Weren’t the British the colonizers of the U.S.A.?

This is a great question! After all, Americans mostly speak English. We’ve all heard about the original 13 colonies and how the British came to set up shop in the new continent. But the story goes a little deeper than that. Let’s look at some of the powers that had their hands in the American pie.

To start, there were a bunch of failed colonies along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts by the English, Spanish, and French early on (include Scandinavian Vikings if we really want to go back). The Portuguese and the Basques were also frequent visitors along the Atlantic in the 1500s and before, though they didn’t stop to settle.

The English/British

Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Flag of England.svg
  • the first to establish permanent colonies in the U.S. (not the continent, though)
  • had two main original settlements that grew and expanded out of New England and Chesapeake Bay
  • at first, were mostly groups like the Puritans seeking more religious freedom, or poor servants and farmers mostly from England
  • some colonies got lots of Irish-Scots settlers and expanded west into Native American territory, others got many more diverse settlers
  • we all know about the Atlantic slave trade

The main thing to think about with the British is that their culture, language, and society were the most influential early on in American history which is why the states maintained the English language and other cultural influences from the British after so long.

The Spanish

Flag of Spain (1785–1873, 1875–1931).svg
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg
  • established some of the first settlements still inhabited in the U.S., including the oldest at St. Augustine, FL
  • owned huge expanses of land in North America, including a portion of the Deep South and the whole western half of the current United States (mostly Luisiana or Alta California), even some areas of Canada, not to mention some territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands
  • they either lost or gave up a lot of this land to England or the U.S. over the centuries
  • states Oregon, Montana, Nevada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, and Florida names all come from Spanish words, literature, or colonies

Spain had a pretty big cultural impact on the Gulf Coast and the American Southwest. Many place names (Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Antonio, Santa Fe, etc.), lots of architecture, and cultural events come from Spanish and Mexican traditions.

The French

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Pavillon royal de la France.svg
  • had lots of colonies spread out through the central U.S. and east Canada
  • had lots of fights against England and confusing conflicts and alliances with Native Americans, they later gave up most their land to the English or Americans

France also had a big impact on place names (New Orleans, Des Moines, St. Louis, Eau Claire, Vermont) and cultural events, such as Mardi Gras and Cajun culture in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.

The Dutch

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Flag of Netherlands
  • set up colonies mostly in present-day New York and New Jersey
  • the British took over their main city, New Amsterdam, and changed it to New York, but Dutch culture stuck around in those rural areas for centuries after

The Dutch paved the initial way for America’s biggest and most iconic city. Some of its boroughs and surrounding towns are even named in honor of the Dutch (Brooklyn or Breuckelen, Staten Island or Staaten Eylandt, Harlem or Haarlem).

The Swedes

Flag of Sweden
  • made a small colony that only lasted 17 years before being sucked into New Netherland
  • the Bronx (after Bronck’s River) is named after a Swedish captain

Sweden’s colony was short-lived, but they introduced the first log cabins and some of the oldest churches to the future nation.

Also, let’s not forget Russia who colonized Alaska. The U.S. later purchased it, though, and most of the Russians left.

As you can see, there were a lot more European powers that settled the U.S. other than the English. Despite the obvious impact of the British here in the States, we also had a few other countries reaching in for a chance to colonize the future U.S.A.

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P.S. I know that the Native Americans were already on the continent, and the colonial powers took these lands away from them. This includes First Nations in Alaska and Polynesians in Hawaii, among others. This answer is just to focus on the aspect of European colonial and cultural influence in the U.S., not to focus on the destructive aspect of their settlement in the region.

Kenai Peninsula's Historic Russian Churches - Northwest Travel Magazine
Russian Church in Alaska: from here
Old Swedes Church - First State National Historical Park (U.S. National  Park Service)
Old Swedes Church, Delaware: from here
A Stroll Along State Street in Albany, New York —
Dutch architecture, New York: from here
Home Architecture 101: French Colonial
French colonial architecture, Louisiana: from here
Historic Architecture in California
Spanish architecture in California: from here
New England Architecture | Guide to House Styles in New England
English colonial architecture, New England: from here

Check out these resources and other articles here on CultSurf!

Colonial History of the United States: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonial_history_of_the_United_States#Russian_colonies

First Arrivals of Europeans to Settle the U.S.: http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/amerbegin/settlement/text1/text1read.htm

Origins of New York City Borough Names: https://www.amny.com/news/nyc-boroughs-names-1-32096222/

“Alright” [Kendrick Lamar]

Flag of the United States

Videos down below–>

Alls my life I has to fight, n****

  • This phrasing comes from old depictions of how black slaves or servants would talk during earlier American history. These days, sometimes people talk like this to make a joke or even a serious reference to working like a slave. It’s a very informal and cultural form of phrasing, and really only people within a trusted community would make this reference with each other. Otherwise, it can sound racist or offensive.

