SWELL of Metermaids tells the tales behind the songs on their newest album “We Brought Knives”, out NOW on SFR!
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Here is my breakdown of the first song on our new record, We Brought Knives. It’s called “The Legend of Mal Hombre”. I really like it.
11 days to go y’all.
The intro music you hear as the album begins was recorded live in Ecuador by M. Stine’s sister in law, walking down some alley in some town. A passing marching band, which as I listen to the record more becomes creepier and creepier. She emailed it to Matty during a beat-making session. We all just loved it, and wanted to use it somewhere on the record. So now it is the first sound you hear. I don’t know why, but I love it. It sets the tone for the record.
Sentence and I did the bulk of the writing for We Brought Knives in one night at my parents’ house while they were away. Two subs from Jersey Mike’s (delicious). Sun chips (delicious). Cigarettes and some whiskey. Basically the same formula for every record. We wrote from like 6PM to maybe 3 or 4AM? I think we got seven or eight of the songs done in that one sitting.
While we wrote this song, trading lines back and forth on Sentence’s laptop, whoever wasn’t writing would be working on a different song.
I don’t want to give the impression that the record was haphazardly put together; the opposite is true. Before we sat down to write anything we talked for months about what the songs would be about. I was just a big fan of the idea of taking our poured over outlines and actually writing the shit in a blur of unbridled creativity. Which is why it was also important to go someplace where we wouldn’t be distracted.
The song is inspired by a story I heard third hand about an interaction between two rappers that we all know and love. Somtimes an image is an image. Sometimes emulating a manufactured image can be pretty goddamned dangerous.
Mal Hombre that hardbody. Walk softly. Talk shit and carry a big stick. Get lifted when the spliff’s lit. Got his veins all filled with black coffee. Drug through the dirt with the mud on his shirt and his nerves all – don’t you dare slackjaw me. Fights at the bar. Spiders in a jar. Sits with a long list of bad hobbies. Like back off me. Do you want to die, kid? Got them bourbon heavy eyelids. Four door Chevy. White rims. They like him. It’s like this. Live fast, die pretty in a side ditch. Don’t care about tomorrow. Steal beg and borrow. Still they ain’t never gonna find prints.
We heard whispers coming from the bigger kids. They combed their hair just like his. They dropped their baseball cards and packed their daddy’s switchblades on some fight shit. Intrigued by the way the police had a thing when see him their hand went to the nightstick. Instinct. Every king on the scene has a dream of a million little sidekicks. I knew as sure as shit I’d meet him. So I kept my blade sharp. My peoples ran the blocks so heads knew they shouldn’t be playing in the dark. Got the name with the spraypaint drip. Got stomped if you talked to the narcs. Told them they can’t maintain shit. Everybody knew better not to start.
The same drugs as him. Hold up. The same slugs as him. Sho ’nuff. The same bitches on my dick. You damn right I fucked your friend girl. So what? Nothing’s gonna stop what we started. No one’s going to try and step up. Worked hard for the spot. Dog recognize the fox. We’re both trying to find the next hunt. Get smacked up. Slapped up. Knifed up. Shot up. On some BYOB shit, baby boy. You can think about it kind of like a pot luck. Think about your outline chalked up. Didn’t think about getting locked up. Locked in a battle. Lost in the saddle. Never thought the door was gonna lock. Fuck.
Smile in the wrong place, hombre. You’re rocking a long face with the tooth missing. Jewels missing. Shoes missing. Bust the knuckles out. Sunk them in a stool pigeon. You’re screaming like a bitch, son. Who’ll listen? No cops now. No lockdown. Kind of like romantic pop now. Check how the moon will make the tool glisten. Few screws missing. Couple bolts loose. Getting aggravated at you, daddy. Don’t move. No white lights. Just blackouts. Got a game I like to play. It’s got no rules.
Old shoes. If I want a new pair, monfrere, then I’m making you a code blue. I’m like: hold this. You’re like: oh shit. I’m like: shut up, bitch. You’re like: don’t shoot. I’m an artist and I only paint with flatlines. Only color in except where it’s green. I’m a bad guy. I’m a beast. I’m a thug. I’m a scanner. I’m a chud. Live forever because I can’t die.
I finally met the old legend down at Johnny B’s. Mal Hombre. Big Papi. I told him let’s shoot a bag out back. His eyes met mine. He said yo, not me. But your the jefe de jefe’s. Mean motherfucker. Bone crusher. Undisputed baddest. Not one of these fancy other suckers could say a thing to ever touch your status. I told him I wrote my story in blood. My blade is your blade, daddy. I’m you’re student. He said life ain’t a movie. If you can’t figure that out –
That’s on you, stupid.
2. House On Fire
House on Fire started as a different song – one Sentence and I wrote in our frenzied night of writing. Different beat too. When we were finished with it, though, it wasn’t clicking. So we did something that Metermaids has basically never done:
We trashed it and started all over.
Pretty fitting when I think about the emotion behind the song. A lot of life has happened between the release of Rooftop Shake and We Brought Knives. A lot of life is continuing right now. Shit that is fundamentally changing Sentence and I as people, and the relationships around us. As someone who hates chage, I like exactlynone of it. But I know it’s necessary. I GUESS.
I’ve never had an issue, per se, with abusing any kind of substance. My adult life has been about work and reward. And that has helped me keep a good balance. Kids don’t hurt in keeping a man in check. But I know that I am capable of heavy, destructive addiction. I become addicted to basically everything I touch. I once, while working as a dog walker, ate a bodega out of its entire supply of Pop Tarts in like a week. WHY WOULD SOMEONE EVER DO THAT. I find things I like and I compulsively engage with them over, and over, and over. Even at work now I will sometimes realize that I’ve listened to the same song fifty times in a row. Weird shit, too, like this.
