Take a look at an article I wrote in 2013 for grad school regarding the politics and authentic representations of rap & hip hop shown in Kanye West's hit Mercy.1 featuring Big Sean, Pusha T & 2Chainz. I still think I might go back and get my Ph.D in this. Read more below!
The Dimensions of Mercy A Look at Authentic Representations of Rap, Hip Hop & the Politics Found Within Kanye West's Mercy.1
Originally named “Lamborgini, Murci,” Mercy.1 is the first single off G.O.O.D. Music’s Cruel Summer album. Released in 2012, the song features appearances from the G.O.O.D Music’s very own Big Sean, Pusha T, 2 Chainz, and the label’s founder Kanye West. Because of the single’s popularity, it’s easy to believe its primary purpose was to move the crowd. However, after carefully examining Mercy.1’s lyrics, samples, and themes, it’s easier to note the political potential behind this party track. In fact, the record is perfect when discussing Kembrew McLeod’s semantic dimensions of authenticity primarily observed within hip-hop discourse (McLeod, p. 169). In particular, the song’s themes illustrate key aspects of the political-economic dimension, the gender-sexual dimension, the social-psychological dimension, and the race dimension.
The song’s title alone suggests references to McLeod’s political-economic dimension “which addresses the topic of commercial success versus underground or street credibility” (McLeod, p. 170). In this case the word ‘mercy’ is a triple entendre: it functions as the mercy one grants, the mercy rich men drive (short for Lamborghini Murciélago), and the French word merci which means ‘thank you.’ Similarly to God, the rappers in question, due to their high monetary status, grant mercy to those faithful to them--fans; and proverbial “hell” to those that don’t (i.e. haters). They also are able to afford luxury sports cars like “lambos” as the car is commonly referred. Because of their economic status, they are able to travel the world to places like France, where they learned to speak French.
But there is, however, a fourth level to this title--a capitalist opportunity. To name the track Mercy.1, versus simply entitling the track Mercy, suggests the possibility for another version of the record to be released in the near future (possibly Mercy.2, .3, and so on). That means, Kanye West, featured rapper, CEO of GOOD Music, and the one who named the track, is aware of the economic potential of the record and plans to make more just like it. Proving, again, the now quadruple entendre, and complete political potential of the title.This politic is reinforced throughout each of the featured rappers’ verses.
In his lines “Now we out in Paris/yeah I'm Perriering” Big Sean is literally referring to traveling to Paris and Perriering (drinking luxury water). Pusha T is all about the fancy cars while having a "Two-door preference, roof gone, George Jefferson.”
Kanye West is not afraid of not remaining economically sound because “I step in Def Jam building like I'm the shit/Tell 'em give me fifty million or I'mma quit.”
And finally, 2Chainz says “Rain pourin'/all my cars is foreign/All my broads is foreign/money tall like Jordan” confirming his wealth (rain), luxury (foreign cars), and sexual aptitude (foreign 'broads').
Gender Sexual Dimension
Although the original beat was produced by Lifted, Kanye West added a dancehall sample before the song’s release--Dust A Soundboy by Super Beagle featuring a toast from Fuzzy Brown. From the dancehall hit, West uses its first lines during the beginning of Mercy.1 (and later during the chorus):
Well, it is a weeping and a moaning and a gnashing of teeth/It is a weeping and a mourning and a gnashing of teeth/It is a - when it comes to my sound which is the champion sound/Believe (believe!).
Fuzzy Brown, the man behind the lyrics, has an echoed voice during his introductory toast, a common stylistic feature shown in dancehall music.
In the Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:42 NIV), Jesus explains “They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” referring to the “people of the evil one (i.e. the devil). In other words, they will “weep” and “moan” while they’re chewed away as they enter the fiery abyss. Also, Brown loudly repeats Believe! Which also suggests that the rappers are idolized for the music they make by their fans, who, through the sample, are considered believers or idolaters.
These biblical references, furthermore, allude to an assumed God-like affluence by the featured rappers over others; perhaps “haters” and fellow industry members (also shown in The Morning where Kanye West says ‘GOOD woulda’ been God except I added more os’). Instead of serving as a gateway for pent-up emotions like Carl Nightingale suggests would be the positive outcome of hip-hop returning to these types of oral traditions (toasting, the dozens, etc.) (Nightingale as quoted by Kelley, p. 145), the toast’s true purpose is to declare. But what and to whom?
This expression of supreme masculinity falls under McLeod’s gender-sexual dimension “with soft representing feminine attributes and hard representing masculine attributes” (McLeod, p. 171). This means, from the beginning of the song, the rappers are announcing to fans, haters, and even fellow rappers in the industry, that G.O.O.D. Music is not only powerful (hard), it’s next to Godliness (hyper-masculinity).