Alls my life I…

Hard times like, “Yah!”

Bad trips like, “Yah!”

  • A “trip” can sometimes mean an event or situation that is happening. “We had some bad trips” may not mean a bad vacation, but an actual bad situation he was going through. A lot of people say “Like” as an interjection before they give more information or reveal what someone said. It can replace the word “said” in this sense in casual speech. “Michael was like, I need a quarter. And I was like, No, Michael, I don’t have a quarter.” (Correct: Michael said, I need a quarter.)

Nazareth, I’m f***** up

  • In Christianity, Jesus resides and grows up in Nazareth. To be “F’d up” is the same as “Messed up,” “Jacked up,” or “Screwed up.” It means that something is wrong with him, he has serious problems, or has been damaged very badly. This goes for both the physical and emotional senses. It’s more profane, so try to use those other options if you can 😉

Homie, you f***** up

  • *”Homie, you’re…” “Homie” is another word for friend or someone you trust.

But if God got us, then we gon’ be alright

  • *”Then we’re going to be…” One use of “Got” is to say that you have someone’s back, or you’re looking out for their wellbeing. “I got you, man.” {I’m here to support you, man.}

N****, we gon’ be alright

N****, we gon’ be alright

We gon’ be alright

Do you hear me, do you feel me?

  • To “feel” sometimes means to understand what someone is saying on a deeper level. “Do you feel me?” (Do you understand what I’m saying?) “Yeah, man, I feel you.”

We gon’ be alright

N****, we gon’ be alright

Huh? We gon’ be alright

N****, we gon’ be alright

Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright

Uh, and when I wake up

I recognize you’re looking at me for the pay cut

  • His managers look at him when they want to cut down someone’s salary.

But homicide be looking at you from the face down

  • *”Homicide is looking at you…” This is an incorrect but very common way for people to speak in vernacular language. “I be doing… They be watching…” It’s very common in street or community settings but is very unusual in a work or professional setting. “From the face down” means all over your body or completely.

What MAC-11 even boom with the bass down?

  • *”What MAC-11 even booms…” A MAC-11 is a kind of machine gun pistol generally with a silencer. This may compare his rapping (making noise, being provocative) to the sound of booming gunshots, since he can’t make a point or provoke anyone with a quiet song, low bass.

Schemin’, and let me tell you ’bout my life

  • *”Tell you about…” “Scheming” here probably refers to people making plans or plotting against him. “Scheme” is normally used for big plots against a large entity, but we use it sometimes to talk about a personal attack too.

Painkillers only put me in the twilight

  • “In the twilight” refers to a weird state between night and day. He’s not fully conscious, present, etc. Also, in case you didn’t know, “painkillers” is a casual way to call pain medication.

Where pretty p**** and Benjamin is the highlight

  • *”are the highlights.” Benjamin Franklin is on the $100 bill. Money and women had been a big part of his life, or fame in general.

Now tell my momma I love her, but this what I like

  • *”This is what I like.”

Lord knows

  • This is a popular exclamation, especially among the religious or Christian community. It’s said when an outcome is unknown or when something is too much to understand. “Lord knows what I’m going to do to pay the rent.” Also used to state a fact. “Lord knows I have worked harder than anyone else in the company.”

Twenty of ’em in my Chevy, tell ’em all to come and get me

Reaping everything I sow, so my karma come in heaven

  • *”So my karma comes…” To “reap what you sow” is an old adage that means you get what you give, or what goes around comes around. To “reap” literally means to collect, as with crops. To “sow” literally means to plant or put seeds in the ground.

No preliminary hearings on my record

  • “No preliminary hearings” means he doesn’t want him or his group to testify. Everything they’ve done remains silent, and the true judgment will come in the afterlife.

I’m a m************ gangster in silence for the record, uh

  • “For the record” is another way of saying “By the way,” or “Just so you know.” “I had a lot of fun this weekend, for the record (just so you know).” It has a double meaning here since the record can be a musical recording as well.

Tell the world I know it’s too late

Boys and girls, I think I gone cray

  • *”I think I have gone…” “Cray” means Crazy. It was made popular by Jay-Z and Kanye West in their song “N**** in Paris.”