My issue has always been, when drinking or doing drugs, I binge. I have no desire to be a social drinker, or to smoke a little weed with friends, etc. Same goes for some of the heavier shit I dabbled in during my younger years. I like to get fuuuuuuuuucked uuuuuuup. Still do. Now, I just rarely let myself. It’s a rare treat. I have to wake up in the morning and get kids changed out of their pajamas. I have to go to the park and play. So there’s a cost associated. If I’m going to go hard, I have to be willing to pay the price. It’s basically never worth it. Spend a day with a three year old while nursing a fantastic hangover. Do it. I dare you.
In a fuuuuuucked uuuuuuup state a while back, I started wondering why I had this compulsion. Here is the conclusion I came to: I have always been an emotional person. I’m a Cancer son. It’s in the blood. Or the moon, or whatever. I’m sentimental. I get really attached to things. My body becomes like how my apartment is. Nothing ever gets thrown out. Everything that has even the slightest significance finds its way into a closet somehwere, tucked in a drawer, lost in winter jacket pockets. It builds up. And builds up. And I can feel it in my bones. My body doesn’t feel good most days. It’s changed my behavior as I’ve gotten older and naturally have less energy. I feel sick when I have to leave my apartment to attend a social function. A part of me feels like I don’t have the excess energy to spare. I feel weighed down. My linen closet probably feels the same way.
The release from truly getting fucked up is like a temporary, warm, beautiful house fire. Burn it all, start from zero. I know it’s not actually that. But that’s how it feels to me. Fucking amazing. As amazing as a house on fire.
Sentence’s verse is so much better than mine, IMHO. His line about witnessing his grandfather’s passing sent a chill up my spine when he recorded it in the studio.
I’ll keep it all. Let the bittersweet dissolve on my tongue. Burn the house to ash. Save it all in my lungs. Smash it all to pieces. The pretty things. The grimy bits. Swirl it all around. Gather round to see what’s inside of it. I’ll keep high school, for real. All of it. I’ll keep the Wu Tang. The camoflage and goggle shit. I’ll keep my first records. First raps. Wack beats. Makeshift Gods. Voicebox records and rap beef. Putting guts on the street. Sneaking over fences trying to duck the police. The day we watched Grandpa’s last breath – I’ll keep it. Little James with his hand on his heart like the pledge of allegiance. I’ll keep the painful times. The ones that made me toughen up. The times I fixed it all. The times I clearly fucked it up. The painkillers. The black eyes and broken teeth. Sometimes you just dive in. That’s how you know it’s deep.
Let it go. Like a house on fire.
You can take all of the 7th grade and most of the 5th. The taste of white wine on the last one’s lips. The look on her face and the cuts on her wrist. Every song I made before I knew to fuck with the mix. My grandmother’s stroke and dials tuned to the AM. Basic Lights and whatever keeps me awake at night. Taking flights without medicine. Fuck it. Foie gras and venison. Flourescent lights. Every time I made my sister cry. Every night I ever spent with dirty clothes on the floor. Sleeping in unmade beds. Losing friends in the blink of an eye. Pat on the back like a kiss goodbye. My middle school record collection. Pictures in the winter. Broken bones in the summertime. Bee stings and splinters. Credits after movies. Feeling like I’ll never make it. Opiates and therapy, pretty much the same shit. Hold the river choked like you’re hydroelectric. But yo, you can take it. Trust me you can take it.
Let it go. Like a house on fire.
3. I’m Alive So Everything I Own Is My Lucky Everything [featuring Sage Francis & Prolyphic | cuts by Buddy Peace]
Songwriting 101, kids – the longer the song title, the doper the song. Case in point.
This was the final song recorded for We Brought Knives. It was originally intended to be a bonus cut for the physical release, but when we heard the final mix we agreed it was too dope to not be a full fledged family member. I’m also not going to write out the lyrics, because our homey Hugo is working on one of those dope lyric-videos that I’ve always wanted. WORK FASTER, HUGO! When we release that video I’ll update this post. Boom.
The idea for the song was inspired by the last few dates on the Copper Gone tour, where we had the blessing of accompanying Sage, Dolan, Lord Grunge, Madge, Irena, and Prolyphic for shows in Philly, Portland, and Providence.
I was inspired during this mini-run, again, by the Strange Famous records aesthetic. Nobdy’s trying to do anything gimmicky. Nobody’s going for the cheap PR grab. To quote Dolan: “They don’t want to grind out on the road like I do. They just stay home and hope to go viral“. SFR is made up of people who record and perform really, really well. Nobody is going to be a blog darling. Nobody is ever going to excite these finicky Brooklyn kids who rely on Mishka to tell them who is hot. But you could take the line-up of those Copper Gone shows and put it up against any other group of hip hop artists – if SFR isn’t blowing them away, we’re at least holding our own. Dead ass.
It’s working man’s hip hop (shouts to Prolyphic). And I couldn’t think of a higher compliment. Do your job, and do it well. Don’t make a big deal out of it. This is what my momma and poppa taught me. This is why SFR is the label we fought so hard to be a part of. After an incredible Providence show to close out Sage’s tour, the whole crew met up at iHop for a 2AM family brunch. It was fucking amaaaaaaaazing. Another memory to get tucked away and recalled when I’m trying to remember how good life can be sometimes.
To that end, we reached out to Sage, Prolyphic, and Dolan to jump on the song. Only Dolan wasn’t able to – but he’s in the middle of writing two records I believe, so it was understandable. I’ll hold out hopes for a Redux. The magnamous Buddy Peace laid the cuts down, and voilah: another entry into my “favorite collaborations we’ve ever been a part of” list. I CANNOT WAIT TO PERFORM THIS LIVE SOME DAY. WITH BUDDY PEACE. SOMEONE BUY HIM A TICKET.
I’ll summarize by quoting Prolyphic’s closing line from the song: “Did three shows in a row, but I’m back in time at 9:00 on Monday”.
I’ve said it a number of times, including in an interview with The Bee Shine that we did on Saturday – I think that, pound for pound, this is the best song we’ve ever made.
First off, it’s one of my favorite beats that M. Stine has ever made. So intricate. The car noise you hear at the beginning of Sentence’s verse is a real-life binaural recording that Stine made himself. When the sound cuts out it gives me goosebumps every time. PUSH PLAY.
