Hip-hop has always done self-aggrandizement well, and hip-hop from the mid-90’s may have had it perfected (I’m thinking of Biggie’s “Hypnotize” video and basically everything ever put out by No Limit Records). In their heyday, the Wu-Tang Clan bragged and boasted along with the best of them, and the Killa Bees give us no better example than “4th Chamber.” Here we happen upon Ghostface “sipping wine out of Stanley Cups” (multiple Stanley Cups?) and Killah Priest inexplicably “lounging between two pillars of ivory.” Like Kehinde Wiley’s equestrian portraits or Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog, “4th Chamber” treats self-aggrandizement as a natural reaction to marginalization. As an eleven-year-old kid, I intuitively identified (and still do) with the song as a fortification against powerlessness. These guys put their full faith in language’s ability to shake a stubborn world into submission. RZA’s beat acts as a counterweight to the rappers’ hyperbole. It’s pulsating distortion and heart monitor blips sound like they are being played through a boombox with low batteries. The music is spooky and homegrown where the verses are outlandishly proud. No chorus. No artifice. Just four rappers taking turns over a crazy beat.
P.J. Gallo lives in Durham, NC. His poems have appeared in Bat City Review, H_NGM_N, Independent Weekly, OH NO, Roanoke Review, and elsewhere. He co-edits the online poetry journal LEVELER.
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