also touch upon the country that influenced rap music
production: Jamaica (the place where Kool Herc was born).  Like Nas, I also want to give readers a
bird’s eye view of what it was like to experience hip-hop culture as a kid and
an adult.  In essence, I’m hoping to put
Frankfurt, Germany and especially Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, and Fresno, Texas,
on the map in the way that Nas bolstered the significance of Queensbridge as
being a force on the scene.

What Nas and other MCs and producers have taught me, though,
is that it’s not enough to pay homage; you have to find some way to propel art
forward.  He also taught me that there’s
value behind speaking to a specific audience. Olympic Butter Gold is
unapologetically Southern in the way that Nas’s Illmatic is unapologetically
New York.  I’m comfortable with the fact
that my specific reference to Texas slang “choppin’” might go over peoples’
heads the way Nas’s use of “telephone blown” went over my head until I read
Miss Info’s explanation of what it meant in her NPR interview “Miss Info on Nas,
Illmatic, and The Source
”; however, art can grow with people as people grow
over time.  It’s taken me years to
appreciate all of the elements that have made Illmatic such a great album, and
I wouldn’t expect anything less from a reader in order for him or her to
appreciate OBG.  

*Out of the 10 tracks listed on Illmatic, “Genesis” is the
only one that’s not a song; “Genesis” functions as a prologue or a marker of
time: we hear the loud sound of a NY subway hurtling over the train tracks and
a barely audible excerpt of Nas’s verse from “Live at the Barbeque” by Main
Source playing at the same time as the movie snippet from Wild Style.

Jonathan Moody grew up during the Golden Ages of hip-hop and listened to rap that was as adventurous and diverse as his military upbringing. Moody was the winner of the 2014 Cave
Canem/Northwestern University Press Poetry Prize. His poetry has appeared in African American Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, The
Common, Crab Orchard Review, good
foot, Tidal Basin Review, Xavier Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, and the anthology Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade,
among other publications. He is also the author of The Doomy Poems (2012). Moody teaches at Pearland High School and
lives in Fresno, Texas, with his wife and son.

You can purchase OLYMPIC BUTTER GOLD here

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