Sentence and I discussed this song at length in our car ride to my parent’s empty house for our “album writing night”, so by the time we got started we were both primed and ready to go. I remember writing a full verse and scrapping it and starting again. We wanted to make sure we didn’t get over-explainy. It’s tough though, right? The desire to make sure that everyone understands what you’re going for vs. your desire to let paint a picture and let people inject their own meaning.
The complexity in being in a group, as opposed to just one writer, is that there has to be a tremendous amount of trust when you’re attempting a concept that’s on the subtle side. The verse that I was happy with was open ended. So the success or failure of the song was / is completely dependent on Sentence. I think his verse is the most impressive bit of writing he’s done since we became Metermaids. The thing with Sentence is, before I even knew him (he moved to New York in 2006?), I had heard about him. And how dope he was. His solo stuff was really, really fucking good. And even with the songs that we did with friends back in the day, Sentence was also like the varsity dude playing on the JV team. And I lump myself in with the JV team here.
Go find (I don’t know how) the Business Casual project we did with our homeys Broke, Domer, and Kats – you will hear it. When Sentence jumps on the track it just sounds different. He’s really fucking good, is my point here. And sometimes I still can’t believe that he was OK linking up with me to do this. He would have been succesful in any format he wanted to move in. He’s also a really good producer – he produced this for Sage and Slug waaaaaaay back in the day.
Regardless – he brought everything full circle in Profiteer, and he did it in the most subtle and artful way I could have imagined.
The song is inspired by real people we know and some real life shit. Sometimes the act of remembering a lost icon, or keeping their memory alive, or whatever, can feel preeeeeeeeeeetty exploitative. Especially with musicians. Or maybe I just think that because musicians are the group I run in. Sometimes people get sharp elbows when it comes to shaping the legacy of the deceased. I have so many issues with death, so maybe I’m sensitive to it. Whatever. It’s all in Sentence’s verse. Remember when I talked about how artfully he laid everything out? Now I’m trying to undo that. Ha.
A hundred dollars plus tax to make them feel me yo. Typewriter font. Right arm. Written clearly so you can’t misread. She told me it’d be healing slow. I told her that I lost somebody near me. You don’t hear me though. Your room is still just like you left it. Bookmark in the book. Sixty pages til the ending. I read the last page once. I was sitting on your bed. The woman leaves her husband for his friend. The end.
In the sixth grade they packed us up and took us to the zoo. I don’t remember much. Cold wind. Sky was blue. Winter’s over so the outside world gets reacquainted. Plain probably just happy that I wasn’t at the school. So we talked shit to the lions. Tried to lure the bear out. Ate lunch in the sun. Mad fun. Tried to make the cheetah run but it didn’t seem to care now. Screamed so loud the teacher almost pulled her hair out.
Amped for the section with the snakes. Diamond back. Feel the shiver when you hear the rattle shake. I saw a great albino python in a cage. Glass walls. Didn’t move when I pressed up with my face. The plaque said it’s too unique for the field. Pretty markings only make it a predator’s meal. The snake could only ever survive in the zoo. It’s bugged out because that snake is you. You couldn’t watch TV. Couldn’t sit still in the car. Keep quiet in class. Work a job and kiss someone’s ass. So they had to let you out. I’m still trying to figure out what it’s about.
Got your name tatted on my flesh. Yeah, we’re bout it bout it. Story written in my heart. Yeah, we love it love it. I’m never going to let you die. I’m never going to let you die.
I wrote this song about things that I thought were cool and I sang it to you sitting in traffic one afternoon. When I was done the car started moving and we were silent. I never asked until this day. I still don’t know if you liked it. Push play. Iggy sang Lust for Life. And everyone in Attica got tucked in at night. Man on the moon. To live is to die. An angel in harlem. American pie.
You remember that summer when Jimmy found a dead body? You said to leave it alone. They said it was shot to death probably. And when the deputy finally pulled him out of the lake you looked at me seriously and said when I’m gone remember my face. I’ll build a monument. I’ll clear a forest. I’ll change a river’s direction. I’ll build a fortress. I’ll drop my courses. I’ll build an army of soldiers. I’ll invade a country. I’ll build warships.
I’m a mindreader. I’ll finish your thoughts. Give me a number to guess. I’m the boss. I’m a mindreader. Tell your mom to call me. I became a shaman. You became a zombie. Because I’m the only friend that you got. Sit still. I’m going to finish your thoughts. I’m the only friend that you need. Don’t you dare mess with me.
5. Advice I Know You Won’t Follow
Having kids is a surefire way to bring your own mortality riiiiiiiight to the front of your mind. I used to be absolutely terrified of death. I had my first ever full-shut-down-panic-attack the summer before September 11th. My friend John had died of an overdose the week before, and I returned home from a party and all of a sudden physically couldn’t walk. It was like someone had hit me in the head with a shovel. I stumbled up the walkway into my house and somehow made it into my bed, convinced that I wasn’t going to wake up in the morning.
I arrived in London for a semester abroad on September 9th, 2011. On the morning of September 11th I went with some new friends and bought tickets to Amsterdam, because at the time I was reaaaaaaaaaaally enjoying drugs. Two hours later my life was very different. The anxiety that I had dabbled in before just never left my body, ever. I don’t think I slept for three months. I went to the hospital a lot. And I smoked a lot of cigarettes. I was so scared that I was going to die – in my sleep, of a heart attack, of an anneurysm, whatever. IT WAS A GREAT SEMESTER ABROAD. TOTALLY RECOMMENDED.
It took me most of my 20’s to get this crippling anxiety under control. Eventually you just think, fuck it – if I die, at least I won’t have to deal with this shit anymore. As macabre as that sounds, it is how I mentally was able to get back to the table to be a functioning human being. Then my first son was born.
Suddenly my own death was the last thing I would ever worry about. I had this realization on a plane. See, I am also terrified of flying. En route to a friend’s wedding our plane hit some heavy turbulence. Rather than curl up into a sweaty ball like I usually would, I got angry. Angry that I wasn’t going to spend more time with my kid. I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone else. But I realized in that moment that again, my life was very different. I don’t care about myself as much anymore. It’s a good thing, because obviously I’m a bit of a narcissist.
