The iconic legacy of a rap line

Shenead Poroosotum 7 September 2021

We take a look at the history of an iconic rap line that has been used across four decades 

I’ll never forget the first time I heard Swimming Pools (Drank)by Kendrick Lamar. Being 12 at the time and hearing a sound that came with incredible energy, hype and was an instant classic, it’s a track that, as I grew older, I began to understand how the song changed with each listen.

Its immense and powerful storytelling of addiction, alcoholism and peer-pressure was masked with a lively beat that almost made you forget that Kendrick Lamar regularly speaks about his youth, neighbourhood and the trials and tribulations he’s faced growing up.

Not only does he speak about battles with drugs, gang violence and police brutality, but his use of conscious rap also stems from the famous rap trio N.W.A who were one of the first to speak out against police brutality against Black people in the US.

However, hip-hop as we know it today is one of the most versatile, popular and intricate genres that we listen to. With incredible uniqueness, anecdotes, compelling sounds and imagery, it has caused controversy since its birth in the late 1970s to early 80s. By intertwining elements of DJing, MCing and visuals, these fundamentals generated a cultural revolution that’s spread across the world.  

Starting once as a subculture and art movement that blossomed from the Bronx in New York City, its beginnings raised eyebrows as it reflected the negative consequences of the post-industrial decline, political corruption and a fleeting economy.

As many of the white middle class packed up and moved to the suburbs to try and escape the social and economic challenges, the two communities became segregated as conditions worsened in neighbourhoods that were densely populated by African-Americans, Puerto Ricans and Caribbean settlers.

"However, hip-hop as we know it today is one of the most versatile, popular and intricate genres that we listen to"

With this in play, it brought gang violence, crime and poverty in these heavily urban areas. Now labelled as “conscious artists”, Public Enemy, Ice Cube and Tupac Shakur were just a handful of people who decided to speak out against racial inequality, police brutality, drug use and gang violence. These days, rappers make every effort to pay homage to their predecessors who might have come from the same state or were just very influential to them.

Many of these musicians also grew up in deprived neighbourhoods and fell in a corrupt socio-economic trap that led them to drug dealing and gang association in order to survive.

One way of doing this was recycling lyrics that had trickled down from the 1980s all the way into the 21st century. One line in particular, “25 lighters on my dresser, yessir”, has a cultural history attached to it and interestingly has been used in over 20 different songs since the 1990s.

The line continuously used by Texan rappers is not only a nod towards southern rap, but also stems from the drug movement during the 1980s when dealers would collect Bic lighters, clean them out and fill them with drugs in order to distribute them discreetly on the streets. Originating from DJ DMD, a producer, DJ and rapper from Texas, the line came from the track titled “25 Lighters” featuring Lil’ Keke and Fat Pat.

Houston natives E.S.G and Lil’ Flip also used the line back in 1999 for their track “Realist Rhymin’’ before it went on to be used by Illinois rapper Ludacris for his 2001 track “Cold Outside and then recycled by US rock band ZZ Top from Houston, Texas in their track “I Gotsta Get Paid” in 2012.

Similarly, southern rapper Big K.R.I.T used the line in his track “Money On The Floor” featuring 8Ball & MJG and 2Chainz in 2012 and then again in 2014 with his track “King Of The South” where cleverly he says, “25 lighters on my dresser, ain’t shit changed”. It was then distinctly used by Kendrick Lamar in “Backseat Freestyle” and then more recently by Houston home towner Travis Scott in his track “Apple Pie”.

"One line in particular, “25 lighters on my dresser, yessir”, has a cultural history attached to it and interestingly has been used in over 20 different songs since the 1990s"

Not only were these rappers honouring southern rap, especially from Houston, a plethora of rappers from other states and even other countries have used this line to pay homage to rap music in general but also to inspirational and acclaimed artists who influenced them. Swedish group Huset on their track “Den Nivån” also mention the line as well as super-duo Run The Jewels composed of Brooklyn-based rapper and producer EI-P and Atlanta-based rapper Killer Mike with their track “Down”.

Music is something that has shaped generations whether it be helping them through tough times to providing an escape for them. These rappers were all inspired by someone down the line, so much so to pay homage to the craft.

And as many rappers can relate to coming from deprived neighbourhoods, showing their appreciation for their hip-hop forefathers through line recycling and chopping tracks from the 1980s and 90s and even mentioning classic rappers not only shows appreciation but will carry on through the ages with more modern rappers finding newer ways to show their love for the genre.

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