Mos Def
Ghetto Rock

Click on underlined words for more information, including additional meanings and cultural background.

Original Translation of Slang

(Spoken)
Hello Children

CHORUS
Black Jack Johnson N.Y.C., R-O-C-K-I-N-G
Sun and the moon, earth, stars, and planets
Before song done y'all goin' all understand it


Hello Children

CHORUS
Black Jack Johnson New York City, playing great music
The sun and the moon, earth, stars, and planets
Before this song is done, you will all understand it

Like - Hot
The haters can't fuck with it
'Cuz they mom and they sister and girl in love with it (and they niggaz)
Sound man holla black COME WITH IT
Spin the record 'till the record done spinning
Up top is you getting up with it?
Derty, derty is you getting crunk with it?
Smokey Smoke from coast to coast
Be careful, our first draw be our overdose
Who stay holding it from Brooklyn? You know it's Mos!

It's very exciting
Jealous people can't ruin it
Because their mother and sister and girlfriend are in love with it (and they are black)
The sound man shouts, "Let's hear it!"
DJ, play the record until the record is done spinning
New Yorkers, are you feeling this music?
Southerners, are you enjoying it?
Smokey Smoke from coast to coast
Be careful, this song is like marijuana and it is so strong that it could cause an overdose on the first breath
Who is still representing his hometown of Brooklyn? You know it's me!

Ha, jackpot, I got to go for broke
'Cuz this the only way the Smith family know to go
Right here to my youngest one is older folks
Im'ma put down like a dirty so and so
Freak daddy came here to work the mojo - oh
Because the high is high and the low is low
And that goes for the sinner man to holy folks
Put your shit in the sky like I know you want to (oh)
(Brooklyn stand up!)
Ha, my ghetto nation get toe to toe
Stay rocking steady steady 'cause I told you so
And after y'all get it go I let it go some more
That Black Jack about something for sure for sure
(Say what!)
For sure, for sure (Ha!)
Let me see you in the world making your shoulder roll
And if it get good tell your nigga throw your 'bows

'Cuz we are so ghetto
Yes we are rock and roll
Yes we are so ghetto
Yes we are rock and roll
Yes we are so ghetto
Yes we are rock and roll
Yes we are so ghetto
Yes we are - rock and motherfucking roll (Woo!)
  Ha, I want the jackpot--I have to take big risks for a big reward
Because that is the only way people from my family know how to do things
Right here to my youngest one is older people
I'm going to rap with bad words
I'm a wild man who came to use his magic power
Because the high is high and the low is low
And that is true for both sinners and holy people
Try for the highest goals
(Brooklyn stand up!)
Ha, my people who are from the inner city, get ready to dance
Keep dancing because I told you to
And after you get it started, I will rap some more
Black Jack Johnson is certainly great
(Wow!)
Certainly, certainly (Ha!)
Let me see you in the world making your shoulders roll
And if it gets good, tell your black friend, "Throw your elbows."


Because we are so ghetto
Yes we are rock and roll
Yes we are so ghetto
Yes we are rock and roll
Yes we are so ghetto
Yes we are rock and roll
Yes we are so ghetto
Yes we are really rock and roll (Woo!)

Ha, I am a fighter and a lover
I'm the freaky baby daddy, I'm a bad motherfucker
I'm the earth, wind, fire, and the thunder
I said I am, go ask my mother
You don't believe that shit believe what you want to
All right, OK, So Shut-up!
Speak language come straight from the gutter
Observe the terms that we trade with one and other
Like - "What's good?" "What's popping?" "What's cracking?"
What it is, how you living, what's happening
Work songs that the slaves sang back then
The playground chants, with little girls clapping

 

Ha, I am a fighter and a lover
I'm the wild father of a baby whose mother is not my wife, I'm a dangerous man
I'm the earth, wind, fire, and the thunder
I said I am, go ask my mother
If you don't believe that story, believe what you want to
All right, okay, So stop talking!
Speak language that comes straight from the lowest classes
Observe the expressions that we use with one another
Like "What's good?" "What's happening?" "What's going on?"
What it is, how are you living, what's happening?
Work songs that the slaves sang in the South before the Civil War
The playground chants, with little girls clapping.