Drown inside my vices all day

Won’t you please believe when I say

Wouldn’t you know?

  • This is a funny way to express some interesting information. “Wouldn’t you know? Jerry bought himself a pony! Isn’t that weird?”

We been hurt, been down before

  • *”We’ve been…” To be “down” here means to feel down, sad, or hurt.

N****, when our pride was low

Lookin’ at the world like, “Where do we go?”

N****, and we hate po-po

  • “Po-po” is a slang term for the Police.

Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho’

  • *”They want to kill us dead in the street for sure.” “Fo sho” is a colloquial way to pronounce “for sure.”

N****, I’m at the preacher’s door

My knees gettin’ weak, and my gun might blow

  • *”My knees are getting weak…”

But we gon’ be alright

N****, we gon’ be alright

N****, we gon’ be alright

We gon’ be alright

Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright

N****, we gon’ be alright

Huh? We gon’ be alright

N****, we gon’ be alright

Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright

What you want you, a house⁠? You, a car?

  • *”What do you want, a house? A car?” This is another very colloquial way of speaking. “You want you a nice watch? He got him a good job!” This might come from “He got himself a good job!” but in a shorter version.

40 acres and a mule? A piano, a guitar?

  • This comes from a special order during the American Civil War when some freed black slaves were offered 40 acres of land and a mule as a sort of reparations (compensation) for their suffering. The order was only enacted for a short time before being dismissed.

Anything, see my name is Lucy, I’m your dog

  • This line is full of double and hidden meanings. Mainly, Lucy is a reference to Lucifer, the Devil. “Dog” in slang often means a friend, a person of trust, much like a real dog (It’s often spelled “Dawg” in slang, though).

M***********, you can live at the mall

I can see the evil, I can tell it, I know it’s illegal

  • In slang, saying you “can tell it” means you can identify it. “Does it look like rain outside? Hmm, I can’t tell it.” A similar phrase is, “call it.” “Hmm, I can’t call it.”

I don’t think about it, I deposit every other zero

  • “Zero” here refers to lots of money.

Thinking of my partner, put the candy, paint it on the Regal

  • “Partner” sometimes is used in referring to a close friend, and in this sense does not show any kind of romantic relationship. “Candy” refers to candy paint, or colorful paint used to paint cars. The car he talks about is a Buick Regal.

Digging in my pocket, ain’t a profit big enough to feed you

  • *”There isn’t a profit big enough…”

Every day my logic get another dollar just to keep you

  • *”My logic gets another dollar…”

In the presence of your chico… Ah!

  • “Chico” means Boy in Spanish. He says “boy” because it’s a popular way for some people to talk. It just means Friend. “I’m your boy, man, let me in. Kendrick is my boy, I should call him more often.”

I don’t talk about it, be about it, every day I sequel

  • “Don’t talk about it. Be about it.” This is a popular way to tell someone to do what they say they’re going to do. Similarly, “I’m about it,” means that you do what you say you’re going to do. “Are you about it? Oh, he’s not about it.” He turns the noun “sequel” into a verb. This is very common in English, even if the dictionary definition of the word is not a verb. He does bigger and better things every day, basically. Makes a sequel of his previous day.

If I got it then you know you got it,

  • *”If I have it then you know you have it”

Heaven, I can reach you

Pat Dawg, Pat Dawg, Pat Dawg, my dog, that’s all

  • Pat Dawg is apparently a cousin of Kendrick’s who died. It’s also a double meaning with the term, “pat dog,” like petting a dog.

Bick back and Chad, I trap the bag for y’all

  • These are other references to dead friends of his. To “trap” is to make money, basically. It usually means to make money selling drugs or doing other illegal things, but nowadays it’s used for making money in general. “Bag” is a slang term for Money.

I rap, I black on track so rest assured

  • Again, he turns the color black into a verb. This could mean he “acts black” in his music, which is a thing here in the U.S. Acting stereotypically black. He might also mean that he represents black culture or issues in his songs. He could also just “black out” or be out of his body in a higher consciousness when he raps. It’s an interesting line. “Rest assured” is a way to tell someone to be calm, you don’t have to worry. “Rest assured, we will find the man who did this to you, ma’am.”

My rights, my wrongs; I write ’til I’m right with God

  • “Rights” and “wrongs” refer to good and bad deeds or actions. Rights can also be civil rights. To “be right with someone” is to get on their good side, or to have no problems with them.

Wouldn’t you know

We been hurt, been down before

N****, when our pride was low

Lookin’ at the world like, “Where do we go?”

