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Writings on the Wall: 10 Lyrics of Wisdom from a Group of 30-Somethings

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“One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain” – Bob Marley, Trench Town Rock

At the heart of music is the art of storytelling. If the sharing of culture is about passing down customs and narratives used to shape generations, there is no denying that Hip Hop and R&B have provided as much entertainment as they have instilled lessons in those listening.

As I entered a new decade into my 30s, I found myself finding new meaning in songs that once guided me through my earlier youth and deeper meaning in some of what was new.  Seeking solace in wisdom, I asked a few 30-somethings what lyrics have shaped them, and how do those words stack against their personal growth today. Here’s what they shared.

“If every n**** in your clique is rich, your clique is rugged. Nobody would fall cause everyone would be each other’s crutches.”

Feelin’ It – Jay-Z

Anne G.

What does this lyric mean to you and how is it “on brand” for who you are today?  

If we’re speaking on the transition from my 20s into my 30s, then this is it. What’s true of my 30s that wasn’t necessarily the case in my 20s, is that I appreciate a tight-knit circle so much more now than an infinite network. I’m now more intentional about my clique and create space for everyone to come up together.

How long have you been bumpin’ this song?

For years. 23 years exactly.

Has the meaning of the lyric(s) changed for you since you first heard it? If so, how?

Not a bit. It’s what I’ve known to inspire reciprocal relationships for a long time. I’m just applying pressure to it now and making sure it’s a filter I’m using when choosing who to surround myself with.

“But shit you gotta go through hell to be a man first
And understand first
Hell is what you choose to call the present
That’s you, you goin through it
I just choose to call it stressin.
To tell you fools the truth
I don’t feel that’s where I’m destined
‘Cause you could call it hell
but bruh, I just say I’m below the heavens.”

The World Is…(Below The Heavens) – Blu & Exile

Sammy M.

What does this lyric mean to you and how is it “on brand” for you today?   

From the first time I heard that lyric, it reminded me of the importance of optimism. That’s exactly why it’s on brand: people always tell me I do well under pressure and it’s because I constantly remind myself of that verse.

How long have you been bumpin’ this song?

For over a decade now!

Has the meaning of the lyric(s) changed for you since you first heard it? If so, how?

 Yes and no. In college when I first heard the track, the context was different: I was very much reacting to it in terms of my childhood and how much I’d accomplished to that point despite my circumstances.

Now, with the complex pressures of adulthood (hey anxiety! hey crippling perfectionism!), the lyric has become more of a mantra for me. A reminder to take a step back whenever I’m feeling anxious and identify the silver lining in whatever I’m facing.

“What happens if you holla and can’t be heard?
For the birds and the drama, I paint these words
They say through the pain is how we learn
You landed on the window of pain, simple and plain
It’s hard for you to fly in the rain
The way love goes is not the way that it came
Come fly, un-die, be born again”

Common on Jhene Aiko’s Pretty Bird Freestyle

Lisa B.

What does this lyric mean to you and how is it “on brand” for you today?:  

“Come fly, un-die, be born again” that end line captures what entering my 30s felt like.

Shedding skin, trauma, weight and starting over again. It’s what my theme, my brand has been feeling like since I hit my third decade. Knowing I have the ability to change things and begin again constantly.  

How long have you been bumpin’ this song?

Few years now.

“For unto me a man-child would be born
Woe this crazy circumstance
I knew his life deserved a chance
But everybody told me to be smart
“Look at your career,” they said
“Lauryn, baby use your head”
But instead I chose to use my heart”

Lauryn Hill – To Zion

Sebastian R.

What does this lyric mean to you and how is it “on brand” for you today?  

“To Zion” is essentially a song about choices. We are all put in predicaments, and the record is a good reminder of tackling them in a way that reflects your values. In a culture where people place a lot of their identities on their careers, I love how Lauryn forges a different path. In the midst of a “crazy circumstance,” she listened to her conscience. I hope to do the same.

How long have you been bumpin’ this song?

I’ve listened to it since it came out in ’98.

Has the meaning of the lyric(s) changed for you since you first heard it? If so, how?

Initially, the song represented the struggles of working women whom are pregnant. With the passage of time, however, my understanding has evolved. I now view “To Zion” as a touching testament at discovering yourself and the type of life you choose to lead. This path of self-discovery is similar to what many 30 somethings are traversing.

“And watch me do it all again it’s a beautiful life.

Nas – Bye Baby

Irving B.

What does this lyric mean to you and how is it “on brand” for you today?  

