“Man what happened to us?
Geographically they moved us
We was once happiness pursuers
Now we back stabbing, combative and abusive”
The reason this song is the first to be analysed under lyrics redefined, is because it was in the middle of this track that the idea itself was birthed. Tribes at War is a track under one of my favourite albums of all time, “Distant Relatives.” When Rap God Nas, meets with the son of Reggae legend Bob Marley, you know fire had no choice than to erupt. Released in 2010, this track is a perfect fusion of Reggae and Rap. The two had paired up for the entire album and in this song, the dancehall musician K’naan was also featured. The album, “Distant Relatives” showcased lyrical themes concerning ancestry, poverty, and a number of issues pertaining to suffering in parts of Africa. The combination of both musicians who seemingly belong to different parts of the world is almost magical.
“Tribal war… We nah want no more a dat”
This is one famous line gotten from John Kenneth Holt’s 12 inch Vinyl record Tribal war. The original line was “Tribal war…. we don’t want no more at all.” However, music reviewers believe that in the context of this song ‘Tribal war’ covers both the war among tribes in Africa and gang violence in the USA. The next few lines of Damien’s intro was clear. Every human…every child, just wants a shot at life and deserves the basic necessities of life. The situation is far from what it should be as millions of people across the world do not have a shot at these things. As far as Babylon deserving to burn, a contributor to genius lyrics explains that according to popular Rastafari belief:
“Babylon is Western society/culture, human government and institutions – they are all part of a oppressive system that goes against the rule of Jah (God). He is saying it deserves to figuratively burn so they can all return to the Zion (Ethiopia), the motherland and birthplace of human life.”
Nas’s lines show how times have changed in the African society. He speaks about the time when Africans were taken as slaves out of the continent. The time we were all happy and not plagued by greed as the case has become over the years. He speaks about how there is now disunity and how tribes and religions within the continent now fight against themselves. He uses an example of how the gangs, ‘Bounty Hunters Bloods’ and ‘Grape Street Crips’ who used to live together are now enemies.
“Why do we all collide
Why do the young die
Extortion, murder and burglary
Tattoos his chest
Says his enemies don’t deserve to breathe”
When we get to K’naan’s verse, the entire narrative changes.
“I drink poison
Then I vomit diamonds
I gave you Mandela, black Dalai Lamas
I gave you music
You enthused in my kindness
So how dare you reduce me to Donny Imus
Timeless in case we never been acquainted
Flyness who made it
It gets duplicated
Well let me try to paint it
Here’s the 5 steps
In hopes to explain it
ONE: It’s me and my nation against the world
TWO: Then me and my clan against the nation
THREE: Then me and my fam’ against the clan
FOUR: Then me and my brother we no hesitation, uh
Go against the fam’ until they cave in
FIVE: Now who’s left in this deadly equation?
That’s right, it’s me against my brother
Then we point a Kalashnikov
And kill one another”
Africa consumes the poison of westernization and colonialism, and then we create diamonds from all the violence of the mining industry. Africa birthed Nelson Mandela, and a dominant contribution of music comes from Africa – still we have been reduced to nothing. He goes ahead to paint the process with which violence erupted. From isolating Africa from the rest of the world, we experienced; then conflicts amongst clans, to conflicts within clans and families following from the first set of issues. At the end of the day, we move from fighting against external oppression to fighting within ourselves – one brother against the other.
What is beautiful about this song is how we can feel the pain of each of these three musicians. They are individuals who have felt the brunt of these same challenges. Nas is a black American with a Nigerian affiliation who has struggled with gang violence in the deadly music industry in the United States as it were for blacks who went into rap. Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley is a Jamaican reggae artist and youngest son of reggae legend Bob Marley. Even though he was just 2 when his father died, he has experienced life from that part of Africa. Finally, K’naan having a Somalian heritage came from a world where tribal politics as well as a brutal Civil War had taken place. The official video of Tribes at war vividly describes these issues. Within the lines of this song, we feel the African struggle and it reminds us about the need for peace. Afterall, we’re all just brothers and sisters in this big black world.