I bought the Erace album when it first came out and I think I was just a freshman in high school if not younger. I really liked the rap put out by Gotee records courtesy of GRITS, et al especially because back then they had more of an experimental and underground sound. They’ve recently sold out, in my opinion, by sounding like every other rapper out there. But that’s not the subject of this post, so I’ll save it for another time. At the time I was unable to realize just how creative this song was. I used to play it over and over because I really liked the beat and the raps weren’t too bad.
It wasn’t until my senior year that I finally understood the meaning of these lyrics, in fact, even the meaning of the title. When I bought the CD I had assumed that the rappers had made up a word for the title since it was Yoknapatawpha (a mental mississippi). I figured that since it was a “mental mississippi” that Yoknapatawpha just stood for an ideal mississippi or something.
When I finally got to the grade where we had to read American literature, I was introduced to the magical writer William Faulkner. His brilliance both frustrated and enthralled me. Part of me hated him for being such a different writer. The other part of me celebrated what a gifted writer he was. He was to American literature at the time what Andy Kaufman was to comedy in the 70s. Some people got it and the rest hated him. Just which work of his did I have to read? “As I Lay Dying”
“As I lay Dying” has quite a crazy cast of characters (literally in some cases), in fact the entire plot is insane.
————-begin spoiler, ignore if you hate them, but it probably won’t give away much———–
When the book begins, the mother of a yokel family has recently died or dies in the first paragraph. I don’t remember the exact details. She was survived by a husband, three boys, and a daughter. One of the sons is mechanically inclined and builds her coffin. The middle one goes nuts and drills holes in the coffin so that the mother can breathe. He ends up drilling right through her face, although he doesn’t know this since he can’t see into the coffin. Under the pretext that his wife wanted to be burried with her kin, the husband loads up a wagon with the coffin and heads to her town. Or he would, were the river not too high. So he waits a while. He waits so long that the corpse is actually beginning to smell and he hasn’t even left his town. In the meanwhile, his daughter gets empregnated by one of the farm workers. They had a series of misadventures while trying to get this coffin to her town including setting a barn on fire and having the coffin fall off the back of the wagon into a river. Eventually they make it to town and the middle kid is admitted to an insane assylum. The girl, desperate for an abortion goes to see a pharmacist who rapes her instead. The dad remarries some lady who we presume he went to marry in the first time.
What really makes this a crazy book, other than the plot is the way in which it was written. Each chapter is written to express the though process of a certain character. The mechanically inclined son has a chapter consisting of a numbered list. The crazy kid’s chaper never makes sense. The daughter’s chapter is written simply since she has no formal education. It is a VERY tough read to understand the plot fully.
So how does this relate to a rap song? First of all, most of Faulkner’s novels take place in a fictitious Mississippi city named Yoknapatawpha. The song also uses “As I lay dying” as part of the lyrics. There are also references to Mark Twain, other novels, and 19th century gospel music. Reproduced below are the lyrics.
Erase – Yoknapatawpha (a mental mississippi)
© copyright T. Collins, T. Carter, J. Painter, J. Elwood
Memories enter my psyche and they bite me
and once they leave my head its what I write see
when the cage bird sings it hums a memory
I sample my thoughts under an oak tree
Mystic are the ways of the southern life
puffing back the past with a blast on a corn pipe
easin’ thru the trees like the breeze in the August light
the sun kissed my life and made my mind bright
Our eyes are open wide but never seem to see
that knowledge is the air if you care truth needs to breathe
I mouth the words but never write life’s melody
time is better spent in my mental Mississippi
M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I (in Mississippi)
M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I (in Mississippi)
As I lay dying spotted horses pass me by
in All The Kings Men Warren penned a poets cry
Go Down Moses to the river twain’s marked and looking high
the stares fall upon me and I fear The Blues Eye
Mental lapses left traps in our future for sure
satirical passes on the masses shot confederate lore
so watch where you sit if you ain’t sat here before
cause hanging from that tree is the tradition you adore
Metaphorical excursions tales told in first person
I live my life to love but can’t live before the learning
and ooh my mind keeps yearning
you know I’m reeling back the years and these southern eyes are burning
Where oh where are you tonight
You know dawn pulls the shade on a new day
woke up still dreaming living in my Mississippi
Country roads take me home
to the place where I belong
Farm livin is the life for me
I find my past pointing back at me
you can’t see the things I see in me
the south’s a piece and not the whole of me
You know I’m kicking back doing some reminiscing
thinking how I was raised on southern living
nothing like a phat cup fill it up
with some sweet tea then you take a gulp