Lyrical Legends: Nas – I Can

I Can

Nas

By Terrance Moore

I know I can
Be what I wanna be
If I work hard at it
I’ll be where I wanna be

Anyone familiar with Nas knows his lyrical library is beyond extensive. If you were to place a list in front of me containing his body of work over the past two decades, I could close my eyes and easily pick out a hip hop classic. I have the utmost respect for Nas because he’s a “thinking man’s” rapper. His ability to intelligently discuss politics, history, social injustice and the results of urban decay, and still manage to appeal to the masses speaks volumes about his level of talent. And the lyrics to I Can are an example of his ability to deliver a positive message in a way people from all walks of life can understand. The message is simple: you can accomplish anything you set your mind to if you make the effort.

B-Boys and girls listen up
You can be anything in the world, in God we trust
An architect, doctor, maybe an actress
But nothing comes easy, it takes much practice

In the microwave society we live in, delayed gratification has become an ancient concept. If it takes a significant amount of time to master an art, whether it be engineering, music or medicine, most people will either seek a shortcut or avoid making the effort altogether. But the lyrics reinforce the fact it’s going to take time, energy and hours of practice to reach a high level of proficiency in the craft of your choice.

Watch the company you keep and the crowd you bring
Cause they came to do drugs and you came to sing

The lyrics here express the importance of surrounding yourself with positive people. It only takes the influence of one negative person to result in your life going in a downward spiral. Be your own person and march to the beat of your own drum. At the end of the day, you alone have to live with the choices you make, so choose wisely.

This is for grown looking girls who’s only ten
The ones who watch videos and do what they see
As cute as can be, up in the club with fake ID
Careful, ‘fore you meet a man with HIV
You can host the TV like Oprah Winfrey
Whatever you decide, be careful, some men be
Rapists, so act your age, don’t pretend to be
Older than you are, give yourself time to grow
You thinking he can give you wealth, but so

There are numerous negative influences in the mainstream media, and children have a tendency to mimic what they see. When any behavior is glamorized, it can create the desire to be a part of that culture. Nas delivers the message that things aren’t always what they seem, and that if you’re not careful you may get more than you bargained for. The lyrics also suggest you give yourself time to grow, and never compromise yourself for financial gain.

Young boys, you can use a lot of help, you know
You thinkin life’s all about smoking weed and ice
You don’t wanna be my age and can’t read and write
Begging different women for a place to sleep at night
Smart boys turn to men and do whatever they wish

Here’s another great message letting young men know there’s more to life than drug use and material gain. Nas informs the children that education is the key to a solid foundation and a precursor to the attainment of personal and financial success. He again ties together the importance of making intelligent choices with the achievement of personal freedom. The lyrics then provide a brief history lesson describing ancestral prominence and encouraging youth to see themselves beyond their current surroundings.

The song concludes with the reoccurring theme concerning the importance of getting an education. In an era where lyrical content encouraging little boys to sell drugs and little girls to use their bodies for financial gain, this song is definitely a welcome change.

Nobody says you have to be gangstas, hoes
Read more learn more, change the globe

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