After describing the pain and defeat of divorce, and the financial and emotional toll it has taken, he ends the song with a simple phrase: “And watch me do it all again it’s a beautiful life.”

That may not be the most complex bar ever said but to cap off the song in that way resonated with me because it’s about picking yourself back up from your lowest moment and deciding that there is still beauty in life. The song, and the line in particular, signaled to me that a mature adult learns to find joy after difficulties and that we can’t rule out love or relationships just because of an experience that didn’t go well. I appreciated, and remembered this message throughout my 20’s and today, life is good!

How long have you been bumpin’ this song? :

since 2012

“Nobody built like you
You designed yourself.”

Jay -Z – A Dream

Gary B.

What does this lyric mean to you and how is it “on brand” for you today?  

What these bars mean to me is that it’s REALLY important to know who you are. Self awareness is such a crucial aspect to anything you do in life. What makes you different from the rest, what makes you, you is all tied into what your brand is. So for me, knowing that I hear and view things a bit differently than the next person, reminds me of what makes myself and my brand what it is today.  

How long have you been bumpin’ this song? The Song is 17 years old.

Has the meaning of the lyric(s) changed for you since you first heard it? If so, how? I never really put much thought into these bars when I first heard this when I was 13 (17 years ago). However, I always thought that was just an ill way of Hov saying how he’s one of a kind. As I got older and I began to flirt with different ideas & seeking meaning of what my purpose on this earth was, I learned the hard way that there is no “One Size Fits All” method of obtaining success. What works for you, may not work for the next person and that’s ok. So for me, hearing these bars now, it hits a bit different. It reminds me that, what I do, nobody else can. Nobody’s built like me.

“I am ready for love
All of the joy and the pain
And all the time that it takes”

India Arie – Ready for Love

Jessie N.

What does this lyric mean to you and how is it “on brand” for you today?  

In my 30’s I’ve finally come to truly love myself and am willing to welcome love from others in my life.

How long have you been bumpin’ this song?

yearssss!

Has the meaning of the lyric(s) changed for you since you first heard it? If so, how?

Yes. Originally I was just an ignorant little girl looking for someone to love me without me loving myself.

Voy a tatuarme en la piel
Tu inicial porque es la mía
Pa’ acordarme para siempre
De lo que me hiciste un día”

Rosalia – A Ningún hombre

Georgeann R.

What does this lyric mean to you and how is it “on brand” for you today?

I work in advocacy and operational work for families experiencing homelessness living in shelters. I really don’t think of myself having as a  “brand” but the work I do is very important to me and my personhood.

What this lyric means to me, is that you cannot forget your past even if it hurts or stirs negative emotions. Part of the work I do is inspiring my community, motivating them, encouraging them that where you come from is beautiful. Your story is beautiful and you can change your trajectory if you want to!

For me personally I never want to forget my experiences, good or bad, or where I come from because they are why I am the person I am and who I have become and why I do the work I do. I ironically have a tattoo that says “Nevertheless she persisted” because throughout everything I’ve been through I never gave up on myself.

How long have you been bumpin’ this song?

It’s newish

“Your stress, my stress, closer than kin, I’m blessed, you blessed”

Friends – The Carters

Tiffany V.

What does this lyric mean to you and how is it “on brand” for you today?:

 I’ve come to realize that the greatest loves of my life are my friends. This lyric shows the bond of true friendship. You live life together and everything is shared – both wins and losses.

How long have you been bumpin’ this song?

New(ish)

“Journey far, learn who you can be
But you can learn who you are when you around family”

“Adam and Eve” – Nas

Reggie E.

What does this lyric mean to you and how is it “on brand” for you today?   

Although this album didn’t hit like I wanted it to, this line stood out to me for a few reasons. The album was released the day I moved into my new apartment, where I was back surrounded by familiar faces. I’d learned so much about myself when I wasn’t in there company for a few years. It fully showed me my capabilities and how to apply them. Moving back and being in arm’s reach of my loved ones was full circle. Being around people that know you better than you know yourself is humbling. Go explore, but never forget your foundation.

How long have you been bumpin’ this song?

It’s the only lasting treat from that last album of his. I really hate to keep shitting on it, but it’s truth!

Has the meaning of the lyric(s) changed for you since you first heard it? If so, how?

 It especially resonated when I moved into my new place. I was a bit detached from my core family members, but also developing as an adult on my own in New York. But now I can build on those developments, and also walk to my aunt’s house and rummage through her fridge when I don’t feel like cooking. Nothing beats that.  

Feel free to tweet us @FKB_Online, with lyrics that have stood the test of time for you and yours with the hashtag #Lyrics2Liveby