Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
There's an essay in the new issue of Spin magazine - its year-end issue - that tries to reconcile what Jay-Z and Kanye West made this year and what was happening around them - what the 99-percenters were having done to them, or at least what they felt was being done to them. It mentions watching a video of West strolling through the Occupy Wall Street grounds at Zuccotti Park and the author mentions seeing fear in his eyes - not that he was going to get mobbed and have his chains stolen or anything like that - but more so that he had no idea what in the hell was going on. "Watch The Throne" gets picked on in the piece for being oblivious to the struggles of most Americans, while it spouts off about the lavish lives that the two superstars lead. They rattle off brand names and flaunt their expensive tastes and while artistically the album is a widely regarded modern classic, the sentiment and sensitivity to the financial hardship that most are going through fell flatter than a pancake. People don't live like the Hova and Ye because they can't. It doesn't mean that they don't want to though. It's what hip-hop is based upon - the illusion and those dreams that are bigger than most have the balls to dream. The dreams are filled with large-breasted and randy women, the best clothing, the heaviest jewelry, private jets, huge houses and fast cars. A lot of it is about the materialism, but some of it is about not having to worry too much about the bullshit. It's about finally getting out of the constraints of those limitations that most are born with. These are the limitations that take so much to overcome - those lots in life that are handed down or backed into because of a grab bag of circumstances.
Minnesota group The Tribe & Big Cats happen to be those kinds of aspiring folks who aren't there yet in their lives, but there's no harm in throwing those dreams out there. The way rapper TruthBeTold's words come out are as honest striving, of daydreams that one wakes up out of by tipping over backwards on a chair or by talking in their sleep and someone nearby smacks them back to consciousness or laughs at the comedy. He dreams for some Jordan 3s and a girl with either double or triple Ds. It might toggle high or low depending on how the day is feeling, whether or not he'd like to just settle a bit. He raps about being in the Mile High Club, while flying into Chicago, but it still feels like an image that's coming out of a part of the memory that's not at all real, but which is dusting off the cobwebs of an ambitious and action-packed catnap. He raps, "I woke up this morning with a girl and some good smoke." That right there doesn't necessarily require a big bank account, but it stands to reason that more smoke and "better" or "hotter/bigger cupped" girls could come from such a setup. The sentiment that comes out of The Tribe & Big Cats (the lineup completed by producers Aye Yo Pete and Big Cats) is one that feels like a sigh and a smoke outside a back door, on a frigid Minneapolis winter. There are a lot of parts of the lives chronicled within where you think, "Damn that hurts," or you feel the harshness in the reality of them, but there are punches that need to be rolled with. TruthBeTold believes that there's a heaven for the Gs and that he's "just a man rapping with robot in hand, talking, tryin' to find some cheddar and a car so I can drive off." It's a thought that's quite a bit closer to the American dream than the one that Kanye and Jay-Z share. It's that cream at the top that feels like it can be reached and enjoyed.