The way I am

How do we define ourselves? Rap stars love to write about their own identity, telling us regularly what to think of them and how to define who they are. How do they use language to do this?

In this lesson you will study two songs that explore individual identity through language. The first lyrics are taken from 'Ice Ice Baby' by Vanilla Ice, a song which shocked the world in the late 1980s because it depicted a white American rapping and speaking like an African-American. The second song is 'The Way I Am' by Eminem from 2009. Both identities of these rap stars are defined by the contexts in which they wrote. 

Identity and cultural context

What does the language of a text tell us about the author's identity? What does the language of a text tell us about his or her cultural context. Read the lyrics from 'Ice Ice Baby' and 'The Way I Am' and comment on how language indicates identity and cultural context. 

 Identity and cultural context

  Ice Ice Baby The Way I Am
How does the use of language comment on the rapper's identity?
Vanilla Ice sees himself as a 'star' because he 'glows'. He has the magical power to make the audience hallucinate as if they were on 'poisonous mushrooms'. He sees himself as someone atractive to women, but too good to stop to talk to them. He describes his ability to rap like a razor knife and a drug. 
He defines himself as a father of a girls who needs his privacy. He says he is entitled to be a 'prick' if he is antagonized by the media. He is rich and can afford to make mistakes, like ofending people. He will simply buy them a 'wardrobe' to be rid of such problems. Eminem is tired of people trying to define him by where he comes from and the color of his skin. He feels limited in how he is allowed to express himself. Every finger he raises (literally) is subject to criticism.
How does the use of language comment on the context in which he raps?
In his times, power was defined by the size of gun you carried. He says he carries a 9 millimeter. The lyrics seem to glorify violence. It is not clear what Vanilla's role in this violence is exactly, but he does not seem afraid of the 'chumps' or other gangsters in Miami. 
In the context of this song, Eminim is a famous rap star. The media have hounded him. Many people have written about his identity to his frustration. People have tried to label him as a black white-rapper. 

  Ice Ice Baby
Vanilla Ice
1989

Yo, VIP, let's kick it!

Ice ice baby
Ice ice baby
All right stop
Collaborate and listen
Ice is back with my brand new invention
Something grabs a hold of me tightly
Then I flow that a harpoon daily and nightly
Will it ever stop?
Yo, I don't know
Turn off the lights and I'll glow
To the extreme I rock a mic like a vandal
Light up a stage and wax a chump like a candle

Dance
Bum rush the speaker that booms
I'm killin' your brain like a poisonous mushroom
Deadly, when I play a dope melody
Anything less that the best is a felony
Love it or leave it
You better gain way
You better hit bull's eye 
The kid don't play
If there was a problem 
Yo, I'll solve it
Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it

Ice ice baby Vanilla 
Ice ice baby Vanilla
Ice ice baby Vanilla
Ice ice baby Vanilla

Now that the party is jumping
With the bass kicked in, the Vegas are pumpin'
Quick to the point, to the point no faking
I'm cooking MC's like a pound of bacon
Burning them if they're not quick and nimble
I go crazy when I hear a cymbal
And a hi hat with a souped up tempo
I'm on a roll and it's time to go solo
Rollin in my 5.0
With my ragtop down so my hair can blow
The girlies on standby
Waving just to say hi
Did you stop?
No, I just drove by
Kept on pursuing to the next stop
I busted a left and I'm heading to the next block
That block was dead

Yo so I continued to a1a Beachfront Ave
Girls were hot wearing less than bikinis
Rock man lovers driving Lamborghini
Jealous 'cause I'm out getting mine
Shay with a gauge and Vanilla with a nine
Ready for the chumps on the wall
The chumps are acting ill because they're so full of eight balls
Gunshots ranged out like a bell
I grabbed my nine
All I heard were shells
Fallin' on the concrete real fast
Jumped in my car, slammed on the gas
Bumper to bumper the avenue's packed
I'm tryin' to get away before the jackers jack
Police on the scene
You know what I mean
They passed me up, confronted all the dope fiends
If there was a problem 
Yo, I'll solve it
Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it

Ice ice baby Vanilla
Ice ice baby Vanilla
Ice ice baby Vanilla
Ice ice baby Vanilla

Take heed, 'cause I'm a lyrical poet
Miami's on the scene just in case you didn't know it
My town, that created all the bass sound
Enough to shake and kick holes in the ground
'Cause my style's like a chemical spill
Feasible rhymes that you can vision and feel
Conducted and formed
This is a hell of a concept
We make it hype and you want to step with this
Shay plays on the fade, slice it like a ninja
Cut like a razor blade so fast
Other DJ's say, "damn"
If my rhyme was a drug
I'd sell it by the gram
Keep my composure when it's time to get loose
Magnetized by the mic while I kick my juice
If there was a problem
Yo, I'll solve it!
Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it

