Amiri Baraka performs his poem "Something in the Way of Things (In Town)" with The Roots in their 2002 album Phrenology. This album is full of issues reflecting love and fight for social justice. The album collects various issues that affect people in the underground fighting to have their rightful position in the world. In this song, Amiri Baraka and the band use stomp like hip hop beats to express their view on inequalities in the American society. The title of the song comes from Baraka’s poem “In Town” and he raps the lyrics from his poem where he touches on key themes that affect people of various races across the country. The artists in this song focus their attention on various issues, and this particular song focuses on various issues like racial justice, oppression on national levels, self-determination by individuals who aim at progressing and the liberation of people who have been under oppression for a long time. In this song, one hears a complicated and contradicting story narrated through a poetic sound where the verses are full of scorn and end up becoming a biting satire of the actions going on in the city. Listening to the lyrics of this on, one understands the shift from the view of a person speaking on issues facing their own life to the big picture of everyone not taking control over their own destinies.
The song begins with a monologue of a person who is passionately seeking the attention of the listener. One gets the feeling that the narrator is self-determined to fulfill his duty. It seems as if he is speaking with himself about something he wants to accomplish. However, as the lyrics continue, one gets to understand that he is in fact, seeking to pass a message across to the audience who has a role in the situation happening in the city everyone has a role to play in shaping their destiny. Through repetition and the use of first person language, the lyric connects to the audience and requests them to do things. This shows that the song is about the determination of an individual to act on their own terms and have the determination to do what is right in a world where everyone turns a blind eye to what is happening around them. Repetition can be seen in the way he keeps repeating the lyrics,
“Open your mouth, how you gon 'Say Somethin
Close your eyes and remember what you saw and what they made you feel like
Now you see nothing else
Something cold and ugly, (The RootsFt: Baraka).
The desperation in the tone of the lyrics as they are singing also portray frustrations on the part of the artists who are trying to shed light to the issues happening in the streets yet no one is willing to call it what it really is. Everyone knows what is happening, but no one is bold enough to come out in public and condemn what is happening. The lyrics in the song oozes of frustration and desperation by an individual who is self-driven to achieve great things, but things are standing in his way. These obstacles are great and yet to one are doing anything to break through them. The lyrics say, "of what I do, that the audience knows, but completely ignored or underestimated.”
Through the lyrics from his poem, Baraka and the Roots are aiming at creating awareness of what lurks in the street on a national level. The song is focusing on the things that go on that is life threatening and dangerous to those affected. The song depicts the situation in the streets of cities. This is not only a matter of danger lurking in the streets of one city, but it is a national issue that everyone turns a black eye to even though it happens everywhere. The lyrics show the life of a young boy who is faced by challenge, his life and death is mysterious. The lyrics “Riding on top of the car peering through the windshield for his cue
Something entirely fictitious and true
It crawls across the path hallowing your evil ways
How do they themselves not by a smile” (The RootsFt: Baraka)
The lyrics are trying to open the eyes of the audience to things happening, but many people are not even aware of their existence. The lyrics show evil ways that exist in our daily lives. Ignorance and flattery are the things that force people to overlook the issues and continue on the path of destruction. People are sometimes forced to do something they are not willing to do. However, due to the circumstances they are forced to be in, they have no choice, but to dance along with the music.
It is confusing when Baraka talks about a spirit being illiterate. He raps saying “The dead guy you saw me speak to your boss, I have tried to put a spell on him, but his spirit is illiterate.” This shows that, in this world, most people are not in a position to respond to things happening to them because they are not aware that it works against them. The illiteracy is bad as it is like being dead. One cannot do anything when they are dead; they cannot respond to oppression and voice their view on issues affecting them. This is the case with the spirit of an illiterate person who is not in a position to respond to any issue affecting them. Lack of awareness is the main issues being spoken about in this lyric. The effort of an individual who is not aware of his situation is like spell casts on him that will not help him or her change his situation. Unless he or she becomes aware of thing happening around him or her, then nothing can change the situation in the street. The obstacle of illiteracy and lack of awareness will continue being existent. One can also interpret this to mean that the oppressed are not aware of the oppression facing them; hence they cannot do anything, but accept the situation and live on under oppression.
