Published on May 12th, 2015 | by joshenjammer0
Lyrical Analysis of “Crown” by Run the Jewels
This track is notable both for the production as well as for the the lyrics, which have an important lesson to share through the separate narratives in the song: selling drugs and fighting for someone else’s reasons.
The overall theme of this track is doing things because they must be done, whether for the “greater good” in the long run or because there is no choice in the matter. The song is also about overcoming the guilt that may be felt over these actions, because one cannot move on to better things until this guilt is overcome.
Run the Jewels are a hip hop duo comprising Atlanta-based rapper Killer Mike and Brooklyn rapper/producer El-P. The lyrics of Run the Jewels (frequently shortened to RTJ) range from cartoonishly violent to openly sexual to socially conscious, and all of these subjects are intelligently articulated and rapped about from a place of authenticity and experience, because of how long both members have been in the business.
The experience of the members of RTJ applies to the first verse of Crown, in which Killer Mike describes selling cocaine to make ends meet: used to walk traps in the rain with cocaine, used to write raps in the traps as I sat in the rain and I prayed that God give me a lane, give me a lane and I promise to change.
These lyrics suggest that Killer Mike did this not to make a lot of extra money, or especially not for his enjoyment, but because he had to, to make ends meet. The lyrics describe how he would pray that “God would give him a lane” into the rap game so that he could have a career rapping and he could stop selling cocaine to support himself.
He goes on to even further describe the lows he reached: he sold cocaine to a pregnant woman. Heard she was pregnant, I’m guilty I reckon cause I hear that good shit can hurt baby’s brain, heard he was normal till three and then he stopped talking, since then ain’t nothing been the same.
However, the verse goes on to describe Killer Mike finding the woman later and apologizing to her, and she forgives him. She tells him that she found religion and it redeemed her, and she was able to forgive herself.
She tells Mike: whatever it take I hope you find it, Mike. She hopes that Mike is able to forgive himself for his actions so he can move on with his life. The look on her face shown that glory replaced all the shame and the hate and that she wears a crown. This is the phrase from which the hook of the song is taken: can’t pick up no crown, holding what’s holding you down. The crown in the hook represents a better life or better times.
Can’t pick up no crown, holding what’s holding you down
This means that you can’t move on to better things until you get rid of what is holding you down, in this case the guilt that Killer Mike carried for selling the woman cocaine.
However, the hook of the song does not necessarily mean letting go of guilt, it can apply to anything that is holding someone back from better things. It could mean letting go of a drug habit, getting over a relationship, or anything holding someone back and keeping them from moving on with their life.
Even if Mike was rapping from a theoretical standpoint the verse would still carry a lot of meaning, but because it actually happened, it makes the verse much more meaningful and personal. Since authenticity is such a big part of hip hop culture, the fact that this verse is speaking from a place of experience speaks to the overall quality of RTJ.
The next verse of the song, rapped by El-P, is from the perspective of a soldier going into battle. It does not address the same kind of struggle as Killer Mike’s verse, rather it depicts the mental process of someone fighting for a cause they don’t believe in and finding their own meaning and motivation in the conflict despite the “powers that be” attempting to suppress the emotions of the individual.
Carry the flag in some other man’s name…
This verse is much less narrative-oriented than Killer Mike’s, but the purpose is to portray an emotion rather than to tell a story. The verse begins with the line, carry the flag in some other man’s name, which sets up the verse for its message of struggling for personal meaning in a conflict fought for others.
Other lines in this verse are spoken from the perspective of the said “powers” trying to rationalize the conflict to the soldiers: we’ll teach you to move without mercy and give you the tools to go after the causers of hurt. At other times, the “powers” try to change the individual motive of the soldier and tell him why to fight: use all the pain that you’ve felt in your life as the currency, go out and trade it for blood.
Even further on this spectrum, the soldier eventually has his own motives taken away from him and everything he does is for others rather than himself: you are the smoldering vessel of punishment born to do nothing but justify us.
The second verse of the song is just as important to the overall theme of regret as the first, but in a different way. Whereas the first verse is about something done voluntarily, to get to better times, the second verse is about doing something because there is no other choice. Whether or not it was done from one’s own volition, regret can still be felt over actions done because there was simply no alternative.
This is another overarching theme to the song: institutions. It’s more obvious in the second verse, but institutions can put down the individual in society in the same way as they can force a soldier to go into battle against his own will. Society makes it difficult to find a job through honest means and often forces people down a path similar to the one described by Killer Mike in the track’s first verse.
The theme of getting rid of “what’s holding you down” takes on a new meaning: institutions (or societal rules) can hold a person down as well, and a crown (or better life) cannot be gained until the individual finds a way to escape the pointlessness and monotony of society itself. Both verses in this song can be interpreted in this way and contribute to this theme, or be read in the previously discussed way of overcoming guilt.
The lyrics of this song are not the most aggressive or hard-hitting on the album, but their emotional resonance makes this track one of the most moving on the record. The multiple possible meanings of this song are testament to the experience and skill of the RTJ members, and the subjects addressed are illustrative of just how far Killer Mike and El-P have come.
Not only is it a powerful message of overcoming guilt or institutions, but the themes in this song can also serve as motivation to people who find themselves in a similar situation.