The structure of this verse is pretty fucking incredible.
First, we get an image—the moon (or lack of a moon) above the New York skyline. Remote, natural.
Then he descends and describes the day-to-day life of the city itself, its organic inhabitants, the people who compose it, from top (“stock tips”) to bottom (“Gangstaz of Gotham”).
Then at the end, the camera zooms out again and we get another remote, landscape image—the harbor lights out in the distance, Mos Def himself somewhere amidst them.
So a standard conscious rap verse about life in the city, but bookended by an awareness of the city as a whole, as more than its inhabitants. Ties in beautifully with overall theme; the city itself is “respirating.”
To help improve the meaning of these lyrics, visit "Respiration" by Black Star (Ft. Common) Lyrics and leave a comment on the lyrics box