Greatest Verses Ever, Vol. 1: J-Live on “Timeless”

Besides Common’s “I Used To Love H.E.R.” – whose initial brilliance has since been dimmed by seemingly endless imitations – J-Live’s second verse on “Timeless” may be the finest example of extended metaphor in hip-hop.  A critique of the contemporary African American condition, J-Live’s second 16 on “Timeless” (the 10th track on his excellent album The Best Part) is made more poignent – and ironic – by virtue of his decision to use basketball as a metaphor.  After all, how often have we heard about the depressing binary facing inner city (whatever that means) kids of colour: that success is only possible through sports or rap?  By framing the struggle in terms of basketball, J-Live challenges the notion that African Americans are limited in their potential, or, for that matter, only capable of understanding their condition in the narrow, crude lexicon of sport.

J-Live also uses the verse to address divisions within African American society.  Although he doesn’t name any names, it’s not hard to imagine who he’s referring to in lines like: “high scorers check stats but they still have yet to win” and “they can’t back their home team ’cause they got no guts.”  J-Live is unequivocal:  his community’s rich and powerful are to blame for their self-interest (“high scorers check stats”), ethical bankruptcy (“power corrupts”), and failure to effect real change, despite their potential to do so (“’cause they got no guts”).  For J-Live, the losers of this sorry situation are the people trying to make an honest living – the “hardest working squard” who get “left with the donut.”

The song is made even better by its dope, jazzy beat and J-Live’s poetic flow.  Dude is honestly one of the most underrated cats around, and this song is further evidence of his mad talent.  Check it out below, followed by the lyrics to the second verse, which starts at about 1:26.

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“What do you do when you got 20 two minute tasks
And 10 minutes to deal with it
And for the first 5 you bullshitted
The scenario really best describes our folks
Its like devils got plans and niggas got jokes
Like an underdog team got hopes, but
Hoop dream buzzer-beaters choke when y’all triple teamed pointguards go nuts
Power corrupts
And its a shame ’cause the hardest working squad gets left with the donut
The front runners say ‘so what?’
They can’t back their home team ’cause they got no guts
And high scorers check stats but they still have yet to win
Plus tomorrow they’ll be riding the bench once again, so you see
In this game of life I’m not trying to be the M.V.P
‘Cause the enemy’s the clock and the referee
Because its obvious the world is out of order
I hope you wake up because we in the fourth quarter y’all … Timeless”

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