Banging on table tops, no subs to toot
Subutex and Suboxone are brand names of the over-the-counter opioid buprenorphine. Addiction is a huge theme in Macklemore’s discography, and although he has principally struggled with alcoholism (see “Neon Cathedral”, “Starting Over”, etc.) no one is immune to the allure of opioids.
This is a triple wordplay: “subs to toot” as in “subwoofers making noise (music),” “substitute” as in a teacher (disobedience), and “subs to toot” as in “Subutex to snort” (drug addiction). He also means that there’s no substitute for banging your hands on tabletops. The complexity of the line is formidable!
He’s playing drumming with his hands on tables, not playing the music out of subwoofers. He had to start over from the most basic forms of music. “Subs to toot” is also made to sound like “substitute,” as in there is no substitute for the most basic, natural forms of music. According to his mother Gloria Carter, a young Jay-Z used to wake his siblings up at night banging out drum patterns on the kitchen table.
When there is no substitute teacher and your class is left alone for a few minutes, you bang on the table tops and go crazy!
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