The Personification of Hip-Hop

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Rap is poetry. There is no denying it. Some say, “That’s absurd, rap music isn’t poetry”. I beg to differ. Although some rap doesn’t really do the art of poetry justice, many rappers use the craft of language, imagery, and rhyme with poetic intent. The Finest example of this? Personification.
As one of the most sophisticated mechanisms in poetry, personification is defined as

The attribution of human nature or character to animals, inanimate objects, or abstract notions, especially as a rhetorical figure.

Let’s explore the Top 20 moments where rappers used personification.

20. Blu — Amnesia

“Naïve as the dry leaves on the ground
Lookin' past the tree to the blue sky askin':
Why me?”

Blu is a prolific West Coast MC, who is widely considered as the “poet of hip-hop.” In Amnesia, Blu personifies a fallen leaf, forsaken by the very tree from which it fell, blaming the heavens for its plight.

19. Cam'ron — D'Rugs

“When he come around see her facial,
Guess it was his fragrance
She sniffed it in her nasal”

Cam’ron cleverly personifies his mother’s drug addiction as an abusive boyfriend named D-rugs. He takes on the perspective of a young Cam, who ends up as a locked up dealer.

18. Mobb Deep & Q-tip — Drink Away the Pain

“Met her back in ‘89 now she’s 22
Acting like she 40, she said all I need is a man to support me”

This song as a whole personifies dangerous material addictions. Mobb Deep compares liquor to a seductive woman, and Q-tip creates a metaphorical heist scene with name-brand clothes.

17. Styles P — Nobody Believes Me

“So I went to the closet said "Hammer what’s wrong with you?"
You ain’t busting me off, it’s like I don’t belong to you”

Styles P goes off in this track, switching voices, perspectives, and staging a 5-way conversation between himself, his gun, his knife, his money, and his weed.

16. Baltimore Love Thing — 50 Cent

“The fiends need me, I ain’t around, they bones ache
Detox, rehab, cold sweats, watch them shake”

In this rare song, 50 cent personifies the relationship between heroine and addicts in Baltimore. Not only can we annotate this song, but 50 can too! Click the title to see his own verified annotations!

15. Spice 1 — 187 Proof

“Jack and Juice said Mickey wouldn’t survive
But Mickey was slick he had a Colt 45”

Spice 1, the East Bay rapper, personifies an assortment of liquors in one of hip-hop’s first moments of personification. Notably, hearing this track is what made master personifier, Lupe Fiasco, realize the potential of hip-hop.

14. Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Slick Rick & The RZA — The Sun

“Who can take a raindrop and turn it to glee
And drawn up 6 miles, over tropical isles and bring it to the sea”

Four of hip-hop’s greatest storytellers team up to personify and show appreciation towards the sun.

13. Wale, Curren$y & J.Cole — Rather be (Vagina is for Lovers)

“Ay when we first met you was too tense for me to get through,
And then I got you loose it’s like a glove how I fit you
Your two lips they smell like tulips so official”

Back before Wale was signed to MMG, and he was making mixtapes with 9th Wonder, he enlisted Cole & Spitta to make a song about vaginas. Through their clever personification of the female genitalia, they narrowly avoid misogyny and make an all around great song about one of man’s ongoing struggles.

12. Organized Konfusion — Stray Bullet

“I’m coming for you little girl
Once inside I shatter your world
Swirl, no more dreams no hopes when I spray”

From the genius minds of Pharoahe Monch and Prince Poetry comes an enticing tale from the perspective of a stray bullet. The song shows how accidental and tragic gun deaths can be, and has taken on a new context during the current gun control debate.

11. Lupe Fiasco — Daydreamin'

“Now there’s hoes selling hoes like right around the toes
And the crackheads beg at about the lower leg
There’s crooked police that’s stationed at the knees
And they do drive-bys like up and down the thighs
And there’s a car chase going on at the waist”

Lupe, the mastermind of sneaking social commentary in popular songs, invents a new form of personification in this song, “robotification.” He characterizes the robot’s body parts with different aspects of the ghetto.