This song (and the album, if I’m being honest) is an effort to get everything important down on record in case I get hit by a bus, or whatever. When we finished the album I felt a peace that I hadn’t felt before. We finally went for our defining statement as a group. I think we did it. So really that’s all that matters (I REALLY, REALLY HOPE EVERYONE LIKES IT TOO). And if I drop dead tomorrow, at least my kids will know the somewhat less important shit that they should be paying attention to. Being a kind, caring person is all stuff their mother can cover with them. Sentence and I are picking up the slack with the rest.
We have a lovely video shot for this that we will be releasing soon. (Editor’s Note: IT’S HERE!)
I also want to add that Sentence took extra time to write his verse because he wanted it to be really good, and that means so much to me you have no idea. Lastly, the “Na Na Na Na” in the hook stems from a singing game that I played with my son to kill time on our way back from daycare. Just a little inside joke for me and the kid.
Never pay more than $5 for lunch. There’s always someone more tired than you on the train. Don’t sample anything but vinyl. Trust me. It’s not the same. Being a dick to girls won’t help to get you laid. Well, maybe a little bit. But with shades of grey. Don’t shave your face in a hurry. Don’t be so afraid of change.
Tell the people that you love that you love them. Make music like nobody will hear it. If you’re ever at a wedding and the dancefloor is empty – dance hard, motherfucker. Be fearless. Don’t play video games in public. Don’t take shots at people in private. Don’t hate your favorite bands for selling out arenas even though the club shows are the livest.
Bruce Springsteen is the truth. I used to sing Thunder Road when I rocked you to sleep. Remember people’s names when you meet. Nas is the best MC, he just picks shitty beats. A driver’s license is a man’s most important possession. Be confident in everything that you right. It’s not always smart to walk away from a fight. Fuck an early bird. All the best shit happens at night.
What you don’t say says the most about you as a man. Uncle Six Guns knows better than me. Don’t drink until you are unaffected. Don’t think you’re a rebel for smoking some weed. Jeremy told me I wouldn’t know the feeling til it happened. I was scared but I see that it’s true. Don’t smoke cigarettes. Be nice to your mother. I’ll be here as long as I’m able. The rest is on you.
Hey. You’re going to be alright.
Broke is OK. Money is way overrated. And the strangest fucking weirdos are the nicest. Rule #1: trust your gut no matter what. Rule #2: the best slang and best style are timeless. Don’t say something if you don’t believe it. Don’t believe something just because you hear it. No matter how upset the motherfuckers on the train make you feel don’t ever let them break your spirit.
Your folks are alright. You might not know this til your older. When you do you’ll realize the traits they passed down. But on some real shit try not to puke where someone else will have to clean it. They charge you for that in cabs now. If you ever see Ultramagnetic on wax, cop that. Don’t ever feel like you need to be part of the dog pack. No one knows more than those who’ve seen the bottom and clawed back. And nothing on the internet counts as human contact.
New York City don’t make you a better person. Either does being atheist or vegan. You can be a saint no matter who you pray to. And you can be an asshole no matter what you’re eating. If you find cash on the ground it’s fair game. Don’t feel guilty. Always take a second to breathe, man. We can write a million stories about how to live your life. But you can tell it better than we can.
Hey. You’re going to be alright.
Happy Thanksgiving yo.
I have feelings about Williamsburg, man. Feelings. Sentence lived in the heart for a long time. Before that, one of my best friends Matt (and our original manager) lived there too. I’ve spent a lot of time there. Now, not so much. But as an impressionable young-20’s dude, I had my fill.
I hate how the term hipster is used. People use it to mock kids for the way they dress, or for the music they listen to, or what they read, whatever. That’s never felt right to me. Do a combination of these things make someone a hipster? Is there a limit? It took me like five years to come up with my own definition of a hipster where I felt I could make sense of it all, if only for my own sake:
A hipster (to me) is someone who needs to pause after ANY experience and decide based on other factors if they enjoyed the experience or not. Does that make sense to anyone else? Like, they might hear a Taylor Swift song that is a perfectly written pop song that everyone else in the world likes and initially they might enjoy it too. Because, again – perfectly written pop songs are to be enjoyed by basically everyone. But instead of going with that, they think:
1. It is not cool to like Taylor Swift
2. It has not become cool, in an ironic sense, to like Taylor Swift
3. As a direct result of #1 and #2, I do not like this song
That reasoning, to me, is what makes someone a hipster. They cannot read a book and determine on their own if they liked it. They first must WEIGH THE FACTS. My little discourse here has little to do with anything. I’m just proud of my hipster definition and wanted to get it down on paper before I forgot it.
The beat for IYAM was based on a beatbox I used to do to make my first son laugh. Fact: my two sons both experienced their first full-on-laughs to an MC Squared beatbox routine. The same one. He used it to win an episode of Showtime at the Apollo. I have video of both events, and it’s the fucking best.
The beat started off super simple. Then M. Stine got his dirty little hands all in it. I think it’s one of the more intricate things on the album. So beautiful to me. It’s a microcosm of what we were going for with the whole record – detailed enough that hopefully you can hear new things on the tenth listen, but hard enough to shake your fucking car if you feel so inclined.
I thought of the hook on a train ride home from Williamsburg. I had drank, in the course of like two hours, an entire bottle of whiskey with my before-mentioned friend Matt. We were just in his apartment bullshitting too. No idea why we went that hard. That’s just to say that when I got on the platform I was already in an emotional state. Haha. I was feeling angry and loving and smashy and sad and all the wonderful emotions that wash you out when you’re really, really drunk.
As I rode the train, I was mesmerized by everyone around me. I couldn’t stop thinking about how hard everyone was trying to stick out just enough from the crowd. It felt so weird to witness. WHAT IS MY TWIST ON THE UNIFORM SON. I grew up in Jersey, too. It’s not like I haven’t changed the way I dress since I’ve moved to Brooklyn. My jeans are tighter. Haha. But in my head I couldn’t stop repeating “I am not like you. I am not like you”. Like I said, I was in a state.
