To me, Niggas Bleed is the best song ever made. Not my favorite, but probably the best. No story has been told so vividly (that I’ve heard) and with such authority. What seperates a song like Niggas Bleed from Big L’s The Heist (also a great song, btw) to me, it’s the fact that BIG doesn’t tell a linear story at all and the narrative is told with just enough information at each interval to keep the plot moving. Take a look at Big L’s opening bars from The Heist. But instead of reading it as lyrics, why not look at these bars in paragraph form.
Hey yo, I just left the studio, and it’s about 2 in the morn [and] I just finished doing a song. Now I’m ready for sleep but first I want spaghetti to eat in this good Italian restaurant right up the street. So I jumped in the jeep, stash the heat under the seat. Then I got a beep, my voice is harsh, barely can speak. I called back on the cell, it’s Coley mad as hell, he told me to listen well as he started to yell. “I just seen Mike and Ben with your wife and a friend and they just got a room in the Holiday Inn”. “It’s my wife, you sure?”
You can read this like a regular paragraph almost! Really linear storytelling the whole song until L hits a little patch where he starts describing a character:
I saw Coleone holdin the chrome
Ice-grill, lookin like he had a license to kill
And he had somebody else with ’em playin the cup
Lookin like he can’t wait to start sprayin shit up
“Yo, who that in the background?”
“It’s Tommy Giss”
“Oh, I didn’t recognise you with your hat down
This is what makes these stories interesting, to me. The deviation from simply describing all the events in the song in chronological order. Often, the most boring shit is the actual action. It’s the stream of conscious raps that makes these stories fun to listen to. Big L does something in these few bars that Notorious spends a whole verse (18 bars) doing in Niggas Bleed where we’re introduced to Arizona Ron and by proxy, the depths of Notorious’ character :Nothing to lose, tattooed around his gun wounds
Everything to gain, embedded in his brain
And me I feel the same for this money and diamonds
Spending the time to describe characters is something really important in these stories. Notorious is explaining to us why he’s friends with Ron and more importantly, why he wants Ron to join him on this mission. Since Notorious spent the time to tell us about Arizona Ron, he can later spit:As soon as she hit the door we start blastin I saw her brains hit the floor, Ron laughin, I swear to God
Our initial reaction as listeners is that Ron laughing at the sight of brain splatter makes perfect sense since he’s the same guy who committed murder on his baby mother’s brother and was a former fugitive on America’s Most Wanted. When Big L says:When I got back, Coley done popped them punks
Our initial reaction is WTF? Why did Coley do that? We don’t really know anything about Coley so we can’t say for sure if this move was out-of-character for him. If Arizona Ron did this, we’d understand it completely but Coley? We don’t even know Coley.
What’s interesting about this side-by-side comparison is that both of these stories are robberies that occur in a hotel. They both approach the hotel clerk and ask for directions to a specific room:
Big L’s version:Hey yo, I stepped to the deskclerk
Put the gat to her dress-shirt
Told her to listen up before she get hurt
“They just walked in, party of four, two chicks, two males
What room they got?”
She paused and said “212”
That’s Big L’s interaction with the desk clerk. We know the clerk is a female but other than that Big L feels like describing her in any more detail isn’t necessary to the telling of this story. However, BIG approaches it in a much more creative way.
Notorious’ version:So I freaked ’em, the telly manager was Puerto Rican
Gloria, from Astoria, I went to war with her
peeps in ninety-one, stole a gun from my workers
And they took drugs, they tried to jerk us
We blazed they place, long story, Glo’ seent my face
Got shook, thought a nigga was comin for the safe
Now she breakin, shut up, 112, what’s shakin?
A Jamaican, some bitches I swear, they look gay
in a black Range Rover, been outside all day
If it’s trouble let me know, I’ll be on my way
Please, I got kids to feed, I done seen you make niggas bleed
Nightmare, this bitch don’t need it
AMAZING! Just take a second to appreciate how different you can approach these two situations as an artist and end up at the exact same place. Personally, I appreciate the effort BIG goes into in this song to make sure we really have a place in the story. It’s vivid as hell and makes for quality music. The main point here is that, when writing one of these crime stories artists should SPEND THE NECESSARY TIME TO DESCRIBE CHARACTERS. The actual story told is most likely boring as hell and nothing new. It’s the ability to give the listener a real sense of place by spending the right amount of bars (about 30% of the song) that makes these songs great. To me at least.