Since last week we looked at the South’s culinary influence on hip-hop lyrics through soul food, it’s only fair that we even things out this week and take it up north, where many argue hip-hop was truly born.
While it doesn’t pack quite as multifaceted a punch as soul food, Italian food has just as much presence in hip-hop lyrics likely due to the concentration of Italian-Americans and great Italian restaurants in the Northeast (where many pioneering and influential MCs come from) and its enormous popularity, authentic and Americanized alike.
Let’s start with the obvious:
When I think pizza and hip-hop, the first thing that springs up in my mind is the Slick Rick joint “Mona Lisa,” which begins with this set-up: “I went into a store, to buy a slice of pizza / And bumped into a girl, her name was Mona (what?) Mona Lisa.”
Slick Rick is one of the most often quoted and emulated classic MCs, and this line is no exception. Eminem borrowed and flipped it in his Detroit version on the track “As the World Turns”: “Met a [...] and said, ‘What up, it’s nice to meet ya / I’d like to treat ya to a Faygo and a slice of pizza.’”
Right before the Heems line I quoted in Part III, from the Das Racist track “Rainbow in the Dark,” he says, “Known to rock the flyest […] and eat the best pizza, charge that [...] to Mastercard, already owe Visa.”
They like their pizza. The track that put Das on the map (and made a lot of people love or hate them) is a silly, annoyingly repetitive volley between the two of them clowning about a “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.”
In the De La Soul jam featuring Chaka Khan, “All Good,” Dave relates a pizza to a relationship (don’t forget about our discussions on cheese for this one!): “I can’t believe we built this large pizza pie together, no pepperoni/Yeah you wanted extra cheese, sometimes I gave you extras/ How we divided slices like the Red Sea theory, I was Moses/ Hopelessly scorned by your thorn, Zipporah.”
On his new album, Nas has a track featuring Large Professor called “Loco Motive,” which contains a line we can all relate to: “At night, New York, eat a slice too hot/ Use my tongue to tear the skin hanging from the roof of my mouth.”
And then there’s the other pillar of Italian:
Like cheese, the pasta references in rap take full advantage of its wide range of specific varieties. Think P. Diddy (then Puff Daddy) on “All About the Benjamins”: “Yeah, living the raw deal, three-course meal / Spaghetti, fettuccini, and veal.”
G-Dep, also of the Bad Boy family, starts the track “Let’s Get It” by declaring, “I was born ready, and I was already, on fish and spaghetti.”
On “Apollo Kids,” Ghostface Killah of the Wu has a somewhat nonsensical line that draws abstract similes with pasta and fruit flavors. “Ayo, this rap is like ziti, facin’ me real TV / Crash at high speeds, strawberry kiwi.”
On the Lil Wayne song, “You Ain’t Got Nothin On Me,” from his unfortunate Auto-Tune phase, Fabolous combines generic and specific pasta mentions with gun references: “My lil’ man is on ya, Marlon and Shawn ya / Lay the beef on his noodle / Make some luger lasagna / 40-cal fettuccine, trey-pound pasta / You reach for this medallion, you must like Italian.”
Wayne himself takes lasagna a little farther on the newer track 6’7” in an almost-amazingly clever line that has received some heat from the likes of The Roots‘ ?uestlove for not quite making it on the execution. He says, “Real g’s move in silence like lasagna,” almost connecting on the likeness between a stealthy gangsta and the letter “g” in “lasagna.” Only as ?uestlove and others have pointed out, the “g” isn’t really silent at all in “lasagna” although the sound it makes isn’t a standard one in English. Sorry, Weezy.
Eminem fares better on “I’m On Everything,” a song by his duo project Bad Meets Evil with Royce Da 5’9” and featuring an entertaining intro and hook by comedian Mike Epps. He says, “I’m the real macaroni you cheesy […], I’m demonic with the Kraft. There’s a devil in my noodle, you angel hair pasta.” (Thanks to the homie David for that one!)
And then there are a handful of lyrics that go beyond pizza and pasta into other Italian favorites. On “Shoulda Known,” Childish Gambino says, “Eating my mama’s salmon but skipping on the risotto,” and on “You Can’t Stop the Pras,” Pras (which you may know from The Fugees) boasts, “You chicken parmesan gyro eatin’ while I’m winning, I’ve been living.”
Action Bronson, a former chef and kingpin of food-related lyrics, uses everyone’s favorite fine Italian cured ham to insinuate legendary status on his track “Cocoa Butter” when he says, “Ill prosciutto, legend, Phil Rizzuto.”
Bronson and other artists who have a bigger connection or homage to food than just a line here and there (like Edan, MF Doom, Buck 65, and Atmosphere to name a few) really warrant a deeper look in their own post. But we’ll have to save that one for next time… Peace.