The Hidden Meanings in NYC Rap

By Roselio Ortega

Most types of music always have their messages. Sometimes they are very subtle, other times it is abundantly clear. This project will look into a couple of rap songs from New York City and will attempt to distinguish any important lessons from each of them using the song’s lyrics and the inspiration from making the song itself.

How well do song lyrics do in delivering a key message?

There is a difference between listening to a song for its words and listening for its beat. Each induces various feelings within the listener, but it will not be the same across both sides. The focus for today is finding which messages can be interpreted from select songs from your very own NYC… or at least in the NY state. I hope you enjoy this wonderful review.

The Relevancy Scale

Before we begin, let me introduce how I’m going to gauge each meaning compared to its respective song. On a scale from 1-100: 1 being least connected to the song, 100 being the most. This is to let readers know how impactful each song is and how well the song title, along with the lyrics, help with that purpose.

Song #1Song #2Song #3
Name of songX Gon’ Give It To YaAll Eyez on MeAngels
ArtistDMXTupacA$AP Rocky
Record LabelRuff Riders EntertainmentDeath Row RecordsLong. Live. ASAP
Song DateDecember 10, 2002February 13th, 1996October 31th, 2013
Video DateJun 16, 2009October 1st, 2021January 15th, 2015
Table 1. Background on the 3 Songs

Song #1

This first one is a personal favorite. Earl Simmons was born in 1970 in Mount Vernon and grew up to become one of NY’s finest rappers. With his stage name, DMX, he made hit after hit, and I cannot make this list without including “X Gon’ Give It To Ya”, released in 2002. Everyone fights for something, either for themselves or someone else. They are prepared to defend it with their lives every second they are alive. Put simply, the song is meant to depict DMX’s confidence and skill as rapper, and how he won’t sit around waiting for people to recognize his talent, instead going out there and doing it himself. The fact that he repeats “X gon’ give it to ya” only enforces that statement. The message here is that believing in yourself helps tremendously in achieving your dreams, even if it’s just you. I would give a percent of relevancy of the song lyrics to the title of 80%. DMX really knows how to be assertive in his words and makes sure that everyone hears it.

Here is the album cover. It goes hard, doesn’t it?

Song #2

Tupac, also known as Tupac Amaru Shakur, was one of history’s most recognizable rappers. Everyone who knew him also knew his music, and it was that fame that pushed Tupac to the top. He has produced some of the greatest hits ever known, one of which being “All Eyez on Me”. Basically, throughout the song, Tupac depicts his experiences as a thug. He notes that the jealousy towards him and the individuals who want to stop will face the consequences. When “All eyes on me” is repeated in the chorus, it serves as a reminder that he is always in the spotlight, and everyone is appropriately looking at him. Tupac also had his fair share of troubles, such as with relationships, financial status, and his legal troubles as well. The message here being that once you go famous, everyone will look at you and know your struggles and successes, and some people will pray for your downfall and want you to fail. On a percent of relevancy, I would give this song a modest 85%.

Here’s what the album looks like:
All Eyez on Me - Wikipedia

Song #3

For our final song, we have “Angels” from A$AP Rocky. Throughout the song, there are lyrics depicting a lifestyle associated with wealth, drug use, and violence. These lyrics accentuate that by describing the life of a young drug dealer who is surrounded by those that are also involved in illegal activities. Despite this, the message of the lyrics is not necessarily promoting this lifestyle but rather telling a story of what life is like for someone who lives this way. The lyrics also mention the priority of loyalty and being true to yourself and those around you. Overall, the lyrics can be seen as a commentary on the harsh realities of life in some communities and how people may resort to crime in order to live. Though it does go without saying that the intention was not to normalize or glorify this type of lifestyle. On the relevancy scale, I would give it about a 50% since it is describing a lifestyle that the overall message doesn’t specifically relate to yet acts as a warning to anyone smart enough to catch it.

Check out the album cover because this song doesn’t actually have a dedicated cover:

What’s the same? What’s the difference?

The interesting similarity between these songs is that they all focus on aspects of life that would have happened to anyone. Yes, they were made by certain people, but they all depict a lifestyle or mindset that anyone could have been subjected to. For example, DMX’s song was all about exerting dominance and power over anyone who gets in the way of your dreams. However, 2Pac’s song recognizes the stress and pressure of someone who gets to be in the spotlight while trying to make an impact on the world. On the other hand, Rocky’s song takes a more personal turn, describing the road to redemption and having hope, even when living in the roughest scenarios. They all touch upon a certain perspective that arguably a lot of people need to be aware of individually.

When I think of NYC, I believe these songs do a great job of what it’s like here. A lot of people from all over the world come here to pursue their dreams and integrate themselves in the culture, all while facing backlash for trying to get themselves out there. I remember having to find groups where I could resonate with the people there and actually build trust with. On top of that, it just shows the types of people that are here anyway; they all believe in hope, one way or another.