So the song is sort of a yell into the void. The hook is a declaration of independence. The verses are an admission that of course we still define ourselves the same way these kids do – with the music we listen to, the books we read, the movies we like. It was a cathartic exercise to sing (rap) lyrics that have meant so much to us for so long. SFR family are in there. How could they not be? Every line in the verses is taken from someone else. It’s a collage of music that made us who we are. And then a scream that we are STILL UNIQUE, MUHFUCKAS. The lawsuit on this sucker could be tremendous.
School’s out for summer. School’s out forever. Run and scream. Kill the king and rail at all his servants. Make time stop and leave you stranded in the year of the snake. Because I’ve been face to face with the serpent. Thirteen is my lucky number. You got bad luck. Metermaids. Brooklyn. Live and uncut. It’s all over now, baby blue. It’s been some rocky ground. Sure shot. Dead to the world. Bury me now.
If you got the money, honey, we got your disease. Number nine should have been number one to me. You can’t hurt me. I’m banned in DC. Because the piano’s been drinking, not me. I’m waiting in my cold cell when the bell begins to chime. Trade in my hours for a hand full of dimes. Because I’m wanted dread or alive. Nowhere to hide. Smoke on the water. Fire in the sky.
I am the only one to ever feel like, look like, do it like this.
No man’s an island. I am a rock. Pop goes the weasal. The weasal goes pop. With a freestlye like that, you’re bound to get shot. One hand on my dick screaming fuck the cops. Sing a song of sixpence, pocket full of rye. Half of me is ocean, half of me is sky. I ain’t ever gonna die. I ain’t ever gonna die.
Where do you go from here my blue eyed son? Staring down the barrel of a gun. Son of a gun. There’s nothing that you could ever do that can’t be done. They lifted up the son. A spoonful weighs a ton. Mother you had me, but I never had you. Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues. The angels all want to wear my red shoes. Anyway you cut it you lose.
I’m hiding out in the big city, blinking. Leave your ass stinking. What the fuck you thinking? Bye bye Miss American Pie. Whiskey and rye are what the good old boys are drinking. Marvin was left with a hole in his chest. The boombox is dead. It’s seen its best days. The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves. The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves.
I am the only one to ever feel like, look like, do it like this.
The Contenda was a late addition to We Brought Knives. After scrapping a few songs we didn’t feel were up to snuff, we sat at M. Stine’s computer and listened to some beats he had lying around. Pro tip: when M. Stine claims to have beats lying around that he doesn’t think are that great, JUMP ON THEM. Because he is so, so wrong about that all the time. Ha.
We wrote it like we are telling a story (my pops never left – he and my mother are still very happily married), but I think the emotion at the core is deeply personal to both Sentence and I. We both sacrificed years and years of our lives trying to become the biggest thing in indie hip hop. He worked retail, and I walked dogs, because those jobs afforded us the most opportunity for touring and free time in general to write and record. This is while our friends got master’s degrees, became lawyers, became doctor’s, etc.
We are still probably two of the broker dudes we know. No regrets though.
This song is us coming to terms with the fact that we fall more on the black-sheep side of things with our families, with our friends. And while we haven’t been able to turn that corner where music could be a full time career, we put a SHIT TON of work in. And played shows that most of our peers wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. That’s not to say we were particularly smart for doing some of the things we did. But our mentality was always “let’s just fucking do it”.
Which brings us to the real crux of the song, and the real crux of the album – the idea of bringing knives to a gunfight. There were ways we could have made it easier on ourselves when we were trying to get this shit off the ground. We could have taken more shortcuts. We’ve seen it work (really well!) for some of our peers. But again, this is why SFR is more than a label to us – look at the rest of the people on that roster, and you’ll hear this same story again and again. Artists who took a strict view of how you put your work in, regardless of the goal.
On top of that, our experiences give me the continued confidence that you could throw us anywhere, in front of any crowd, on a bill with any rappers, and we will fucking make it work. That’s important to me.
Lift if up high. Set it down slow. You can measure most men by the things they don’t know. Find out where I’m going when they left me in the open so I ran around the world trailing a million feet of rope. Tie it to the landmarks. Long shots. Bad cards. Head full of bright ideas. Pocket full of man parts.
Dust in the wind. Born with thicker skin. I’m a big fish. I just got little fins. Ending is the hardest. Middle ain’t great either. Waiting for the big time. Senioritis. 8th grade fever. Didn’t ever really know the best approach to take but knew I’d break my back by hoping I could make you a believer. Right as rain. Good as gold. You can’t count on me. More than just another stubborn hungry mouth to feed. Wasn’t made up neat-like. Not laid out for me. I did my best. Ma, try to be proud of me.
Put it on my back. I can carry the bricks. I can carry the sticks. I can carry the stones.
Put it on my back. I can carry the skin. I can carry the blood. I can carry the bones.
Put it on my back. I can carry the weight. I can shoulder the blame. I can carry you home.
Put it on my back. Lay it on my back.
You can imagine a fire. You can imagine a bomb. You can imagine a gunshot. Just not this. When I was a kid I wrote my script through clenched little fists on a blaze of glory tip. After pops left I watched all my movies by myself. Learned every line. Tony killed Manolo. Shit burned every time. I closed my eyes and practiced accents til all their words were mine.
Sisters I’m still the same boy that you loved. Dancing on the kitchen floor just to make our mother laugh. I ain’t ever coming back to ask for cash or favors. A small investment to help me get another crack. So brother pass your judgements if you want. There’s a million burned out child’s homes that I can haunt.
There’s still blood under the tracks. Still breathe under the rasp. I never left. I love first – I love last.
We brought knives to the gunfight. We were told to look people in the eyes. Bury me in the sunlight. Tell my mom I still loved my life.
The idea behind this song is simple, but considering what is going on right now in America, it seems worth talking about.
