So many of us are living just enough to survive, which isn’t really living life to the fullest. The majority of our time is spent meeting basic needs, such that there seems to be little time to pursue the things that bring us joy. It’s all because they system is created to keep specific groups in perpetual struggle in order to block economic success.

On this musical episode of The Axiom Amnesia Theory, Heit & Cheri explore the ideas of poverty and the systematic criminalization of Blacks and the poor via their commentary and analysis of the songs “Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder and “Blame it on the System” by Turk featuring Gunplay.

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living for the city

Song 1: “Living for the City” – Stevie Wonder

“Living For The City”

A boy is born in hard time Mississippi
Surrounded by four walls that ain’t so pretty
His parents give him love and affection
To keep him strong moving in the right direction
Living just enough, just enough for the city…ee ha!

His father works some days for fourteen hours
And you can bet he barely makes a dollar
His mother goes to scrub the floor for many
And you’d best believe she hardly gets a penny
Living just enough, just enough for the city…yeah

His sister’s black but she is sho ’nuff pretty
Her skirt is short but Lord her legs are sturdy
To walk to school she’s got to get up early
Her clothes are old but never are they dirty
Living just enough, just enough for the city…um hum

Her brother’s smart he’s got more sense than many
His patience’s long but soon he won’t have any
To find a job is like a haystack needle
Cause where he lives they don’t use colored people
Living just enough, just enough for the city…
Living just enough…
For the city…ooh,ooh
[repeat several times]

His hair is long, his feet are hard and gritty
He spends his love walking the streets of New York City
He’s almost dead from breathing on air pollution
He tried to vote but to him there’s no solution
Living just enough, just enough for the city…yeah, yeah, yeah!

I hope you hear inside my voice of sorrow
And that it motivates you to make a better tomorrow
This place is cruel no where could be much colder
If we don’t change the world will soon be over
Living just enough, just enough for the city!!!!

La, la, la, la, la, la,
Da Ba Da Da Da Da Da Da
Da Da Da Da Da Da
Da Ba Da Da Da Da Da Da Da
[Repeat to end]

  • This song was made 40 years ago, in 1973. The subject matter is still applicable today.
  • This is a great example of storytelling in song.
  • Discussion about people moving from rural South to the North for greater economic and racial opportunity. The disappointment is that it is just as bad in the North. Racism just looks different in the North, but it is still there. It is not necessarily as overt as in the Southern states. The racism exists in the system, the policies, and in the hearts of the people who perpetuate the system.
  • Discussion about the lyrics “living just enough for the city.” This could be a double entendre. The city needs the people at the bottom to keep the city going, and then the individuals are just barely getting by.
  • Discussion about the love that existed in the family in spite of them being poor. This reminds Cheri of Gil Scott Heron’s “On Coming From A Broken Home“.
  • The parents were also hard workers–in spite of the stereotypes about poor people. They have a good work ethic.
  • Heit’s favorite lyrics were:

    His father works some days for fourteen hours
    And you can bet he barely makes a dollar
    His mother goes to scrub the floor for many
    And you’d best believe she hardly gets a penny
    Living just enough, just enough for the city…yeah

  • Discussion about the line, “His sister’s Black, but she;’s sho nuff pretty.” is this about the race Black, the complexion Black, or both?
  • Does Stevie Wonder see colorism, or is this an abstract idea?
  • Discussion about an article we wrote earlier today about “Ballad Of the Brown Girl” by Countee Cullen.
  • People can understanding the advantage of being with a person of a certain color.
  • Discussion about whether a blind person still thinks it is important to have an “attractive” mate since people care about what other people think. Why would they think less of a blind person for being with someone they didn’t think was attractive? Because the lack of value they place on her is the same regardless of her mate.
  • Cheri’s favorite line was “Her clothes are old but never are they dirty.” She points to the idea that she was able to maintain dignity regardless of being poor. Heit disagrees, asking why level of dignity is measured by a person’s cleanliness? Cheri points to things within the culture pointing to what is supposed to reflect self respect.
  • Discussion about outward displays that are supposed to reflect some inner circumstance.
  • Discussion about Heit’s favorite lines:

    To find a job is like a haystack needle
    Cause where he lives they don’t use colored people

  • In terms of the music, Cheri would like to hear the song “bigger.” Heit didn’t like the breakdown part. Cheri also commented that the claps in the song actually sound like claps. She said the claps in a lot of modern songs sound manufactured.

blame it on the system

Song 2: “Blame it on the System” – Turk Featuring Gunplay

“Blame It On The System”
(feat. Gunplay)

[Hook:]
Blame it on the system,
We came in and they’re losing,
I ain’t killed a black man and a white man and they losing.
Blame it on the system,
We came in and they’re losing,
I ain’t killed a black man and a white man and they losing.

