Lecrae’s "Deja Vu" and "Misconceptions 3" and Time and Place

Last post, I started a discussion of Lecrae’s Church Clothes 3. Today, I want to finish a brief analysis of the short film that contains four songs from the album. At the end of the “Gangland” section of Lecrae’s Church Clothes short film, an African American male falls in the street after a drive by. The camera pulls out and shows the body on the concrete. The movement of the camera upwards, away from the scene, provides an image of detachment, but it also calls into attention, when the image reoccurs at the end of “Deja Vu,” the surveillance of the neighborhood. The beginning of the “Misconceptions 3” section contains numerous overhead shots of a car driving and the young gang initiate from “Gangland” riding a bike through the streets. This vantage point feels very reminiscent to police helicopters patrolling the community, continually maintaining an eye on those who live within the confines of the city.

 

The beginning of “Deja Vu” juxtaposes the image of the African American body on the street with images of the beach and sea gulls flying over the water. As the video progresses, it flashes between these two images and what appears to be a younger version of the victim bleeding out on the concrete. We see him as a boy with his mother on the porch dancing, but we also see him roaming the streets, alone. He rolls a tire down the street, climbs a fence that says “Do Not Enter,” and concludes the section sitting in front of what appears to be a liquor store. While the boy’s mother appears in the video, she also leaves him alone with himself throughout. It can be assumed, based off of the other songs in the video, that she does this because she is at work to make money to support herself and her son. Lecrae tackles this aspect partly in “Gangland” with his discussion of jobs.
The key point of “Deja Vu” arises from Lecrae’s assertion that things have not gotten better in regards to race and class relations since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Even though some advances have been made, we have not reached the place that we need to be at in this country. The song begins with a bleak image of our society:

Yeah, the whole world’s gone crazy
People riot in the streets
Killin’ unborn babies
Catchin’ shots from police

Directly referencing the recent events from Baltimore to Ferguson, Lecrae questions his faith and the struggles with keeping his emotions in check. Near the end of the first verse, Lecrae relates current events to those in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement. He raps,

I done seen days go crazy, time fly by
Maybe it was yesterday or maybe 65
Peace then war, sworn in, die
All too familiar, more lifetimes

Things have not changed, hence the Deja Vu. Even with all of this repetition, Lecrae does offer hope by arguing that while “some days are a nightmare,” some of those dreams eventually come true because, in his words, “the Lord’s still right there.”
The juxtaposition of the body on the street and the beach concludes this section of the video when we see the man, after walking into the ocean, floating in the water. The image conjures up ideas of rebirth and cleansing, causing the viewer to think about what may possibly await us on the other side. On another level, the juxtaposition, with the boy sitting in front of the liquor store, calls to mind thoughts regarding a lack of mobility. It makes me think of students I taught who lived less that one hour from the Mississippi River. It turns out that these students, in high school, had never seen the river before. They had possibly never even been out of their community less than sixty miles from the Mighty Mississippi. Coupled with surveillance, this creates a community that becomes locked into a specific area, eventually possibly even turning inward as in “Gangland.”

The video concludes with “Misconceptions 3,” a song that samples Nas’s “N.Y. State of Mind.” By sampling Nas’s song, Lecrae links his song, and ultimately the video, to Nas’s Illmatic (1994), an album that, like James Baldwin’s essays on Harlem, provide the nation, and the world, with a view of life within the communities that Nas and Lecrae resided within. Nas’s song draws upon images of criminality in the community, police presence, and the effects that those issues have on those who strive to do their best while living in substandard conditions. (Look at my post on Vern E. Smith’s The Jones Men for more on this issue.) While the entire song contains images that we could unpack here, I want to focus on a specific line that highlights what I have been discussing. In the second verse, Nas raps about the Queensbridge Housing Projects, “. . . each block is like a maze/ full of black rats trapped plus the island is packed.” Here, he compares the housing project with incarceration (block) and dehumanization (rats). Since the island (Rikers Island) is packed, Queensbridge will have to do for containment.

In “Misconceptions 3,” Jackie Hill Perry calls back to Nas in the third verse. She begins by asking a series of questions:

They told me to rap: What’s that?
Is it tracks? Is it facts?
Is it trap? Is it rats?
What metaphor? Is you ready for the medic stored inside it?

Perry’s focus in the verse is different from Nas’s, but she asks what the role of rap actually is. By referencing “trap” and “rats,” she brings to mind Nas’s line of people being trapped in mazes like rats, dehumanized and restricted. Ultimately, Perry concludes that rap becomes a tool that can lead to change, much like Nas does when he references Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” in his own song.

Concluding, I want to take a second an point out the concluding scene in the video. The gang initiate from “Gangland” finds his comrade on the street, dead. His bike is the one that the camera follows at the start of “Misconceptions 3.” The video partly traces his journey to a secluded spot where he finds a gun buried in a cigar box. He picks the gun up and then rides away, presumably in search of the killers. However, the video ends with an image of him throwing the gun into the water. Watching this scene, I could not help but think about other African American texts that presents guns as symbols, possibly of manhood. Richard Wright’s “Almos’ a Man” immediately came to mind. Rather than using the gun, though, the boy throws it away, signifying that manhood does not reside behind the barrel of the gun.

There is so much more that I could discuss here; however, that would take a very long time to do. After you watch the video and listen to the songs, let me know what you think in the comments below. I’m interested to hear your thoughts about this video, specifically in relation to Beyonce’s “Formation” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.”

 

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One thought on “Lecrae’s "Deja Vu" and "Misconceptions 3" and Time and Place

  1. Pingback: Interminable Rambling

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