Asymmetry in Art

I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while. The idea that on collaborative art, sometimes it is clear that the collaborators are not necessarily working on the same piece.  There are a lot of articles talking about actors who are acting at a different intensity level than the other actors and even than the film warrants. The most common performance referenced is Elizabeth Berkeley in “Showgirls.” Apparently, the cast and crew were aware they were making a schlocky B-movie, while she seems to be performing if this is her shot at an Oscar. 

It’s an interesting thing in film, but I want to talk about rap collaborations.  You might think that I’m going to talk about talent disparity between the collaborators but I’m not.  Rap, often has a message or a story, and sometimes that is where this assymetry comes into play.

There are two songs that I want to talk about: “Best Friend” by Yelawolf ft. Eminem and “Diamonds of Sierra Leone (Remix)” by Kanye West ft. Jay Z.  While I’ll be talking about these two songs, their are in spirit four separate songs with four different themes.

So let’s start with “Diamonds of Sierra Leone,” as you’re more likely to know the song.  In the original as well as in the remix version, Kanye is talking about justifying a lifestyle which largely is built off of the backs of suffering people.  In his verse on this song he says “over here it’s the drug trade, we die from drugs, over there they die from what we buy from drugs.”  He’s talking about the obvious issues of the drug trade, the suffering of the users, but then he also is talking the blood diamond trade which has a connection with illegally gained money.  Whether you like him or not, it’s a very thoughtful and deep verse.  

Then there is Jay Z’s verse, in which he is rapping about how awesome and important he is; “I’m not a businessman- I’m a business, man;” “difficult takes a day, impossible takes a week;” “our money like a dynasty last three life times.”  Jay Z’s verse is incredible, on par with the Kanye verse, but in a totally different tone and message.  My best guess is that they were trying to use Jay’s verse as an example of the excess that Kanye’s verse is conflicted.  As if they’re saying “hey this stuff we rap about is very conflicting, and maybe it’s really not good, but then you hear a verse like this next one and you can’t deny how awesome it is even if it’s founded on the issues mentioned before.” That’s my best guess.

The second song, “Best Friend” by Yelawolf ft Eminem is a less contradictory but largely assymetrical.  Yelawolf’s first verse is how about he tries to be live and let live, but also tries not to take shit.  When you give him shut, he gives you up to his best friend, which it is implied is Jesus. Now there are two ways to interpret that, first that he’s going to end your life and “send you straight up to my best friend,” or thathe’s  washing his hands of you and ‘giving it to God.’ Either way, it’s a relatively spiritual verse.

Then there’s Eminem’s verse, which is superior in verbal gymnastics, but content-wise its more even with the first verse.  In this verse, Em is also talking about his own spiritual path, but instead of saying he has a good idea of it he’s asking for intervention.  In this way they’re good companion pieces, but what always strikes me as  disjointed is the “Best Friend,” in each verse.

Yelawolf’s “Best Friend” is God or Jesus, and Eminem’s is his actual best friend, Proof who died, and Em regularly talks about as being his guardian angel of sorts.  He even mentions “he’ll be waiting at the gates when you get sprayed up. sending you hoes straight up to deal with my best friend.” So the implication is more clear that he’ll kill you if you mess with him, and it sounds as if Proof is going make sure Heaven isn’t to heavenly for you.

I think both of these songs are asymmetrical in that first rapper in each is discussing an issue on a slightly more ‘macro’ level, and both songs have final verses that are much more personal and stuck in the mindset that doesn’t allow for the first.

I find it an interesting dichotomy to look at these songs that are seemingly fragmented in their messaging. As if we are all capable of seeing the reasonable way of looking at things but are all too connected to our own human shit to let ourselves.

What do you think? Can you think of any songs that fall into this category? Tel me in the comments below.

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