I don’t remember where I was walking at the time, but I walked past a mural that depicted a bunch of RIP’s. I’m sure in Brooklyn everybody, including myself, has become desensitized to them. I’ve even heard people make fun of the names – like RIP Lil’ Pooh, etc. It’s despicable, because that name represents a human life, but these are the walls that people need to put up in order to not deal with the reality.
On this particular day, I took the time to actually think about what I was looking at. I’m sure because I have kids now myself. These names were probably kids. Most of us assume at age 25 that we have at least another 50 years to kick around. 50 years. Imagine having that taken away from you. And these kids see it happen to their friends and family regularly. I will never understand the toll that takes on someone’s psyche. Never. And obviously I hope with every fiber to never know what that feels like as a parent.
You see a lot of entrepeneurship around the hood, at least in my part of Brooklyn. Kids starting their own record labels. Kids starting their own entertainment companies. Kids starting fashion lines. It’s rad. If you come from a spot where no one gives a shit about you, why spend your time hoping to get tapped for the big time by some weirdo industry people? Do it yourself. The only problem with those types of dreams is that everyone is gunning for them. So the odds are always going to be stacked.
Later, walking through my traditionally-Italian neighborhood, I walked past a funeral home. It had been, as the song title lays out, established in 1938. I realized in that moment that I had never seen a new funeral home. They’ve all been around forever. Most of them are the oldest-running business in whatever hood they’re in. The reasoning for that is obvious – in boom times and recessions, death is fucking constant. I wondered why none of these kids from the hood had ever thought about opening up a own funeral home. One of the more sobering things that has ever crossed my mind, but still. Considering the conditions that are forced on them, it seems like a sound investment.
The original idea for the song was to write from the point of view of a kid trying to weigh his options – how he could improve his life and his family’s life, etc. Thankfully we realized early that trying to write from the point of view of someone of color is a ridiculous thing to even think about. So instead we took the angle of a family who grew up in a neighborhood that had changed over the course of time. My father in law grew up in Crown Heights, which is a perfect example. If you opened up a funeral home in Crown Heights in the 40’s, back when it was a middle class Jewish neighborhood, chances are you are still open and doing well. Probably the oldest business in the hood.
Some stores open. Some stores close. Some people live the dream. Some take it on the nose. Back when the neighborhood was different, the tailor shop was killing it. The flower shop was killing it. The cafe was killing it. They said gramps was ignorant. He’d never make a living. Given the location was tough. But he stayed where he was and raised it up. With four kids he made enough. Still taught the trade to his sons.
With the 70’s came change. Old families moved out. New families moved in. Felt like the same day. The cafe became Chinese with the bulletproof glass. The flower shop a spot where you could get your check cashed. Down the block at night you could get your neck slashed. Business started booming. Pops had enough dough to put me through school. New car on my 21st. Picked up the reigns when I graduated uni.
Last of the originals. A true institution. Steady and slow. Seen a hundred shops come and go. We’re family here, so step inside. God willing we’ll be open for another seventy five.
Boys like princes. Girls like queens. In your time of need we’re here to serve you.
Can’t make it much worse. Can’t make it better. Can’t make the days longer. Can’t change the weather. Summer gets busy. Winter gets slow. Don’t matter the season. Everybody gets cold. The need’s always out there. Lands like a rain drop. Any time you’re looking, we’ll be in the same spot. Some think it’s artwork. Some call us thieves. I think it’s a way to keep my credit card un-freezed. Blood, sweat, and tears though. Work at the old school. You woulnd’t believe the things I’ve seen if I told you.
Somebody’s a cop. Somebody’s a fiend. Somebody’s a janitor. And somebody’s a king. Flowers are a nice touch. Recommend roses. Pictures of the family. Get them in closest. Coffee in the lobby. Freeze dried Folgers. Man, it’s just the little things. Keep them all focused. Money where it matters. Long term investments. Everywhere I go I keep an eye out for the exists. Retail is hell. But these sell themselves. Seen it all. But when we’re done you can seldom tell.
This was the first song we wrote for We Brought Knives, and the first song from the record we ever performed live. Might have been the beat that solidified the sound that we were going for, actually. So in almost every case this was the Alpha.
I know Sentence and I wrote the hook together in the car ride down to our “night of writing”. I know we both wrote our verses that night – Sentence later re-wrote and re-recorded his. When I heard what he had done the second time around (for some reason I wasn’t there when he recorded his second version) my initial instinct was: “Do I sound like the dimwitted friend now?” Because he absolutely murders this shit, in my humble.
Ghost bikes, the thing, have always been one of the most powerful and haunting symbols you come across in New York. For the uninitiated: these bikes, usually painted white, are erected at spots where cyclists have been killed. The papers tend to only report the sensationalized accidents, cyclists or otherwise – but people are dying pretty regulalry just riding their bikes. Back in the day I was almost killed by a cabbie who ran a red light. I broke my hand trying to punch through his window. Damn winter gloves. When the cops came they basically told me to go fuck myself. I promised myself that day that I would never call the cops again. Fuck ’em.
For some reason ghost bikes have more of an effect on me than the crosses you see on the side of the road, even. Cars feel business-like. We all know the risk when we get in a car. Bikes are for leisure, for play. You shouldn’t have to worry about losing your life when you are biking around New York. But I digress.
We wrote the song from a first-person perspective, because I’ve never understood who actually makes and erects these bikes. I guess in my mind I’d like it to be some solitary figure who does it just to make sure that on one is forgotten. Prolyphic said this song was one of his favorites.
In the bridge, M. Stine lightly mixed in an audio clip of the names of deceased bike riders being read aloud. Chilling stuff.
We’re holding on. Houston and Broadway. Flatbush and Dekalb. Boulevard and Hoover. Gun Hill and Webster.
Hoods up. Like hide the face. I’ll show you where the lost souls ride. Ain’t mine but I’ll take the space. Ghosts don’t lie. Life ain’t long. Death ain’t hard. Ante up. Deal the cards. Never gave a single solitary fuck about luck. I ain’t dumb. But I’ll take the odds.
