Music series (3.1) - When Life Gives You Lemons

What is this?

One day I’ll die. I write to leave myself behind, or as much of me as I can. This entry is a continuation of a series on music I liked growing up.

Entry 3.1 Music as education part II

Yesterday I talked a bit about how music’s more than just entertainment. It’s a way to feel, to express, and to learn new language constructs and concepts to orient yourself with. Today I’d like to highlight a few songs that have stuck with me for one reason or other.

#1 “Yesterday” by Atmosphere. Listen on Spotify or Youtube.

This song’s beat is antithetical to what’s being communicated. A song about remorse and grief backed by catchy loop that somehow makes me happy. It hit me like a ton of bricks the first time I listened to it despite still having a father. Makes more sense when you listen to it intently.

Yesterday was that you? Looked just like you
Strange things my imagination might do
Take a breath, reflect on what we’ve been through
Or am I just goin' crazy ‘cause I miss you?

And when you left, I didn’t see it coming
I guess I slept, it ain’t like you was runnin’
You crept out the front door slow
And I was so self absorbed, I didn’t even know
And by the time I looked up, it was booked up
Put it all behind you, the bad and the good stuff
A whole house full of dreams and steps
I think you’d be impressed with the pieces I kept

You disappeared but the history is still here
That’s why I try not to cry over spilled beer
I can’t even get mad that you gone
Leavin' me was probably the best thing you ever taught me

I’m sorry
It’s official
I was a fist-full
I didn’t keep it simple
Chip on the shoulder, anger in my veins
Had so much hatred, now it brings me shame
Never thought about the world without you
And I promise that I’ll never say another bad word about you
I thought I saw you yesterday
But I know it wasn’t you ‘cause you passed away, Dad

#2 “Dance with the Devil” by Immortal Technique. Listen on Spotify or YouTube.

Immortal Technique (I.T.) tells a story that would be befitting of a short audiobook. It’s over 9 minutes long. It’s intense, intriguing, incredibly violent. My mind was blown when I first heard it. It’s a work of art, a masterpiece of storytelling.

I.T has commented on the song saying that it is “really about how we are killing ourselves and destroying the most valuable resource that the Latino/Black community has, our women." [1] This song marked a deepening of my interest in hip-hop music. The opening lines still give me chills.

I once knew a nigga whose real name was William
His primary concern was making a million
Being the illest hustler that the world ever seen
He used to fuck moviestars and sniff coke in his dreams
A corrupted young mind at the age of 13
Nigga never had a father and his mom was a fiend
She put the pipe down, but for every year she was sober
Her son’s heart simultaneously grew colder
He started hanging out selling bags in the projects
Checking the young chicks, looking for hit and run prospects
He was fascinated by material objects
But he understood money never bought respect
He built a reputation ‘cause he could hustle and steal
But got locked once, and didn’t hesitate to squeal
So criminals he chilled with didn’t think he was real
You see, me and niggas like this have never been equal
I dont project my insecurities at other people
He fiended for props like addicts with pipes and needles
So he felt he had to prove to everyone he was evil
A feeble minded young man with infinite potential
The product of a ghetto breed capatalistic mental
Coincidentally dropped out of school to sell weed
Dancing with the devil, smoked until his eyes would bleed
But he was sick of selling trees and gave in to his greed

#3 “Shook Ones Pt. II” by Mobb Deep. Listen on Spotify or YouTube.

A brutal song about what it takes to survive on the streets. This song is a testimony to raw aggression.

Scared to death, scared to look, they shook
‘Cause ain’t no such things as halfway crooks

Living the live that of diamonds and guns
There’s numerous ways you can choose to earn funds
Some get shot, locked down and turn nuns
Cowardly hearts and straight up shook ones, shook ones
He ain’t a crook son, he’s just a shook one

“Shook one” refers to someone who acts tough until they’re actually in a tight spot. It’s what Mike Tyson meant with “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” It’s something I can relate to, and have trouble communicating to others, as a person who grew up under the constant threat and presence of (extreme) violence. I personally believe that this song covers the traumatic nature of being poor.

#4 "‘Till I Collapse” by Eminem. Listen on Spotify or YouTube.

I cried my way through college. I never learned what boundaries were until my world collapsed. I grew up oblivious to the concept of “limits”. I only stopped when my body gave out. The body and mind can take decades of abuse until they stop functioning. On the road to total collapse you occasionally find yourself near cliffs.

You stare into the abyss.

The abyss stares back at you.

What do you do?

School mandated I perform otherwise I wouldn’t graduate and my dream of becoming a scientist would be in jeopardy. In those moments I needed a boost to get me through the night of work ahead of me. I cried, hit my legs with my fists, and listened to songs like ‘Till I Collapse to keep me going.

‘Cause sometimes you just feel tired, feel weak
And when you feel weak, you feel like you wanna just give up
But you got to search within you, and try to find that inner strength
And just pull that shit out of you
And get that motivation to not give up, and not be a quitter
No matter how bad you wanna just fall flat on your face and collapse

#5 “Porcelain” by Tonedeff. Listen on Spotify or YouTube.

A song about heartbreak, but primarily about the expectation that boys don’t hurt. As a boy I didn’t understand why I was expected to “tough it out” regardless of what I was experiencing. I felt broken. I didn’t feel tough at all.

I felt like … porcelain.


Easily broken into a thousand pieces, never to be put back again in the same way.

Days Pass and
Time Goes on and on
You might think my skin
Was strong enough
But there’s something you don’t understand
I’m porcelain
I’m porcelain

You know that if I could
You know that sky looks over the sea
I don’t think there’s one thing in this world
That’ll make you notice me
You can wield that sword in any direction you damn well please
You don’t understand that my heart is in your hands
And I’m beggin you not to
Please don’t squeeze

Created on August 13, 2021
Published on August 13, 2021