Diagnosing And Treating Your Life Troubles Using ‘90s Hip-Hop (Vol. One)

Rappers are like lion-tamers. They’re brave bastards eager to prove themselves against the savagery of life. They’re all about the struggling and hustling to be the best that’s ever been. Right now, there’s a ton of great hip-hop being produced- plenty of mad ninjas like Odd FutureMykki BlancoJoey Bada$$ and Chance the Rapper, dropping mixtapes and albums reminiscent of the best days in hip-hop, the legendry ‘90s. And out there, past the horizon, stalking in the darkness, is Death Grips. They’re so far ahead of the boasting crowd they’re in a league of their own. But rather than grab wisdom from the ones coming up, let’s follow their example and pull from the Golden Era of hip-hop. Let’s dig in the crates and find some insights to solve our modern troubles.

Life will sometimes beat on you, wear you down, drive you crazy, crack open your ribcage, yank out your heart and stomp on that bloody organ, while you helplessly watch. But don’t worry. There’s a time-tested antidote. Music. Not only will it soothe the savage beast, it’ll get you through some tough shit, whether it’s a bad break-up, a shitty boss, or life with your ignorant-ass roommate. Music is rhythmic power set to a beat. It’s often the soundtrack of your life’s great moments, like first kisses, make-up sex and long drives on a summer road trip. But it’s so much more than background sound, it also gives you the strength to keep going when all you want to do is quit. It gives you inspiration when you feel like shit. Music is medicine for weary souls.

I contacted an old friend of mine, Dr. Smokestack Lightning, the world-renowned musicologist and freelance medical practitioner. Together we developed something that’s part diagnostic tool and part mixtape. If you need some catharsis, let the Boom-Bap, G-Funk and Underground backpack rap be a salve for whatever ails you.

1. Have you reached the edge and feel like you’re hanging by your fingertips?

Life will kick you in the ovaries, it’ll strap on golf shoes and stomp on your balls. Like a constipated colon life does not give a shit. Sometimes, you’ll feel pushed, driven to the edge, and the only thing separating you from the abyss is the grip of your fingertips. Rather than talk you down, here’s some crazy muthafuckas to talk you up. Shake off the stress of your “human form” with this underground banger.

Organized Konfusion “Stress”

2. Are you angry, mad at the world for the injustices done to you or others?

Then embrace it. Sometimes the only way to get past it is to go through it and transcend it. This hard-ass beat will clang and bang the pain away with the anger of centuries. Take a listen to the wisdom of these righteous Black Nationalist rhymers. Let the pain motivate you. Let the anger fuel you. And then when you get close to what you want, rejoice at how far you’ve come. To live in the past is impossible, but it can always push you forward. Vitality means growth. Let this flow push you to grow! Pink Caddy, black boot stomping, yesss!

X-Clan “Fire & Earth”

3. Money troubles? Are you stuck in a world of Haves and Have-Nots?

Broke as a joke? Almost all of us have been there a time or two before. The world will look bleak because you’ve gotta nothing but a free week and no cash to supply it with fun, sun or travel. And the only moving you can afford is to go for a run. Well… that’s just how it is sometimes. The key is to not to lose your mind or embrace crime because behind bars is no way to spend your time. Let this track remind you of the options you don’t need to take. Don’t hustle your future. Trust that you never know what tomorrow holds in its hands. Just make it there to see what lies in your future. You’ll always be surprised. That’s a promise.

The Coup “Fat Cats and Bigga Fish”

4. Do you struggle to look out for you? Do you feel swept up by the flow of life?

Before Odd Future, Pro Era, or Save Money, the Wu Tang Clan was the maddest crew of ninjas with attitudes (NWA was a business venture invented by Eazy-E). If you don’t know what to do, if you keep making the wrong choices, well, rather than listen to any one m.c. you ought to sharpen your mental pencil with this collective of crazy badheads. Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Ghostface, GZA and RZA (just to name my faves) will coach you up, get you chopping down your doubts, crushing the face of your fear and striking on-point like the stinger of a killer bee. Just remember… “You must think first before you move.”

Wu-Tang Clan  “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’”

5. Is you heart hurting? Is your love life bleak? You feel crushed by your crush?

You know and I know we’ve all had a crush. They’re wonderful like summer fun… until they aren’t and they go bad. Which makes them similar to seafood, dairy products and child stars. Well, The Pharcyde wrote possibly the best song to ever capture the longing, disillusionment and powerlessness of a crush. If your crush has gone wrong let The Pharcyde remind you… you’re not alone. Like a funhouse mirror, they’ll remind you crushes are distortions you project. And like a mirror, if you don’t want to stare at it anymore, you can always walk away. If you need to get over the crush that’s brushed you off- bounce your brain to this one. And when you’re done… go find yourself some new fun.

The Pharcyde “Passin’ Me By”

6. Do you suffer from unfulfilled sexual longings?

You want ‘em. They know it. You chase ‘em. They let you. You almost catch ‘em. But then they’re gone. For good. Shit. Close but no wet cigar. It happens to everyone. And Mos Def is feelin’ you. He lays down this track that paints the scenes of his fascination with a girl who shook up his world… but he never got her. Some birds can’t be caught. No trouble even if they burst your bubble. You just have to enjoy the chase and when you lose, like Mos Def, take the news with a smile on your face. And then find a new bird. As long as you aren’t dead… there’s always another one.

Mos Def  “Ms. Fat Booty”

7. Are you frequently confused by social and/or sexual cues?

Are you blind to wedding rings? Do you ignore brush-offs and don’t mind a drink tossed in your face? Do you think everyone is always playing hard to get? Maybe… just maybe, it’s not them. It’s you. Don’t listen to me, one-hit wonder Positive K wrote a bouncy little song dedicated to your struggle. It’s all about the desperate power of positive thinking smashing its head against the brick wall of indifference. And that wall don’t give a fuck because it just keeps saying, “I Gotta Man.”