I was this cat. It was tall boys. It was six packs. We were those dudes. Roll ’em up. It was zig-zags. It was dodge motherfucking cops. Kick cabs. Posted up smoking. GT on the kickstand. Ain’t no magic in the cavernous city. Heroes all died trying to capture it. Call it what you want til were rolling with the savages. Once in our life feeling like we ain’t so bad at shit.
Rent was cheap. Walls were thin and the guns were loud. On that hilltop hood me and Seth with a bed left might give a taste of that knuckle mouth. Trust me now. Wasn’t too much we gave a fuck about. Live here. Die here. Stuck it out. No escape. What we gonna do, tunnel out?
Anyway. Moon was full. Two brown bottles. Kools we stole. Benzis. Dirt weed. Truth be told. We took a bike and paint it white so fools don’t know. Hop the curb. Zig zag the lanes. Red lights flash as we pass the train. Last thing that I remember is seeing the pedal slack and the crack of the metal as he snapped the chain.
Body. Frame. Paint. Chain it up.
The Alpha for my dude. Chained to the stop sign that was closest. I took his broken frame back home and painted on some ghost shit. No family claimed his body. No sister shed a tear. I used a padlock so they knew that he was here. We were here.
After like eigth months the city sent the boys in with the boltcutters. But you can’t undo what’s been done. Nah, fuckers. I started scanning papers, tracing stained fingers over obits. Crowned myself the keeper of the tomb for unknown shits.
For every kid trying to weave through traffic catching a bumper off the back wheel. Didn’t know that a $1.50 bag of chips and a couple sips of Pepsi were the last meal. For every chick who copped her little fixie thinking she could see the city. Trust me, darling. No one gives a shit you think you’re pretty.
I ain’t rode a single minute since my boy’s chapter finished. I keep busy in my workshop with the music loud and the fucking windows tinted. I deal is used bikes and cheap paint. Every day pretty much the same shit. A lifetime broken down into three steps. Simple. Basic.
We’re holding on. Houston and Broadway. Flatbush and Dekalb. Boulevard and Hoover. Gun Hill and Webster.
Body. Frame. Paint. Chain it up.
Another one of the first songs we wrote for the record. I discinctly remember coming up with the concept for this one in the car with Sentence.
Not too much to give away here. I love the beat that M. Stine crafted. I love both of our verses. In New York now, cigarettes are literally like $15 a pack. I’ve been quit for two or three years now. Maybe I’ll have an occaisonal butt for celebratory or anti-celebratory purposes. But even towards the end I was buying rolling tobacco because the budget hit was too great. Sentence still smokes packs. What an aristocrat, AMIRIGHT?
My internal joke is that in New York pretty soon emphysema will be this century’s gout – a disease that implies a certain social standing. Yuk yuk yuk.
We are just trying to capture a feeling here. That “I’m out getting fucked up and things seem to have become evil all around me” feeling. Everyone has those moments, right? My self-destructive tendencies are super strong, so that’s an easy wave to ride for me. Or, at least it was, back when I still went out. That’s what they don’t understand about taxing cigarettes. It don’t matter. Sometimes you just need a little bit of death and destruction in your life. You’ll pay whatever.
Holy hell. Holy war. I’m never going home no more. Shut the drapes. Close the door. Less ain’t more. More is more. That’s the scene. You’ve got some attractive things. I’ve got some magnet teeth. I’m here and there ain’t going back for me.
You got a fur coat. Mink. He got a goatee. Drink. You got a crooked smile. I got some gold teeth. Cheap. You better watch yourself at night if you don’t know these streets. We’re gonna die but live forever, baby. Don’t be freaked.
Matchbooks. Mentholated. Soft pack. 100’s. Gotta fill the empty spaces up with stuff when love doesn’t. Bad places. Alleways. Black basements. Flashing lights. I’ll set the city up in flames to make a magic night. Because I can read your mind. See between the lines. You don’t have to speak, so don’t tell me nothing. Gotta choke the laughs back. Broke the hashtag. One big joke to God and Country.
God everything’s so ugly. Tied to this chair with a six foot bungee. This air’s so stuffy. Someone better poke some holes in this room or something.
The happy things in life jingle jingle in your pocket. The fall isn’t what kills you. It’s only when you stop it. I still feel the bass when they drop it. It echoes in my heart. When I cross the finish line they better bring me back to start. I fuck with the cheap booze. Cheap shoes. Craft beer. New bars. College chicks. See-through. New money. Huge arms. Small hips. Mall trips. Talk shit. It’s irrelevant. This Maker’s tastes like honeydew. This chick tastes just like peppermint.
My money’s long like Sunday night. My dick’s hard like chit chat. The pen is mightier than the pistol. My credit card goes click clack. You rock a nicotine patch because you couldn’t shake a cough. Kind of like a purple heart. The color purple because you’re soft.
Someday I will die and everything will be black. There’s no heaven. There’s no going back. You can make cigarettes $100 / pack. Whatever. I’m fine with that.
This song is for the Newtown kids. My grandmother lives in Watertown, Connecticut – which is where my whole extended family (all 65 of us) go for Thanksgiving every year – and we passed by Newtown on our way there on Thursday. It’s tough to even read the road sign.
My entire office shut down that day – people just stayed glued to whatever live stream they were watching. The initial reports were so much easier to stomach. My kid (and I’m trying so hard not to start sounding like ONE OF THESE PEOPLE more and more in these blog posts and obviousy losing the battle) was like a year old at the time, and as everyone learned the actuality of what happened at that school, a part of me shut down. I just left and came home. It’s been as transformative experience in my life as 9/11 was previously. I don’t think in a good way, either.
I’ve shot guns at shooting ranges before – it’s awesome. What a full sensory experience. My first shot with a .45 I put a hole right in the target’s forehead. I was dumb proud of myself for my accuracy. The instructor said, “Hell yeah. That’ll scatter the gray matter”. And I laughed. Because that’s a ridiculous thing to say. It doesn’t dawn on you til later that that has actually happened to human beings before. That unbelievable force that was ejected from the gun that nearly kicked your hands over your shoulders has been deposited into human flesh many, many times over the course of human history. It’s fucking crazy.
