Life isn’t fair. We hear this phrase from time to time whether it be from our parents or friends to justify instances of improper treatment. Unfortunately, many people live this reality every day, persecuted by prejudiced laws and generations of inequality.
In his second studio album “It Was Written”, which was released in 1996, Nas reflects on his experiences growing up in NYC’s Queensbridge housing projects during the height of the crack epidemic in the 80s and 90s. Nas’s life embodies the “Life isn’t fair” phrase that low-income Black Americans were too acquainted with at the time. His unique ability to poetically share his experience saved him from a life of drugs, gangs, and violence, and gave us a taste of his life story through songs like “I Gave You Power”. Lyrics can be found here.
“I Gave you Power” is truly a one-of-a-kind song. Its central meaning reflects the paradox of gun violence in the impoverished neighborhood Nas grew up in. On one hand, Nas talks about needing to bear arms for protection in the violent streets. On the other hand, he acknowledges the destruction guns have on his neighborhood and future generations. The short-term need to carry a gun for safety perpetuates the long-term danger of gun violence in his neighborhood. Economical pressures to make money force him to live unsafely. Throughout the song, there are hints of the conflicts between Nas vs. the police and the thought process needed to survive in a constant high-pressure environment.
Damn! Look how muh-fuckers use a n****
Just use me for whatever the fuck they want
I don’t get to say shit
Just grab me, just do what the fuck they want
Sell me, throw me away
N***** just don’t give a fuck about a n**** like me right?
Like I’m a f… I’m a gun, shit
In the opening verse, Nas compares the way he gets treated from his friends to a gun. This personification of a gun continues as an extended metaphor throughout the song. This line is important because it sets up the context for the rest of the song. This metaphor is powerful because it shines a light on the dehumanization and objectification that people like Nas experienced growing up.
How you like me now? I go blaow
It’s that shit that moves crowds makin every ghetto foul
I might have took your first child
Scarred your life, crippled your style
I gave you power
I made you buck wild
This interlude shines a light on the destruction cause by gun violence around the housing projects that Nas grew up in. In these few lines, Nas talks about the pain that mothers feel to see their kids succumb to gun violence, the communal PTSD associated with death, and the repurcussions of living paralyzed. The last two lines talk about the effects of carrying guns from the carriers perspective. They note that it makes them powerful and more likely to act crazily or “buck wild.”
He squeezed harder, I didn’t budge, sick of the blood
Sick of the thugs, sick of wrath of the, next man’s grudge
What the other kid did was pull out, no doubt
A newer me in better shape, before he lit out, he lead the chase
My owner fell to the floor, his wig split so fast
I didn’t know he was hit, it’s over with
Heard mad n***** screamin, n***** runnin, cops is comin
Now I’m happy, until I felt somebody else grab me
The ending lines of the song, this excerpt shines a light on the cycle of violence experienced in the Queensbridge housing projects. The story follows a gun that jams, which causes the victim to turn into a murderer. The gun, which is temporarily given feelings, laments that someone else picks up the gun and continues the cycle. Much like the gun, Nas awaits an end to the violence, and is constantly let down through the environment he lives in.