National oppression is also evident in this song. Baraka addresses this in his lyrics when he talks about something. The “something” he talks about in his lyrics depict something huge, omnipresent and powerful that affects everyone in one way or the other this shows that whatever is affecting the narrator is something beyond their control. Oppression is something that do not only come from within and individual, but comes from above him. It is evident in how everything is set in a friendly manner that seems to fit everyone. However, it is suspect how there are smiles everywhere and humor. It is the way things do not seem right that sheds light to the national level of frustration that occurs when people pretend to set everything well for everyone yet there are underlying issues that have not been addressed (Ransby 355).
The concept of racism and racial discrimination comes out clearly in the song and its lyrics. Through the lines of the poem by Baraka, the lyrics depict and important view on how racism is present in the society. The use of the words Negros and niggga do not hide the fact that racism exists and there is still a lot to be done to change the situation. Life-denial is evident in the following lines, in the song, "reinforced that niggga" "and to give up his life / Standin 'there bein' dissed and broke and troubled." Broke, troubled and dissed are the concepts that show the level of desperation facing the blacks. The issue about the machines in the factory wanting to take his life though he is struggling to hang on to it is a clear portrayal of the hardships one undergoes in the society. A niggga is like a vessel that has been rejected, humiliated and receives an insult from everyone around him. His life is not his to live as he wishes. The mean machine of racism and national oppression is the machine Baraka speaks about in his lyrics. It swallows the lives of those who are not in a position to deal with it in a proper manner. This is more so for the niggga who even if he survives death; the mean machine is under control and will still take his life away from him.
The machine that is the society is alive and powerful and exists to oppress the blacks. The machine rejects the black people and does not see them as equals. It despises them and only views them as a source of labor in Factories. The society is a mean machine in a capitalist economy that only views one’s value according to the contribution they make through labor work done in factories. The society is oppressive an exploitative of the niggga who works in factories that function as death traps.
Social justice can only come if people stand together and call social oppression and racism what it is. People have always feared to call it what it is for a long time. In the lyrics, the song repeats the word “something,” but does not specify what something is. However, as one listens to the lyrics, one gets to understand that blacks have always been ignorant or afraid to state their thoughts on issues of oppression. Fighting for the rights and justice of blacks can only happen if one can come out and call name what is happening in the street as an injustice that needs to be eliminated. Opening one’s eyes and seeing what is happening as it is truly happening is the key to understanding and coming out clearly on the issues affecting the oppressed in the society.
At the end of the song, The Roots offers a new hope of liberation for the oppressed. They offer a new radicalized love that asserts itself and is willing to fight for what is rightfully theirs. The Roots focus their attention in the future, a future where one comes out with love foroneself and his community and voices their concerns by affirmative actions. It gives hope to the oppressed that for a long time have been unaware and unable to come out and state their rightful position in an unjust society.
The roots state that it is critical for the oppressed to do anything within their means to ensure that they are liberated. It is evident in the following lyrics “The face, your own faceStraining to get out from behind the glassOpen your mouth like you was gon' say somethin'Close your eyes and remember what you saw and what it made you feel likeNow, don't you see something elseSomething cold and ugly
Not invisible but blended with the shadow crisscrossing the old man (The RootsFt: Baraka”). This does not simply mean doing what is legally right, one can go about this, using different platforms even if it means using transgression, force and illegal means to achieve social justice and liberation (Ransby 356).This is a song full of details about the lives of oppressed people. The artist come together and addresses issues using imagery and through this platform they address issues that affect people in the society its content is based on racial discrimination and oppression it is a sign of hope to the black people. Though hip hop and collaboration with poetic lines, the song addresses key issues facing people in the society and gives love and hope to the people who are most affected.
The Roots Ft: Baraka Amiri. Something in the Way of Things (In Town) Lyrics.Grand Wizards.
Ransby, Barbara. "Remembering Amiri Baraka and Stuart Hall." Souls 15.4 (2013): 355-357.