I’ve gone back and forth a number of times on whether or not I want a gun in my home. I’m currently in the “no” mindset, but I could shift back. Who knows. I’ve been having difficulty controlling my anger recently, though, and it scares me to think how easy it would be for me to pull a gun on someone over some bullshit. I daydream about it all the time. So, for now, I am content to just keep my blade on me. That way if a situation jumps up where I feel like I’m in mortal danger – which honestly hasn’t ever happened – I’ll have something to defend myself with. And I don’t worry about making a reckless decision with a knife. It’s too personal of a weapon.
We brought knives to the gunfight. See what I did there?
Because the song subject matter is so difficult for me (as I’m sure it is for everyone), the way we decided to write the song makes me sick to my stomach. Which it should. That’s what we’re going for. Just like the instructor at the shooting range we visited, there’s this displaced way that guns and the damage they are capable of inflicting are discussed everywhere. It’s most obvious when you’re browsing guns for purchase. How do you describe the power of a tool to end life in a way that appeals to people?
So, that’s what we’re mimicking in the song. We’re trying to sell you a Bushmaster .223, the same gun that the Lanza kid used to murder hella children in a fucking classroom. Stine lightly mixed in some choice quotes from a fucking Chuck Norris pro-gun PSA just in case you weren’t disgusted enough.
Super light carbine. All black. Hardline. Semi-automatic. Equal trigger pressure at all times. Built to fit a telescopic scope. Long range. At 300 yards the bullets are still on a frozen rope. Red dot site. Bolt locked tight. At a distance you could still stick a headshot at night. Centerfire. Weighs about as much as a kitten. You can add another pound if the magazine is missing.
30 cap mag. Three bullets a second. This is a blow-your-cap world class type weapon. All parts top of the line. No half stepping. Made to shoot first and then ask questions. Barrel like a foot and a half. Firing rate matches any rifle. You do the math. Pleasure to shoot. Pleasure to buy. Pleasure to own. Protect your family, protect your home.
Buck, buck. Let God sort ’em out.
Murdered out like a flat black Mercedes hatchback. They said you have to practice on them games but I never played. Bullseye painted a hundred yards back. That’s that. Natural. It’s like I never aimed. Grip like a cross-hatch. Cost me a goddamned arm and leg but it’s worth the better range. Butt against the shoulder. Camoflaged like soldiers. Never knew why there were saftey’s on these anyway.
Don’t remember names. Take ’em. Talk about them later. One for the bossman. Two for the haters. Three for the heartland. Four for the anger. Five, six, seven, eight, nine hundred traitors. Treat it like a best friend. Treat it like a best. Treat it like it’s beautiful but got a mouth of teeth. Treat it like the modern sporting rifle that it is. Rocking that full metal jacket. Packing thirty to a clip.
Buck, buck. Let God sort ’em out.
Don’t want to say anything on this one outside of what’s said in the song. Thank you to everyone we’ve leaned on over the last seven years. You know who you ahhhhhh.
Hope everyone digs the record.
The good lord gave me a heart like a lion and a body like a zoo. If my blood is the ocean then music is the moon. If you held my skin to the light and pulled it tight you could see right through. I’ve been trying my whole life to to describe this feeling inside. I felt it ever since my grandfather died. I want to tell you how I can feel the ache in your sides. How my chest is big enough to take yours and make them mine.
Tell my sister that she’s like the light. Not a building in New York to contain her. Tell her she can talk as loud as she wants to. Tell her she’s too strong for these strangers. Tell my brother that he’s like a rock. Always there you don’t have to think twice. Tell him he’s too smart for these crumb bums. Tell him don’t worry, son. Live life.
Tell my father that he’s like the tide. He’s got life pouring out of his skin. Tell him when I think about the kind of man I want to be I think about him. Tell my mother that she’s like the Earth. She’s all there is. She’s everything. Tell her when she’s driving and a song comes on the radio that hell yeah she should sing.
Tell Six Guns that he changed my life. Tell him how the universe forced us together. Forget the music or the stage. The words written on a page. I love you, money. You’re my brother. Tell my lady that she’s like the stars. Without her I would never know the way. Tell her as long as I know that she’s out there I know that everything is going to be OK.
Everybody’s gotta stand on their own. I’m not afraid. I feel strong. I don’t need you to pick me up. But I might need a friend that I can lean on.
The old man gave me this insatiable thirst. And I’ve tried so hard to know what it’s about. Open up my veins and they would gasp and cough up dust. I could fit the ocean in my mouth. I don’t recall the first time thinking things weren’t working out. I don’t remember how I felt when I was born. But I do recall this one time where the wind just wrecked our shit and tore our house down. But I swear there was no storm.
I think that’s maybe the year that Norman lived with me and Mom. But my memories crap. I could be wrong. I’m pretty sure around that time I tried to drive forever til the road would swallow me and I’d be gone. I felt so fucking bad because Todd’s dad died driving the train. And mine’s just sleeping on a futon down in Denver. Family’s more than blood. My brothers kept my head up in the flood. Because you don’t get to pick the things that last forever.
Tell my big brother that I’m sorry. That I wish I could make everything new. That even though we don’t talk I know deep down he’s a good man. I keep him in my heart in everything I do. Tell my father that he might not believe me, but I admire him for everything he’s done. And I understand how hard it must have been to make those choices. But I’m OK. And I’m proud to be his son.
Tell my mother that I feel the pain she’s been through. And I wish I could have done more than I did. But I am the man I am because of her. I hope she knows that. It’s just hard to say that shit when you’re a kid. Tell Sean I got no words left to describe it. That I can’t write it. That there’s nothing left to say. To do it justice. But I love you money til I’m in the grave and that’s something they can never take away. Tell Emily that nobody is perfect. And I know you know that’s true because you know me. But I’m the wave and your the land. There’s some things you just can’t plan. But trust me you’re stronger than you think.
Everybody’s gotta stand on their own. I’m not afraid. I feel strong. I don’t need you to pick me up. But I might need a friend that I can lean on.