CHORUS (2 times)

Space!
Gimme the space!
Back up, gimme the space!
Let a nigga rock!
Gimme the space!
Let a nigga rock!
Let a nigga rock, ha!
This is the sound
Ghetto rock (repeat 4 times)

 

CHORUS (2 times)

Space!
Give me the space!
Back up, give me the space!
Let a black man rock!
Give me the space!
Let a black man rock!
Let a black man rock, ha!
This is the sound
Ghetto rock (repeat 4 times)

This is the sound

Ghettos rock and - motherfucking roll!

 

Black Jack Johnson is the name of Mos Def's rock band. The original Jack Johnson, and undoubtedly the source of the band's name, was an African American man who won the world heavyweight boxing championship in 1908 (though not officially until 1910). Johnson's flamboyant life was the subject of "Unforgivable Blackness," a 2004 Ken Burns documentary for American Public Television .

Black Jack Johnson N.Y.C., R-O-C-K-I-N-G... The rhythm of the chorus is based on an American children's playground chant, shown below. Normally, this one is used to taunt children who appear to be romantically interested in another student--a taboo for American seven-year-olds.

(Name of boy) and (Name of girl) sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!
First comes love, then comes marriage
Then comes the baby in the baby carriage.

Smokey Smoke slang for marijuana, this is also the name of a Southern rapper and more notably, a gangsta rapper ("Puff Smokey Smoke") played for laughs by comedian Tommy Davidson in the 2004 comedy Juwanna Mann.

Smith family Mos Def's birth name was Dante Smith.

mojo this word was originally about witchcraft and black magic, but it is now also used to talk about sexual powers.

Put your shit in the sky like I know you want to (It's unclear what the last two words in the line are because "Oh!" is shouted at the same time. "Want to" is what it sounds like to me.) I chose the more general meaning for the translation of these words. However, in the video, skateboarders jump up from a ramp at this line.

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ghetto nation/'Cuz we are so ghetto In Standard English, the word ghetto means a poor area in the city where minorities live close together and the word is negative. However, Mos Def chooses to present the word in a positive way, stressing the strength, solidarity and creativity of people from the inner city.

Stay rockin' steady Most likely a reference to the Rock Steady Crew, a well-known break dancing group from the Bronx. Breakdancing is shown during these lyrics.

Get toe to toe...throw your 'bows The lines from get toe to toe to throw your bows can mean fighting as well as dancing. Toe to toe is normally about fighting, but the line "keep rocking steady" and the images in the video support the interpretation of dancing. "Making your shoulder roll" and "throw your 'bows" are both ambiguous. In the Ludacris song Southern Hospitality he says women are dancing "in the club throwing pretty ass 'bows." However, in the Brooke Valentine song Girl Fight, she says, "We bout to throw dem bows" in reference to throwing her elbows at another woman in a fight.

Earth, wind, fire This could be a reference to 1970s funk rock band Earth, Wind and Fire as well as to the elements.

Work songs/Civil War Many African Americans were technically freed from slavery in 1863 with Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. However, actual freedom did not come until the Civil War ended in 1865. While working in the fields, slaves often sang rhythmic songs. You can click to listen online to some of this traditional African American music, such as the spiritual Trouble So Hard and work song It's a Long John. Many of these songs continued as work songs for prisoners (like Po Lazurus, which prisoners sang at the beginning of the film O Brother Where Art Thou?) and these songs have also influenced rap music.

playground chants Here is a link to a page with some popular examples of other traditional rhymes like the chorus of this song. These chants also involve rhythmic hand clapping between pairs of children (usually girls), some quite complex. To see an example of how the clapping is done, watch the video for this song on the downloads page of Mos Def's website. Little girls are chanting with simple traditional hand claps between 2:22 and 2:27.

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