[Verse 1:]
Every second, every minute, every hour, every day,
Put a nigga head behind bars and put the key away.
They find him guilty for the chart before you plead the case.
Yeah, you’re guilty to proving innocent then
Every second, every minute, every hour, every day,
Every second, every minute, every hour, every day,
Put a nigga head behind bars and put the key away.
They find him guilty for the chart before you plead the case.
Yeah, you’re guilty to proving innocent then bitch’s name.
Real tough doll, no, it ain’t fake,
You gotta stay strong, homie, don’t break.
Stay sided, nigga, and don’t turn, stay,
I keep it gangster like a G, that’s the only way.
I don’t take money, no, I’ve never been a sneak,
I didn’t get time, twice enough, not do the shit again.
You say why do tell, and you can tell on a friend,
Put you out there so a nigga can do you in.
It’s a dirty world, but you still spin,
You can’t do nothing about it, but try to nail in.
We be losing them dollar, them people still in.
You stressing out like a diamond, not blame in,

[Hook:]
Blame it on the system,
We came in and they’re losing,
I ain’t killed a black man and a white man and they losing.
Blame it on the system,
We came in and they’re losing,
I ain’t killed a black man and a white man and they losing.

[Verse 2:]
Fuck the state, jury, judge, and the victim,
Call it on the seas, me convicted, mafia connected,
He read that, assault witness riffle is suggested.
I’m all ready, all ready, bottle tested.
This your morning, I won’t send another message.
The system can’t call me and the fatch can’t catch us,
These hoes can’t break me and these haters can’t stress us.
Folks can’t get any murder to these rappers.
They try and give me life, they ain’t trying to give me justice.
Bang bang with the gabble, no discussion.
We’re running from the fuzzes, they’re jumping out in dozens,
Nigga write back on the block like there wasn’t.
Could never stop the hustle or the bullet out this muzzle.
Pistol ripped, bult, knocking pieces out your puzzle,
Pointing out the child, you must wanna die,
You gonna get the business once you step your foot aside.

[Hook:]
Blame it on the system,
We came in and they’re losing,
I ain’t killed a black man and a white man and they losing.
Blame it on the system,
We came in and they’re losing,
I ain’t killed a black man and a white man and they losing.

[Verse 3:]
Get on the judge and the judge tried to suck it to me,
Tried to get me 30 years for a steal, but he couldn’t
Gave me the max and they send me to max,
Twenty trillion one, what you know about that?
It’s hard when you’re black, you don’t stand a chance,
Sentence you to death if you kill a white man,
And they cite, man, we never write, man,
Go to child with your life, shooting dice, man.
To the police, we are perfect target,
They mine gold, trying to get us out the fucking market.
Make you a convict, now you’re starving,
Can’t get a job picking cotton ’cause of your charges.
Ain’t nothing changed, cause we rock,
You’re out your damn frame if you think your looks should stop.
Is still the same, man, this shit will never stop,
Blame it on the system, don’t blame it on hip hop.

[Hook:]
Blame it on the system,
We came in and they’re losing,
I ain’t killed a black man and a white man and they losing.
Blame it on the system,
We came in and they’re losing,
I ain’t killed a black man and a white man and they losing.

  • Turk was originally with The Hot Boy$ of Cash Money Records. he did a lot of time in prison.
  • This song is telling the truth.
  • Heit & Cheri’s favorite line was:

    They try and give me life, they ain’t trying to give me justice.
    Bang bang with the gabble, no discussion.
    We’re running from the fuzzes, they’re jumping out in dozens,
    Nigga write back on the block like there wasn’t.

  • When it is about the corporation it is about the money. Also, ain’t nothing changed with Barack being president either.
  • Discussion about the lines:

    To the police, we are perfect target,
    They mine gold, trying to get us out the fucking market.

  • The whole point of criminalizing activities is to keep people from having economic success. Then, you have all the businesses on board saying that they won’t hire you with a criminal record. they also find ways to make money while weeding you out–credit checks, background checks, etc. As long as they have justification from these agencies, you have no recourse.
  • Discussion about the movie “Assault on Wall Street.” The man had a lot of debt and was fired from his job as an armor car driver.
  • Discussion about the title of the song. Cheri thinks that it is an okay title, but it takes away focus from the people being responsible for the system being this way. Heit points out that there is so much focus on the victim as being the wrong one, that people aren’t paying attention to the fact that it is the fault of the system.
  • What is labeled as “Justice” is often times not fair.

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