You understand I am chasin my breath
I am narrowly escapin my death,
On Jay-Z’s “Can I Live” from Reasonable Doubt, he says, “I’d rather die enormous than live dormant.” In several of his songs, Jay alludes to people being “dead” despite the fact that they’re actually alive (as in, their heart’s aren’t beating). They’re “dead” because they aren’t chasing their dreams or going after what they want. To Jay, accomplishing dreams is the essence of “life.”
When he says “I am chasin my breath” he is stretching the racing metaphor present in several lines on this verse to say he is chasing the essence of life itself — getting everything he wants. In going after his dreams- “life” — he is simultaneously fighting the forces of “death” (boredom, apathy, stagnation, addiction, laziness, etc.). He likens this to “narrowly escapin his death.”
It gets deeper. The entire second verse is about the struggle one encounters once he has accomplished so much. He likens this struggle to a race. Hence Michael Schumacher metaphor in the following line as well as his admission that one day even he, the great Jay-Z, will have to deal with engine burnout.
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