I had to hustle, my back to the wall, ashy knuckles
Pockets filled with a lot of lint, not a cent
A portrait of a harsh life as a poor black kid in the projects. Black skin becomes “ashy” or white, when it gets dry and damaged during cold winter weather.
Too bad young Jay-Z didn’t have any shea butter!
The “My back to the wall” part can be read in two different ways:
- It gives you an image of his “back to the wall”, waiting on the blocks for customers.
- His back was to the wall, meaning that he didn’t have a cent in his pocket, as he repeats in the next line.
“Pockets filled with a lot of lint” could also potentially be a reference to Rakim’s line in Paid in Full.
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