Positive K “I Gotta Man”

8. Have you fallen into a routine of uninspired sexual activity? Is your bed boring?

It’s okay. You can admit. No one will hear you. Just nod along with Missy as she reminds you how to get the most out of some horizontal hokey-pokey. The key to sexual satisfaction is to grab on with both hands and “work it.” Don’t think about it, be about it. Move your body like giving someone an orgasm is your only reason to be alive in that moment. But don’t listen to me. Let Missy make your eardrums bump and throb with sexy ideas. And later on, keep the lights on so they can see what you can do.

Missy Elliott “Work It” 

9. Do you avoid the pleasure of oral sex? Are you intimidated by giving head?

Doesn’t matter if you’re sucking on his fleshy crazy straw or tongue-tickling the honeypot of your homegirl, oral sex is the gift that keeps on giving. Be generous. Be creative. And be confident that when you do it right, mouth sex is like piloting a fighter plane straight at the sun, and whoever you’re pleasuring is gonna get hot and you’ll get ’em seeing stars. All it takes is some practice. Let Lil’ Kim teach you the right attitude. You can figure out the rest.

Lil’ Kim “How Many Licks”

10. Do you fantasize about someone you have yet to meet?

“The Ice Cream man is coming!” Just like that truck full of tasty treats, you might find yourself dreaming about something sweet rolling your way. And you know what? Good. Sometimes the best thing you can do is have a crush. Makes your days feel like you’re climbing a ladder to where you wanna be. Whatever it takes to keep you moving forward. If you’re stuck dreaming of the one you want to meet, let Raekwon, Ghostface, Cappadonna and Method Man rhyme and remind you of the importance of those fantasy orgasms in your mind. Fantasies are great because they keep you thinking about what you long to feel. Have no shame in your game even if you only have the idea and not the reality. Just don’t live there, only linger, eventually love shouldn’t just be about your mind but should include your finger. One day, you need to feel it. For now, you can dream it.

Raekwon “Ice Cream”

11. Sick of waiting? Tired of being patient? Are you ready to go boldly forward?

There comes a time when you just can’t wait any longer. Your skin is tingling, your mind is racing, your hands are twitching and your body’s itching… Why? Because you’re ready for more. Well, Busta Rhymes feels you. And this track is the penultimate paean to wanting more. And wanting it now. Peep these lyrics from the chorus: Even though we getting money you can (Gimme some more) With the cars and the big crib (Gimme some more) Everybody spread love (Gimme some more) If you want it let me hear you say (Gimme some more) No doubt about it… bump your noggin to this one and you’ll be ready for more.

Busta Rhymes “Gimme Some More”

12. Should you stay or should you go? Should you shit or get off the pot?

From the opening walking bass-line of this track your mind feels that urge… you gotta make a choice. Just remember the choice is yours! Life paths tend to diverge, and sometimes you’re just not ready to pick your future. Robert Frost recommends taking the road less traveled. Good advice. Black Sheep recommends rocking the globe while it’s still here to rock. Even better advice because they recognize time is of the essence. If you don’t know what to do… let this beat bounce you in one direction or another. Take a moment. Think about it. Feel about it. And then open the door and slide through swiftly.

Black Sheep “The Choice Is Yours”

13.  Do others complain they don’t always understand you or what you want?

The sewer-dwellers, Das EFX, threw down some of the trickiest rhymes to understand… ever. And maybe, like them, sometimes when others listen to what you spit and they don’t understand what the fuck you mean. Well, don’t let their lack of comprehension sweat you. Sometimes brilliance is hard to decipher. So go for yours and know that it’s not your problem if you’re misunderstood. Unless, you want to be understood and if that’s the case… give ‘em some live efx. And lay it down slow like B.I.N.G.O.

Das EFX “They Want EFX”

14. Do you have trouble moving on, forgiving the past, mourning what’s lost?

Unfortunately, life will trouble you with sad news, bad news, mad news that steams your mind and makes you think about the good times… the ones that are now gone. Don’t trip. Life is always slip-slip-slipping into the future. Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth get it. And this song reminds you how the twists and the turns of life will make you dizzy, but the best thing you can do is reminisce about the positive and let the negative fall away. It’s the best way to move forward, steeled by what all you learned, laughed at and what made you strong. But don’t listen to me, listen to their flow and let the sadness, badness and madness go.

Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth “T.R.O.Y.”

15. Would you like to release your anger, aggression, and pain in a safe way?

From the Judgment Night soundtrack, the one that pretty much gave birth to the rap-metal combo platter that would go on to dominate many playlists of the ‘90s, we have this odd pairing of SoCal Samoan rappers Boo-Yaa tribe and San Francisco metal band Faith No More. One of the grimiest, angriest, scariest tracks ever. It hits hard like a lead pipe to your windpipe. But maybe that’s just what you need. Let their anger wash over yours. And catharsis will await you at the end of the song. Play a little game of “madder than you are.” And trust that Boo-yaa Tribe and Faith No More are gonna win that match. Once you release your anger… you’ll feel far better. You can move forward rather than stay mad about the past, because the present will soon be the past and if you outlast your fury you give yourself a chance to enjoy your future.

Boo-ya Tribe & Faith No More “Another Body Murdered”

You got the one life… no need for it to be shitty. Try to focus on the all that’s pretty, enjoy the big and the itty-bitty, and then glide on like Diddy.

Stay tuned for Volume Two. In the meantime, be well, brothers and sisters. TC mark