Respiration – Urban Poetry That Breathes Life Into Hip-Hop


You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Black Star's Respiration at Lyrics.org.
Article Contents:
  1. Music Video
  2. Lyrics
  3. Song Meaning
  4. The Urban Tapestry: Weaving a Sonic Mural
  5. A Symphony of Survival: The Costs of Urban Existence
  6. Breathing In, Breathing Out: The Pulse of a City’s Soul
  7. The Underbelly’s Verse: Unearthing the Hidden Meanings
  8. Echoes Through the Concrete Canyons: Memorable Lines That Resonate

Lyrics

Escúchala, la ciudad respirando

The new moon rode high in the crown of the metropolis
Shining, like who on top of this?
People was tussling, arguing and bustling
Gangstas of Gotham hardcore hustling
I’m wrestling with words and ideas
My ears is pricked, seeking what will transmit
The scribes can apply to transcript, yo
This ain’t no time where the usual is suitable
Tonight alive, let’s describe the inscrutable
The indisputable, we New York the narcotic
Draped in metal and fiber optics
Where mercenaries is paid to trade hot stock tips
For profits, thirsty criminals take pockets
Hard knuckles on the second hands of working class watches
Skyscrapers is colossus, the cost of living is preposterous
Stay alive, you play or die, no options, no Batman and Robin
Can’t tell between the cops and the robbers, they both partners, they all heartless
With no conscience, back streets stay darkened
Where unbeliever hearts stay hardened
My eagle talons stay sharpened, like city lights stay throbbing
You either make a way or stay sobbing
The shiny Apple is bruised but sweet and if you choose to eat
You could lose your teeth, many crews retreat
Nightly news repeat, who got shot down and locked down
Spotlight to savages, NASDAQ averages
My narrative rose to explain this existence
Amidst the harbor lights which remain in the distance

So much on my mind that I can’t recline
Blastin’ holes in the night ’til she bled sunshine
Breathe in, inhale vapors from bright stars that shine
Breathe out, weed smoke retrace the skyline
Heard the bass ride out like an ancient mating call
I can’t take it y’all, I can feel the city breathing
Chest heaving, against the flesh of the evening
Sigh before we die like the last train leaving

Breathin’ in deep city breaths, sittin’ on shitty steps
We stoop to new lows, hell froze the night the city slept
The beast crept through concrete jungles
Communicatin’ with one another
And ghetto birds where waters fall
From the hydrants to the gutters
The beast walk the beats, but the beats we be makin
You on the wrong side of the track, lookin visibly shaken
Taken them plungers, plungin’ to death that’s painted by the numbers
With Krylon applied pressure, cats is playin God
By havin’ children by a lesser baby mother but fuck it
We played against each other like puppets, swearin’ you got pull
When the only pull you got is the wool over your eyes
Gettin’ knowledge in jail like a blessing in disguise
Look in the skies for God, what you see besides the smog
Is broken dreams flying away on the wings of the obscene
Thoughts that people put in the air
Places where you could get murdered over a glare
But everything is fair
It’s a paradox we call reality
So keepin’ it real will make you casualty of abnormal normality
Killers Born Naturally like, Mickey and Mallory
Not knowing the ways’ll get you capped like an NBA salary
Some cats be emceeing to illustrate what we be seeing
Hard to be a spiritual being when shit is shakin’ what you believe in
For trees to grow in Brooklyn, seeds need to be planted
I’m asking if y’all feel me and the crowd left me stranded
My blood pressure boiled and rose, cause New York niggas
Actin spoiled at shows, to the winners the spoils go
I take the L, transfer to the 2, head to the gates
New York life type trife the Roman Empire state

So much on my mind that I can’t recline
Blastin’ holes in the night ’til she bled sunshine
Breathe in, inhale vapors from bright stars that shine
Breathe out, weed smoke retrace the skyline
Heard the bass ride out like an ancient mating call
I can’t take it y’all, I can feel the city breathing
Chest heaving, against the flesh of the evening
Sigh before we die like the last train leaving

Yo, on The Amen, Corner I stood lookin at my former hood
Felt the spirit in the wind, knew my friend was gone for good
Threw dirt on the casket, the hurt, I couldn’t mask it
Mixin’ down emotions, struggle I hadn’t mastered
I choreograph seven steps to heaven
In hell, waiting to exhale and make the bread leaven
Veteran of a cold war It’s Chica-I-go for
What I know or, what’s known
So some days I take the bus home, just to touch home
From the crib I spend months gone
Sat by the window with a clutched dome listenin’ to shorties cuss long
Young girls with weak minds, but they bust strong
Tried to call, or at least beep the Lord, but didn’t have a touch-tone
It’s a dog-eat-dog world, you gotta mush on
Some of this land I must own
Outta the city, they want us gone
Tearin’ down the ‘jects creatin’ plush homes
My circumstance is between Cabrini and Love Jones
Surrounded by hate, yet I love home
Ask my guy how he thought travellin’ the world sound
Found it hard to imagine he hadn’t been past downtown
It’s deep, I heard the city breathe in its sleep
A reality I touch, but for me it’s hard to keep
Deep, I heard my man breathe in his sleep
A reality I touch, but for me it’s hard to keep

