Sunday Snippet: Mobb Deep

“Cause ain’t no such things as halfway crooks.
Scared to death, scared to look.
They shook.”

My perspective on life has been heavily influenced by 90s hip hop. No, I’ve never had to deal with the same kind of financial hardship as the stereotypical urban black male. No, I’ve never bought, sold or used any hard drugs, nor have I ever been in any sort of mortal peril while facing off against a rival faction. But there was something about that culture that spoke to me.

Artists like Mobb Deep really exemplified what that period in American hip hop was all about. And that’s the thing. Even if you’ve never had to stare down the barrel of a gun, even if you’ve never had to rob a corner store just to make ends meet, you can glean some incredibly profound insights and lessons from top hip hop artists. They’re not just rappers; they’re philosophers and historians.

Perhaps it is with some level of irony, given that I was (and am) such a big fan of Tupac Shakur, that I come to highlight Mobb Deep today. After all, the New York-based duo of Havoc and Prodigy had quite the beef with Tupac during the heated East Coast vs. West Coast rivalry of the 1990s.

But I digress.

As a professional freelance writer today, I am incredibly cognizant of the power of words. The kind of writing that I do is quite different from the lyrics from a 90s hip hop diss track, but I still very much appreciate the value of “flow” and delivering just the right words at the right time for optimal impact. In this way, my approach to writing is similar to that of a rap battle. I’m just trying to catch the beat.

In regards to the lyrics quoted at the top of this post, which were taken from the legendary “Shook Ones (Part II)” single by Mobb Deep, the assertion is that “halfway crooks” don’t exist. You’re either a crook or you’re not. As soon as you shoplift from the store or hijack a car, you’re a crook. You’re not “sort of” a crook. The lesson is that if you are going to do something, then do it.

By comparison, a “shook one” is a person who may act like he is tough and hardcore. He may boast about all the crimes he has committed in an effort to build up his street cred. However, when the situation gets heated or tense, as would be the case with gang warfare, the “shook one” gets scared and is unable to act. He is not a “real” crook at all. He’s just a coward.

“Cowardly hearts end straight up shook ones, shook ones
He ain’t a crook son, he’s just a shook one.”

Now, I don’t want to glorify the supposed glorification of the “gangsta” lifestyle depicted by artists like Mobb Deep. Instead, we must all remember to look beneath the surface to discover the profound wisdom applicable to all of us. Don’t be a shook one. Be true and honest with yourself. Give it your all. Don’t be a shook one, because there ain’t no such thing as halfway crooks.