Sunday Music: “Wise Up” By Common And Pete Rock

+ a little MC Shan, Marley Marl, and world history

Sunday Music: “Wise Up” By Common And Pete Rock

When the old dudes are doing it for a check, I’ll take a pass.

But when the old dudes are just having fun, I can’t deny it. Or them.

Common and Pete Rock made something special with “Wise Up.”

Musically, the layers here, they’re so worth unpacking. They’ll help you appreciate it. They’ll help you further appreciate it.

The first thing we hear is the “why don’t you wise up, show all the people” sample. It comes from MC Shan’s mid-80s classic, “The Bridge.” Three things to know about this one:

  1. THE bridge in reference is Queensbridge. As in Queens, New York City. The song sort of makes mention of hip hop starting there, but all that matters is this is the song setting off what becomes a legendary beef with the emergent South Bronx group Boogie Down Productions.

  2. Marley Marl, an influence on practically every producer after him in one way or another, took the drums from “Impeach The President” by The Honey Drippers and chopped them up to play in/against a drum machine. That alive + machine effect, that 808 bass drum, he didn’t exactly invent it, but this song is a part of how a lot of people first experienced it.

  3. MC Shan is mostly talking about the reality of the projects they called home in the song. He’s sharing stories. He’s exploring what happens when almost 100 buildings holding around 7,000 people is your home.

Common and Pete Rock grew up on MC Shan and Marley Marl. There’s nostalgia here. There’s respect here.

Common grew up in Chicago. Pete Rock grew up the Bronx. Don’t worry about where, just know they’re all grown up.

Grown dudes having fun.

First in the music Pete Rock is putting down, next in Common when he tells you what’s being remembered in glorious, geologically dense layers:

Three wise men came to visit where I’ve been

They brought gifts with the southside blend

One had Hennessy, the other a book of street ministry

The third gave a mirror and told me to remember me

Assemblies of similes and metaphors

analogies that’s analog

the reservoirs I come from, n***** got the dog in ‘em

they become gods, no longer wit’ hot in ‘em

I saw venom in the eyes of a snake

The Solomon for common men, I wise up the place…

Three things to follow along as you listen.

  1. It’s biblical in source. Wise men as metaphor. Stories as wisdom.

  2. It’s updated mythology. The Nation of Islam and the role it played here. “They become gods” contains multitudes.

  3. It’s in honor of a culture that’s felt and not forgotten. It’s their bible, mythology, nation, projects, and - music. The soul of it all. The sound of it all.

And it’s still some old dudes having fun.

I’m just loving this track (thanks to Jeff C. for making sure I didn’t miss this one):