So much on my mind that I can’t recline
Blastin’ holes in the night ’til she bled sunshine
Breathe in, inhale vapors from bright stars that shine
Breathe out, weed smoke retrace the skyline
How the bass ride out like an ancient mating call
I can’t take it y’all, I can feel the city breathing
Chest heaving, against the flesh of the evening
Kiss the eyes goodbye I’m on the last train leaving

Full Lyrics

At the intersect of gritty urban beats and profound poetic commentary lies Black Star’s magnum opus, ‘Respiration’. The track—a collaboration between Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and featuring Common—is a multi-layered sonic mural of city life, specifically the ceaseless pulsation of New York City. But to read ‘Respiration’ as a mere ode to the concrete jungle would be a disservice to the depth of its narrative. Within its complex structure are undulating threads of social commentary, personal introspection, and a philosophical treatise on existence within the urban sprawl.

From the ethos of hustlers to the omnipresence of systemic corruption, ‘Respiration’ breathes life into the story of the city and those who navigate its streets. As much autobiography as it is social documentary, the song weaves individual stories into a collective experience, yielding a rich tapestry of urban reality. The lyrics paint a picture of a world where the lines blur between lyrical warfare and literal street battles, and the urgency in its tone is impossible to ignore.

The Urban Tapestry: Weaving a Sonic Mural

From the outset of ‘Respiration’, Black Star places us high above the city, looking down on the incessant energy and dynamism of urban life. ‘The new moon rode high in the crown of the metropolis,’ not just setting the scene, but anointing the city as a reigning entity in its own right—an unsleeping ruler of those within it. The lines that follow unfurl the day-to-day battles, the ‘tussling, arguing, and bustling’ of street life, encapsulating the survivalist narrative of the city.

Yet it’s not just the external struggles that captivate; it’s the internal strife, the ‘wrestling with words and ideas’ that provides a window into the soul of the urban poet. Here is where Mos Def and Talib Kweli imbue their rhymes with the philosophical weight that has become their hallmark—the struggle to articulate the ‘indescribable’ amidst an atmosphere they deem ‘the usual unsuitable.’

A Symphony of Survival: The Costs of Urban Existence

The city, in ‘Respiration’, is not merely a backdrop—it’s an active player. Terms like ‘Gangstas of Gotham’ and the comparison of skyscrapers to ‘colossi’ speak to the near-mythical scale of the metropolis. It’s a space where the ‘cost of living is preposterous’, a battleground with no superheroes—only the harsh reality of survival, where even time itself is a tough currency, as seen in ‘hard knuckles on the second hands of working class watches.’

Black Star’s narrative conveys that in this urban coliseum, you either ‘make a way or stay sobbing’. The imagery is potent: the ‘shiny Apple is bruised but sweet’, encapsulating the duality of New York as a place of opportunity tinged with corruption and hardship, tempting yet punishing—a theme that’s repeatedly explored through hip-hop’s storied history.

Breathing In, Breathing Out: The Pulse of a City’s Soul

There is a rhythmic ebb and flow to ‘Respiration’ that mimics the breath of a living organism. The chorus eloquently captures the city’s inhale and exhale, with ‘bright stars’ and ‘weed smoke’ tracing the skyline. It’s a profound metaphor for communal life in the city, elevating the mundane into something cosmic and inevitable.

This respiratory cycle is also indicative of the city’s life force—its people. In every ‘chest heaving’ against the ‘flesh of the evening,’ there lies a narrative. The song urges us not just to observe, but to feel the city breathing, to connect with its complex, heartbeat-like rhythms as if we, too, are part of its living, breathing body.

The Underbelly’s Verse: Unearthing the Hidden Meanings

Beneath the surface, ‘Respiration’ offers a rich subtext. It confronts the inescapable realities of inner-city life—poverty, violence, the ceaseless pursuit of a fickle American dream. The artists touch on systemic issues with profound clarity, painting a picture of ‘paradoxical reality’, a place where to ‘keep it real’ is to risk becoming a ‘casualty of abnormal normality’.

The pursuit of understanding and the quest for identity are palpable in the song’s examination of the system. We encounter ‘killers born naturally’, a commentary on the societal and environmental factors that foster such paths, and the notion that true knowledge may come from unexpected places, such as ‘getting knowledge in jail like a blessing in disguise’. It’s clear that ‘Respiration’ is a mosaic, a layered reflection of the city’s contradictions and complexities.

Echoes Through the Concrete Canyons: Memorable Lines That Resonate

‘So much on my mind that I can’t recline’, opens and closes the track, insinuating a mind so fraught with thoughts that relaxation eludes. It’s a line that has stayed with hip-hop aficionados, embodying the intellectual and emotional overload that life, particularly city life, can encompass. The city is alive, and its inhabitants live within its breath to the point that their rest is as disquieted as the crowded streets below.

Another haunting moment is ‘I can feel the city breathing, chest heaving, against the flesh of the evening’. It’s not just a clever use of personification, but a way to draw the listener into the microcosm of nocturnal life, feeling the rhythm of a city that never sleeps. It’s these lines that resonate with the listener long after the beats fade away, offering insight into the collective urban psyche and imprinting a sense of the city’s relentless vitality.

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