I never sleep
'Cause sleep is the cousin of death
It's been quite a while since our last "Hip-Hop 101" lecture. Did you think your professor was ill, had died, had gotten fired, or had run off with that hot French student who never wears a bra to class?
Never fear -- we're going to get through the class syllabus sooner or later. (Cross my heart and hope to die!)
|Nas (circa 1994)|
Nas -- his real name is Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones -- was not quite 21 when his debut album, Illmatic, was released in 1994. Some critics rank it as the best rap album of all time, and nearly all of them rank Nas very high on the list of the greatest MCs.
Nas is a consummate storyteller who's not afraid to innovate and experiment. (The narrators of Nas's songs include a fetus, a corpse, and a gun.) His lyrics feature an extensive vocabulary and complex rhymes, but he never lets the fancy wordplay interfere with his flow.
Nas often raps about life on the street -- his songs have an authenticity and nitty-grittiness that sets them apart from hip-hop poseurs. (Some MCs seem to have learned everything they know about guns and drugs from the movies. Nas's tracks often have a cinematic quality, but are more like documentary shot with a handheld camera than Scarface or New Jack City.)
I don't know if Nas is a fan of the Iliad, which describes Hypnos (who personifies sleep in Greek mythology) and Thanatos (who personifies death) as twin brothers. I think Nas's description of sleep and death as cousins is more apt than Homer's description of them as twins -- sleep and death share certain characteristics, but are quite different. (The Jewish Talmud says that sleep is 1/60th part of death -- more like cousins than twin brothers, in other words.)
In "Enter Sandman," Metallica advises the little boy who is scared of the dark to "sleep with one eye open." It is possible for humans -- especially children -- to sleep with one or both eyes open. But if you do sleep with one eye open, you wouldn't see anything -- so it doesn't do you any good.
|Hypnos and Thanatos: "Sleep and His Half-|
BrotherDeath," by J. W. Waterhouse (1974)
Nas probably isn't talking about sleep in the literal sense. If the narrator of this song is caught off-guard by one of his many enemies -- that is, if he's "caught sleeping" -- his carelessness could result in his death.
|The CBS "eye"|
You get that, right?
2 or 3 lines believes in giving credit where credit is due, and I need to credit Rap Genius -- click here to read the Rap Genius commentary on "N.Y. State of Mind."
Here's "N.Y. State of Mind":
Click here to buy the song from Amazon: