Welcome to the revamped version of Quote/Unquote, our feature in which we hunt down some awesome lyrics -- or in this case rhymes -- and get the story behind the song. This week, we unearthed a few gems from MaulSkull of Black Mask and caught up with the rapper to find out a little about his inspiration. The best poets are ones that can see complexity in their subject matter and present it for what it is rather than trying to rationalize it. And on these two tracks, that's exactly what MaulSkull does.
"Shadows" from Us and Them by MaulSull of Black Mask:
"Death's inventions could never have kept us separated. I put your ashes in the closet that I decorated, Took all your pictures out the boxes that I let them stay in. Talking to your ghost and watch you walk in like you never faded out. You're here with the rest of my fallen angel dust. You're prob'ly tangled up in a nest of crawling tarantulas."
Here, MaulSkull paints a picture of conflicting emotions: Strength and vulnerability, sorrow and acceptance. It is these complexities that present MaulSkull as human, refreshing in a genre riddled with such superhuman aspirations. Not only does MaulSkull speak with an emotional honesty that should be cherished in hip-hop, he does so in a way that is vivid and interesting, avoiding the downfall of so many "conscious" rappers. Taking a leaf out of the books of Aesop Rock and Atmosphere, MaulSkull imbues his words with mystique, constructing powerful, surreal images without losing touch with reality.
"The song is about...letting a piece of yourself go and opening up for something new and taking the risk of moving on and finding something not near as dark or sad," says MaulSkull. "My grandmother passed away in April, so that had a lot to do with a lot of the things that were going on because, you know, you have all of this stuff that you don't really think about while you're growing up that you have to eventually deal with when you do, like, lose someone... You can only do what you can do and go as far as you can go, but there's always gonna be experiences and memories following you around."
"End" from Us and Them by MaulSkull of Black Mask:
"They came from the dark side of the clouds and fell with the rain, showered hopes for the sunny-day-caves that we made ours, afraid with the same cowards, remain with a fake sour taste in our mouths from the power we wasted. Just facing the doubt when all I ever wanted was friendship (so relentless). I've only come to grips with my pen tip's inventions."
These lines are an exercise in technical proficiency at the least and a powerfully driven meditation on insecurity at the most. MaulSkull is able to build momentum through his expert use of assonance and unconventional, multisyllabic rhyme. The lines are punctuated at the key points, the stressed syllables, with recurring sounds of "ow" as in "clouds," "ay" as in "came" through the first five lines and, near the end, "ih" as in "tip." This, coupled with the multisyllabic non-end-slant-rhyme (as with "cowards, remain" and "power we wasted") gives MaulSkull's flow a kind of recurrent energy that pushes him through his verses.
The fact that he is able to construct such an effective collage of sound while keeping a focus on his subject matter is especially impressive and conducive to his grounded-in-abstraction style. Again, the poignancy here comes from the dichotomy in confidence in expression and vulnerability in subject matter. And then the whole phrase crowned with that jewel of a last line: (Kisses fingers) muah!
"It's kinda like a generalization of what people seem to deal with all the time, like in different lines of work or in things that they're trying to accomplish," MaulSkull explains. "It's like a fear-based thing, whether it be inside or exterior... So we have this bad taste, and we're facing all this doubt and all this insecurity and stuff, and then it goes on to say, 'All I ever wanted was friendship.' And then another voice comes in and says, 'So relentless,' kind of like it's mocking me or, like, making fun of the whole thing.
"And then, after that, I believe it's, 'I've only come to grips with my pen tip's inventions.' So it's like I've only come to grips with being able to like put it on a song or write about it or be able to create anything as an outlet to deal with all this stuff.... [I'm] trying to just do something different and add more of a little bit of an interpretive feel to some of the stuff [while trying] to stay grounded.