Ice ice baby Vanilla 
Ice ice baby Vanilla
Ice ice baby Vanilla
Ice ice baby Vanilla

Yo man, let's get out of here
Word to your mother

Ice ice baby
Too cold
Ice ice baby 
Too cold too cold 
Ice ice baby 
Too cold
Ice ice baby 

Too cold too cold

  The Way I Am
Emminim
2009

Whatever 
Dre just let it run 
Ah-yo turn the beat up a little bit 
Ah-yo this song is for anyone 
**** it just shut up and listen 

Ah-yo 
I sit back with this pack of zigzags 
And this bag of this weed 
It gives me the **** needed to be 
The most meanest M-C on this on this earth 
'Cause since birth I've been cursed with this curse to just curse 
And just blurt this berserk and bizarre **** that works 
And it sells and it helps in its self 
To relieve all this tension dispensing me 
Sentence is getting it, stress has been eating me recently 
Off of this chest and I rest to get peacefully 
But at least have the decency in you to leave me alone 
When you freaks see me out in the streets 
When I'm eating or feedin' my daughter 
To not come and speak to me 
I don't know you and no I don't owe you a ********** anything 
I'm not Mr. 'N Sync and I'm not what your friends think 
I'm not Mr. Friendly 
I can be a prick, if you tempt me my tank is on empty 
No patience is in me and if you offend me I'm lifting you ten feet 
In the air, I don't care who was there and who saw me destroy you 
Go call you a lawyer file you a lawsuit 
I'll smile in the courtroom and buy you a wardrobe 
I'm tired of all you, I don't mean to be mean but it's all I can be 
It's just me 

[Chorus]
And I am 
Whatever you say I am 
If I wasn't, then why would I say I am? 
In the papers, the news, everyday I am 
Radio won't even play my jam 
'Cause I am 
Whatever you say I am 
If I wasn't, then why would I say I am? 
In the papers, the news, everyday I am 
I don't know it's just the way I am 

Sometimes I just feel like my father, I hate to be bothered 
With all of this nonsense it's constant 
And "oh it's his lyrical content!" 
The song "Guilty Conscience" has gotten such rotten responses 
And all of this controversy circles me 
And it seems like the media immediately points a finger at me 
So I point one back at 'em 
But not the index or the pinky or the ring or the thumb 
It's the one you put up when you don't give a **** 
When you won't just put up with the bullshit they pull 
'Cause they full of **** too 
When a dude's gettin' bullied and shoots up his school 
And they blame it on Marilyn and the heroin 
Where were the parents at? 
And look at where it's at middle America 
Now it's a tragedy 
Now it's so sad to see 
An upper class city having this happening 
Then attack Eminem cause I rap this way 
But I'm glad cause they feed me the fuel 
That I need for the fire to burn and it's burnin' and I have returned 

[Chorus]

I'm so sick and tired of being admired 
That I wish that I would just die or get fired 
And drop from my label and stop with the fables 
I'm not gonna be able to top on "my name is" 
And pigeon holdin' to some poppy sensations 
They cop me rotation at rock 'n' roll stations 
And I just do not have the patience 
To deal with these cocky Caucasians 
Who think I'm some wigga who just tries to be black 
'Cause I talk with an accent and grab on my balls 
So they always keep asking the same ****ing questions 
What school did I go to? 
What hood I grew up in? 
The why? The who, what? 
When and where and the how? 
'Til I'm grabbing my hair and I'm tearing it out 
You've been driving me crazy, I can't take it 
I'm racing, I'm pacing, I stand and I sit 
And I'm thankful for every fan that I get 
But I can't take a **** in the bathroom 
Without someone standing by it 
No I won't sign your autograph 
You can call me an ******* 

I'm glad cause I am
Whatever you say I am

[Chorus]

Discussion

Afte analyzing the use of language in both texts and filling in the table above, you can discuss the texts further by answering the following questions:

  1. Eminem and Vanilla Ice are both white men working in what is often considered a black-man's world. How do both rappers try to change the world's understanding of this stereotype?

  2. Read the article, The Authenticity of Marshall Mathers III. How has Eminem obtained 'authenticity' according to the author?

Towards assessment

Written task 1 - What if you could interview Vanilla Ice today, years after his success? How do you think he would respond in a trascribed interview for Rolling Stone Magazine on the impact of his song 'Ice Ice Baby' years later?

Further oral activity - What if Vanilla Ice and Eminem would converse on a talk show? What would they say about the importance of their lyrics to the rap world and racial issues? In this activity, it is important to refer back to the song lyrics of the rappers regularly.

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