Thursday, November 1, 2018

Certain Songs #1358: N.W.A. – “Express Yourself” | Medialoper

Album: Straight Outta Compton
Year: 1989

The final single from Straight Outta Compton totally flipped the plot, and compared to songs like “Gangsta, Gangsta,” “Dopeman,” “Fuck Tha Police” and “8 Ball” was enough of a curveball to feel like a breath of joyous fresh air near the end of the back half of the album.

I guess it’s also a bit of a preview of Dr. Dre’s upcoming solo career, as he steps out from the turntable to rap Ice Cube’s lyrics that simultaneously celebrate art as a way out of the gangsta life as well fit in the middle of the great hip-hop tradition of getting extremely meta about the process of creating hip-hop lyrics.

I’m expressing with my full capabilities
And now I’m living in correctional facilities
Cause some don’t agree with how I do this
I get straight and meditate like a Buddhist
I’m dropping flavor, my behavior is hereditary
But my technique is very necessary
Blame it on Ice Cube, because he said it gets funky
When you got a subject and a predicate
Add it on a dope beat, and it’ll make you think

Riding hard on the sample of Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band’s original version of “Express Yourself” — itself a #12 pop single from 1970 — “Express Yourself” doesn’t sound like anything else on Straight Outta Compton, but lyrically and musically, as Cube’s lyrics are devoid of any kind of profanity, misogyny or even explicit violence, though Dre has to front about carrying a Smith & Wesson.

But that’s just an aside; rather than rapping about taking literal shots at other gang members, “Express Yourself” is full of metaphorical shots at their peers: rappers who are all fucked up on drugs, rappers who won’t curse on the mic (ironically on a song that doesn’t have profanity), rappers who don’t have anything original to say, but always circling back to hook and the point: “Express yourself!”

“Express Yourself”

“Express Yourself” video (different mix)

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