If you didn’t think the sample was hyper-masculine enough, it is reiterated in the chorus (hook) which interrupts the sample with a stutter: O-o-o-o-o-okay/Lamborghini Mercy/your chick, she so thirsty/I'm in that two-seat Lambo with your girl, she tryna jerk me. Each line is echoed by Big Sean repeating “swerve.” “Swerve” is a slang term meaning to confirm or affirm something without discrepancy, similar to how the word is used. The term, therefore, is an affirmation & approval for the hyper-masculine behavior mentioned in the hook. Translation: I’m (We’re) supreme, your girl wants us badly, now I stole your girlfriend and she’s all over me trying to have sex with me, because of who I am. Following suit with full support of the theme, each rapper’s verse mentions of some element of their masculinity.
In example, the lines "Drop it to the floor, make that ass shake/Whoa, make the ground move, that's an ass quake/Built a house up on that ass, that's an ass state/Roll my weed on it, that's an ass tray" demonstrate Big Sean’s eagerness to display his masculinity by making girls “drop it” and “make it shake.” He then becomes the ultimate benefactor for them, like a pimp, providing them shelter (an ass state) and drugs (ass/ash tray).
After Pusha T gives his affirmative and opening YEAH (declaring his turn to roc the mic), he goes in with
"it's prime time/my top back/this pimp game ho/I'm red leather/this cocaine/I'm Rick James ho."
With his opening lines, he too expresses his masculine dominance; however, unlike Big Sean, his dominance isn’t over females but other males despite the Rick James reference (I’m Rick James bitch!). Because he refers to a ho, it’s automatically assumed that he is referring to a female. However, in this case, he is actually referring to his haters. Equating his “haters” to harlots suggests Pusha’s proclamation of his masculinity. After all, McLeod points out, “to claim on is a real man, one is defining himself not just in terms of gender, but also sexuality, that is, not being a ‘pussy’ or a ‘faggot’” (McLeod, p. 171).
I'm Glad You Made It this far Champ You deserve A Play Break!
Kanye West takes the already over-worn declaration of masculinity to the next level, by suggesting that his dominance is not only shown through his masculinity but through the media. This theme falls under McLeod’s social-psychological dimension because of it’s references to staying true to oneself while highlighting the “demonization of conformity” (McLeod, p. 169). Towards the middle of his verse he says, “Don’t do no press but I get the most press, kid”--in one hand West tries to stay out of the media by prohibiting the “press” from speaking with him; on the other hand he notes that he gets the most press kits because he’s a hot commodity. Although McLeod argues staying true to self means “one is not conforming to the media generated representations of youth-culture movements,” Kanye West’s lines argue that his popularity within the media realm is his reality. Although he may not “do press” the press always manage to capture him.
The use of “kid” equates listeners (haters and/or fans) to the underdeveloped and inexperienced, like children. In addition, he follows the line with a reference to his girlfriend, Kim Kardashian: Plus yo my bitch make yo bitch look like Precious. Aside from the fact that she is no stranger to the press (note her highly publicized sex-tape with Ray J, her short-term marriage with NBA baller Chris Humphries, and her now poparazzi induced relationship with Kanye West), West places her on a unattainable beauty pedestal, idolizing her fair skin, bodacious physique and high social status.
A step further would be to suggest that Mr. West was also highlighting his boo-thangs’s fair skin in the Precious line, a recent film about a young, yet very obese & unattractive, dark-skinned girl who is verbally and sexually abuse by her parents. This simultaneously is an example of the gender-sexual dimension and the race dimension and proves “these semantic dimensions [to be] deeply interrelated” with each other (McLeod, 169).
In terms of her race, Kim Kardashian is Armenian, English, Scottish and Dutch, or mixed. Similarly to Raquel Z. Rivera’s argument regarding eroticized blackness, Kardashian is idolised for her healthy, yet bodacious physique and because of her fair skin--equating “lightness with sexual desirability as well as an acknowledgement of the prostitute as the embodiment of male sexual fantasy” (Rivera, p. 420). This theme is established at the beginning when Big Sean refers to the “White girls politicking” or socializing around him in his verse. It’s reiterated again when Kanye refers to “Mary,” a typical “white girl” name, who is “gon’ off that Molly” also known as ecstasy, labelling white women as hardcore “molly” users compared to black women. However, 2Chainz retracts the theme by accepting blackness when he states “Grade A, A1/Chain the color of Akon” noting his esteem towards blackness (Akon is a dark-skinned rapper and A1 sauce is dark in color).
Although the notion of authentic hip-hop representations is debatable, the themes expressed in Mercy.1 reflect the reality each featured rapper identifies with via the four dimensions discussed. There is no doubt that Kanye, Pusha T, 2Chainz, and Big Sean, are attempting to convey accurate descriptions of their commercialized world through the song, shining light on the ultimate identity--comprise of hyper-masculinity, economic superiority, sexual dominance, and racial preference towards white or light-skinned women. These dimensions, while they are not direct representations of black culture, do indeed “reflect and speak to the political and social world of [black] communities” (Kelley, p. 147).