In ‘Lyrics of Fury’ we take a look at the new tracks released or leaked over the course of a month, put a magnifying glass to what we deem to be the greatest lyric among them, and dissect why we believe this to be so. For this third edition, the honor befalls Killer Mike’s ‘Don’t Die,’ from his upcoming collaborative album with El-P, “R.A.P. Music” (Rebellious African People Music).
‘Don’t Die‘ finds Killer Mike in storytelling mode, but while the story itself is a fictional account of Mike violently dealing with two crooked cops, it’s peppered with autobiographical elements that add a sense of realism, drive and drama to the subversive narrative. Together with Mike’s authorative delivery an El-Producto’s monster production it’s an exhillerating ride. If you don’t have your fist pumping by the end of this track you probably feel more at ease at a Tea Party rally than a Public Enemy concert.
I woke up this morning to a cop with a gun
Who told me that he looking for a n!gga on the run
I thought for a second and I screwed my face
And asked the dirty pig “Why the f*ck you in my place?”1
He said “Chill or we kill, this is a warning”
Then I told him “fuck you, Where is the warrant?”
Then they got to punchin’ and kickin’ and macin’
Then the Whole situation went Larry Davis2
Thinking ’bout my lady and thinking ’bout my baby
Thinking “these two motherfucking pigs going crazy”3
They wanna kill a n!gga ’cause a nigga on this rap shit
Wanna leave me dead on a mattress, Hampton
I’m a Public Enemy because I’m Cold Lampin’4
And I don’t give a f*ck about a party in The Hamptons5
And I don’t give a f*ck about a motherf*ckin’ Forbes List6
Far as I’m concerned, that’s a motherfucking whores list7
Motherf*cker, my dad was a cop
You don’t think I know a dirty ass cop when I see one?
Shake down, take down, disrespecting-the-badge-ass-bitch!8
Back to the scene going wild in the bedroom
Grab the cop’s gun left from leaking with a head wound9
Second cop shot, but the bullet hit his partner
Shot him in the leg and he hit him in the arter(y)10
Now the dirty cop’s looking at me
Talking ’bout he kill a n!gga if I try to flee
Shit, I’m about to loose it, so he gon’ have to prove it
All because the government hate rap music11
I’ve been labeled outlaw, renegade, villain
So is Martin King, so the system had to kill him12
A nigga with an attitude, the world gotta feel him
Educated villain, attempt on living
If I gotta kill a cop just to get out the building
That m*therfucker didn’t, left dead, no feelings13
Yelling “F*ck him” as I buck A 45 at his fillings14
Trying to knock his brains through the motherf*cking ceiling
When I surface on the streets I can hear the crowd yelling
And see the neighborhood snitches pointing and telling15
I’m bailing like a felon or Assata Shakur16
Before the law leave me stinking like a bag of manure
Like Jeriko One in the movie ‘Strange Days’17
They want a nigga dead ’cause the things that I say
Might make the youth go and pick up an AK
Tell the government “Fuck you, no way”18
Like John Connor mama I be running everyday19
‘Cause if I get caught it’s my life they terminate20
or stick me in a cell on Guantanamo Bay21
All because a n!gga want some minimal pay
I’ll be an outlaw before I ever behave
And die a free man before I live like a slave22
Enough to changes, if they catch me today
“F*ck the police” is still all I gotta say23
1. In an impressively economic use of language, the whole stage for the narrative is set in these four lines; The cops are “looking for a n!gga” which implies basically every “n!gga” will do and uses a racial slur to boot, strongly establishing them as prejudiced cops. Waving a gun, inside Mike’s house, establishes they’re not there for a talk and ready and willing to apply force, while Mike’s aggresive response makes clear he is unafraid and willing to meet that force head-on. Also, the story lands smack-dab in the middle of the action, which besides being instantly engrossing, leaves little time for the listener to gather himself, mirroring the emotional state of the protagonist, who doesn’t have that time either.
2. In the 80s, Larry Davis shot six police officers that invaded his sister’s home, in what he described as an attempt to murder him since he knew about their dealings in the drug business. Mike uses a real-world example of a similar home invasion by crooked cops, giving the story an added layer of realism.
3. Mike’s thoughts immediately go to his loved ones, making him a relatable guy, who clearly feels he’s in serious danger.
4. A double entendre; Cold Lampin’ is a song on Public Enemy’s classic album “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” but Mike is also painted as a literal public enemy in this case. PE’s spirit is present in the bombastic production as well, and on another part of the album the song ‘Big Beast‘ musically references PE’s Public Enemy #1.
5. The posh NY neighbourhood known as The Hamptons is envoked as a symbol of financial succes and acceptance by the elite. Mike having no interest in these rewards of the capitalist dream make him suspect in the eyes of the establishment.
6. The Forbes list is a similar, more obvious measurement of the aforementioned type of succes.
7. Mike views the only way to be succesful within the system as selling yourself, essentially making those among the elite whores in his eyes.
8. This short ad-libbed bridge may not be part of any rapped lyrics, but it offers an interesting nuance to the protagonist’s views. His father having been a cop, Mike doesn’t simply hate police officers, the fact that he mentions these crooked cops are “disrespecting the badge” implies he actually does respect it. It’s not cops, but crooked cops that carry the brunt of his ire.
9. The story continues at a breakneck-pace, as we again land right in the middle of the action. How did the cop get a head wound, where is the other one at that time? This narrative technique adds to the frantic tension of the story.
10. The following lines carry as much action, but are used to fill us in on the questions raised in the opening lines of this verse.
11. Mike knows they’re out to silence him for things he said, so complying with the antagonists is useless in this case.
12. Those questioning the status quo are labeled as villains by it, even if they use peaceful manners like Martin Luther King, their lives are in danger for the threat they pose.
13. Mike has no moral qualms about killing these cops if they threaten his life, which foreshadows the story can only end violently.
14. A very specific detail about his dealing with the second cop, adding a certain measure of gore, as well as a sense involvement with the scene for the listener.
15. People on the streets now him and support his defiance, while others are out for their metaphorical thirty pieces of silver.
16. Despite having just killed two cops, Mike descibes himself as opposite to a felon; he bails like a felon, implying he is not one himself. This situation is exactly as many believe to be the case with Assata Shakur, the Black Panther (and step-aunt of Tupac Shakur) who lives in exile in Cuba after being senteced to death for the murder of a police officer in the US.
17. In ‘Strange Days,’ an ex-cop receives a recording of the memories of a murdered prostitute, eventually uncovering a huge conspiracy within the LAPD.
18. Mike inspires subversism, something he takes pride in but makes him an enemy to the status quo.
19. Mirroring the ‘Strange Days,’ line earlier in the verse, this line references the ‘Terminator‘ movie series. Sarah Connor, the mother of John Connor, had to flee from execution of herself and her son by the hands of agents of Skynet, a ruling force from a future to where John Connor would eventually lead the resistance against them.
20. Again referencing the ‘Terminator‘ series and building upon the previous line.
21. Which is still open, and a painful real-world example of the ugliest part of the American government, where it isn’t even held accountable to its own laws.
22. The story is open-ended, but Mike’s intentions for what may follow are clear as day.
23. The “changes” may reference the change promised and partly brought by Obama’s campaign in 2008. Despite those changes, Mike believes the police still can’t be trusted with the equal protection of all citizens in the USA, and hasn’t changed his stance on them one iota.