10. DOOM — My Favorite Ladies

“And Miss Hazy, older woman, mature black
Everytime she sees me, I end up gettin towed back
All she want me to do is blaze it crazy
The only one complaint is, she make me too lazy”

The enigma himself, DOOM, describes his favorite drugs while personifying them as unfaithful women.

9. Nas & Busta Rhymes — Fried Chicken

“Mmm… Fried chicken, fly vixen
Give me heart disease but need you in my kitchen”

Nas and Busta personify fried chicken as a seductress. The lustful and unhealthy relationship in the song symbolizes the interplay between African American culture and high-cholesterol food.

8. Masta Ace (feat. Jean Grae) — Hold U

“Try to tap me just to see if im turned on
But it’s the way you speak to me
Its like we on the same frequency”

Masta Ace & Jean Grae team up to deliver a romantic ode to the microphone. Ace speaks to the microphone directly, whereas Jean Grae actually takes on the point of view of the microphone itself.

7. KRS 1 — I Can’t Wake Up

“This is insane, I’m caught by House of Pain
I’m picked up, they said they gonna Put My Head Out”

KRS takes us on an inception-like journey about a dream-state where he becomes a blunt, and he can’t wake up. He gets passed around by Cypress Hill, to De La Soul, to Redman, and eventually, to Bill Clinton.

6. Jeru the Damaga — You Can’t Stop the Prophet

“He has an army, they always give me trouble
Mainly — Hatred, Jealousy and Envy, they attack me”

As one of the more abstract personifications, Jeru the Damaja takes on ignorance, personifying the concept as an arch-nemesis.

5. 2Pac — Me and My Girlfriend

“Our first date couldn’t wait to see you naked
Touch you in every secret place. I could hardly wait to bust freely”

Although Pac wasn’t the first rapper to personify a gun as a woman, and was reportedly inspired by Nas to write the song, it is the passion which he draws out the metaphor with that makes this song so special.

4. Kanye West — Homecoming

“She said "Excuse me lil homey, I know you don’t know me
But, my name is Windy and I like to blow trees'”

Kanye, a student of the game, takes in the influences of the personification that came before him and creates an epic ballad personifying his hometown, Chicago.

3. Lupe Fiasco — Streets on Fire / Put You on Game

“My femme fatale my darling fraudulent angel
Once caught her changing the batteries in her halo”

“I hope your bullet holes become mouths that say my name
Cause I’m the—”

Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool, a concept album about a young hustler who is immortalized as a zombie, has to be one of hip-hop’s greatest examples of personification. The two characters who lured Michael Young History to his death are The Streets and The Game, personified into a seductive prostitute and a skeletal kingpin.
To find out more about the ever-layered COOL saga, read the Rap Genius article, Lupe Fiasco, the Proust of Rap.

2. Nas — I Gave You Power

“My abdomen is the clip, the barrel is my dick uncircumcised, Pull my skin back and cock me
I bust off when they unlock me.”

As opposed to Pac’s abrasive passion, Nas uses calculated and vivid details to spit a verse from the perspective of a gun. The story takes a turn when the gun becomes sick of the violent culture it is a part of and decides not to participate.
Nas and Dj Premier speak on the making of I Gave You Power in this interview

1. Common — I Used to love H.E.R

I met this girl, when I was ten years old
And what I loved most she had so much soul"

Hip-Hop’s magnum Opus of personification is about, well, hip-hop. Common pens a nostalgic love song about his relationship with hip-hop during a time period when the art form was shifting towards the mainstream and the gangsta. The song is poignant, melancholic, poetic, and all around, genius.

Honorable Mentions:

Gucci Mane — Coca Coca

Freeway — Goodbye (My Block)

Jay-Z — Girl’s Best Friend

Lupe Fiasco — Twilight Zone & Gotta Eat

Watsky — Send in the Sun

Pharoahe Monch — Rape

Sticky Fingaz — Money Talks

Drop a comment if you think I missed a song.
Peace and Love,
Frak