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Use to Be: Lyrical Breakdown

in Lyric Breakdown & Background by


Recording ‘Use to be was experiential. I hear a presence of enjoyment and creativity oozing throughout the recording. I believe my spirit and attitude (of joy) carry over the music.

Here is my analysis of the words behind the feeling I created when recording ‘Use to Be.’

Yea yea check it

I’m sick of hearing things ain’t how they use to be
I’m sick of hearing things ain’t how they use to be
I’m sick of hearing things ain’t how they use to be
Values alive in my people still alive in me

My lifetime I’ve heard the adage ‘things ain’t what they use to be.’ As a nostalgia junkie (term I’ve created, and now own) I understand how. It’s easy to romanticize the past (or future) in hopes of a better reality. I seek to gather a better understanding of that over time.

I’m culturally sensitive, and insecure. As a Black male (sometimes) I take on the romanticism of legendary Black men as a knock towards the character of myself, and my peers. This belief led me to express ‘I’m sick’ of hearing it. The duality of my artistry still honors my history by sharing “Values alive in my people still alive in me.”

Verse One
I grew up man a whole lot different than most
Father lived for his family brother just lived to smoke
Before that, yo, he lived his life for the Panthers

My Father has been my lead example in life as a man, entrepreneur, and decision maker. As a child he grew up with a strained, and distant relationship with his Father. My Uncle Wali fulfilled (some of) my Father’s male role model needs. My Uncle Wali was the son of my paternal Grandmother’s (Granny) friend.

Wali is one of the most intelligent, and enlightened people I’ve met. When he was younger he was active in many Black movements throughout Cincinnati OH (my Dad’s hometown). The Cincinnati Black Panthers, Cincinnati Nation of Islam, and ‘Highlight Magazine’ all had Uncle Wali’s touch. My Father worked with Uncle Wali developing ‘Highlight Magazine’ which featured pictures and articles of Cincinnati’s Black entertainment culture in the 1960’s and 70’s (till this day my Dad has some pictures of Roy Ayers from a Cincy concert that are classic).

Uncle Wali presented and offered my Father a spark into knowledge of self, and the legacies of African people. African centered thinking is a platform that can empower a young Black mind to see life has endless possibilities. I feel much of my Father’s faith in being a CPA, computer programmer, and (Grand)Father are all interconnected to seeing past American limits.

The tragedy of Uncle Wali, and many Panthers (and people) is he’s struggled with addiction throughout life. The strength of his mind always makes letting go of the addiction tougher (I believe).

Black Panther Party, Big, Me & Granny
Black Panther Party, Big, Me & Granny

Mama was my teacher (and) Granny fought off cancer
Just being a kid seeing how real life is
My hero full head of hair all came from a wig
Growing up wasn’t like BIG
Tom Hanks had a genie I saw people live

My paternal Grandmother is one of the toughest people I know. She worked in a Juvenile Detention Center keeping order between delinquents, and administration. Granny is a very proud, wise, and beautiful woman. She also has affected the way I saw Cancer as a child. When I was a child she battled Cancer, and survived. Moving forward I saw the possibility of living past Cancer, because of her. Sadly, after her the next 10 people I knew with Cancer passed on.

Granny was one of the first people with a VCR in our family. She owned Karate Kid I & II, Cocoon, Bill Cosby Live, and Big. ‘Big’ was a movie starring Tom Hanks. Hank’s is a kid that goes to a carnival and wishes he was an adult to a genie. Throughout the movie Hank’s addresses all his conflicts by making wishes. This parallel is made to my life because my course of action in life has always been living.

My Grandfathers … both was hustlers
One who stole cars … other one ran numbers

My paternal Grandfather was incarcerated when my Father was born for charges related to grand theft auto. This situation I believe always led to a strain between the relationship between my paternal Grandmother and Grandfather. This left my Father seeking attention. My paternal Grandfather always shared with me that the lure of crime is only active when you’re weak in mind.

My maternal Grandfather was a decorated Korean War veteran. His belief in America was subdued upon losing a leg in the War. My Grandfather made the most of his money earned in the service by buying a home and business. He owned an all purpose shop where he sold candy, repaired upholstery, and ran numbers (illegal street lottery).

His shop, and home, place me in my neighborhood now. I live next door to the home he bought. My parents purchased my home in the early 1980’s. They wanted to live next to my maternal Grandmother. Both properties have remained in our family. Today, following the birth of my nephew Solomon (2012), my families lived in Detroit’s 48238 zip code for four generations. My maternal Grandfather’s shop was located on Woodrow Wilson walking distance from my home.

My Great Uncle knew Kwame Nkumrah
Same blood in my veins Ivory Coast first tutor

One of my (maternal) Great Uncles is Judge Joe Rouhlac (RIP 2008). He was one of Ohio’s first Black judges. In Akron OH there are streets, community centers, and apartments named in his honor. While attending conferences as an attorney, Uncle Joe met Kwame Nkumrah. Kwame Nkumrah was Ghana’s first president after colonization (colonization was the process in which European nations would forcibly occupy African, Asian, and South American nations for natural resources & labor). Uncle Joe shared Black American cultural dialects, and meanings with Nkumrah in the time they spent.

My Great Grandfather was a preacher
One of Selma Alabama’s first Black teachers
So I’m failing on my people if I’m not a leader

Kwame Nkumrah, Uncle Joe and Aunt Francis Rouhlac, Bone Thugs and Harmony
Kwame Nkumrah, Uncle Joe and Aunt Francis Rouhlac, Bone Thugs and Harmony

Uncle Joe’s father was Papa Rouhlac. He was a preacher. He also was one of the few educated men in Tuscaloosa AL at the turn of the 1900’s. As a preacher he fulfilled many roles in the community. The lack of access to information, knowledge, and schooling was a dilemma throughout the American South post the Civil War – WWI era (this conflict, with a burgeoning industrial age, required an educated workforce. This established a need for public schools. Andrew Carneige and Booker t Washington are instrumental in these developments). Papa Rouhlac acted as a liaison between the discriminatory Alabama Police Department and many Black men, composed and read letters for families, reviewed mortgages and loans, and helped find employment for Black people throughout Tuscaloosa AL. The tragedy is my Great Grandfather was fulfilling these roles for church members and Black people in Selma AL starting the 1900’s. My friend Pastor David Bullock fulfills many of these roles for families as a pastor today.

My Grandmother wrote Mary McCleod Bethune speeches
So I strive for achievement
Despite what they said keep on leading
Keep on leading
Keep on teaching

Verse Two
I got the spirit
I got the soul
I got the heart of a rebel
And I’m fighting off the devil
Anybody come to me ain’t getting on my level
It’s like … it’s like
I got the heart, the mind, the spirit and the soul
And I’m losing control
Just like
uh Yea

I believe rappers should manipulate words, and spacing of words to create melody. In this stanza I deliver a pace in rhythm to feed Joey Spina’s guitar as if my words were a drum. This technique is prevalent in reggae music as well. The rappers who I feel deliver this best are Bone Thugs and Harmony, Outkast, and Eightball and MJG.

I got the blood in my veins of a soldier and a king
Can’t step to me talking them things
Blood of a King in my veins

Song Performed by Khary WAE Frazier
Music Played, Composed, Arranged and Produced by Joey Spina
Lyrics by Khary WAE Frazier
Song featured on the Notes of an Artist/ Activist I Album 2008


5-12 AR Det Drum B

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