N****, and we hate po-po

Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho’

N****, I’m at the preacher’s door

My knees gettin’ weak, and my gun might blow

But we gon’ be alright

N****, we gon’ be alright

N****, we gon’ be alright

We gon’ be alright

Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright

N****, we gon’ be alright

Huh? We gon’ be alright

N****, we gon’ be alright

Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright

I keep my head up high

I cross my heart and hope to die

  • “Cross my heart and hope to die,” is an old swear that people, especially kids, used to say to make a promise or make a wish. It’s still said nowadays, but not in such a serious way as before.

Lovin’ me is complicated

Too afraid of a lot of changes

I’m alright, and you’re a favorite

Dark nights in my prayers

.

  • This song has a lot of identification with the rights of black Americans and social injustice. Police brutality, political deception, and black on black violence are brought up in bits throughout the lyrics. There is heavy use of more stereotypical “black” sayings and wording here, as well as the repetition of the N-word. This gives the sense that Kendrick is communicating directly to black people, almost in an exaggerated way, but the language is very authentic and direct. The rights and treatment of minority groups in the U.S., especially those of black people, have been a hot-button topic and caused controversy for decades up until now. There are also lots of personal themes in the song; he might feel guilty for giving in to his vices (i.e. money, sex, drugs, etc.); religion and judgment are also heavy themes here. In the end, he is definitely making a statement!

  • Also, a note: Alright and All right are accepted forms, though I’ve seen All right used more in older literature.

There’s a lot of slang in this song! Did you get it all? Let me know what you think.

Listen to the song here:

Here’s the full music video if you’re interested:

Why are they called “Americans?”: An alternate history

Let me tell you about the history of a great nation called Estados Unidos de América.

A long time ago there was a German cartographist called Martin who liked to make big world maps. He noticed there was a huge stretch of land to the west that everyone was calling the “New World,” but it didn’t have a true name yet.

“I can’t leave this continent alone when there are great names like Africa and Asia.”

In deciding what to call this New World, he landed on the name “America” because of a Florentine explorer he’d heard of, Amerigo, who had correctly identified the land as a new continent, unlike the previous explorers. Amerigo himself was likely not aware of this honor while he was alive.

Fast forward some 200 years; Martin’s maps become famous and the name America has stuck. Several European powers have scouted out new lands in the “unclaimed” continent and set up colonies all around. Spain is no exception.

The colonies do well for some time, when suddenly, a few things change. After several conflicts earlier in the century against the English, Dutch, and Austrians, Spain decides to impose a bunch of ridiculous taxes one after another on their American colonies. This upsets many of the settlements all over the continent, as expected. After a little public taunting, Spanish soldiers open gunfire on a group of locals in the city of Veracruz. Again, not a good decision.

As a result of high taxes and tariffs, not to mention the attacks on their Mexican brothers, Cuban rebels go and dump sugar and silver exports that were on their way to Spain into the port of Havana. This event triggers similar actions in Santo Domingo. As a response to the Caribbean rebellion, the ports of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and others along the coast of New Spain are completely shut down. To add flame to the fire, Spain requires the criollos (the white American colonists) in all of its territories to provide housing for royal troops inside of their homes.

Radical colonists, now tired of Spain’s patronizing, shoot and kill several Spanish troops while they attempt to stop liberation rebellions in Mexico and Peru. Knowing of this, Spain goes and burns the ports at San Juan, Lima, and Veracruz to intimidate the criollos even more. Now there is a sense of urgency and togetherness for all the Capitancies General and Viceroys that, until then, didn’t feel a strong sense of unity. Those in Mexico and Peru worry about high tariffs on exports. Those in the Caribbean region and New Granada worry about their slave trade. Chile and Río de la Plata stay out of it for fear that Spain will invoke grave consequences. Plus, they weren’t the ones attacked in the first place.

New Spain, New Granada, Peru, Venezuela and the Caribbean join forces and defeat Spain. They gain full independence at about the same time. They function on the continent as independent states but have a hard time governing people, managing their economies, and organizing an effective military. After some years of trouble, colonial leaders create a convention to decide on the future of their former Spanish lands. They gather together the states’ brightest thinkers, most successful warriors, and best strategists and politicians; the Delegates.

Weeks go by of heated debates, unsatisfactory compromises, and time away from their homes and families. In the end, the delegates agree to unite their states as a single nation, but can’t agree on a name for their country. Just weeks ago, they were all independent states with their own names and special histories.

“We should be called Mexico since we were the first ones settled.”

“No. New Granada is the most centrally located, so we should take the name.”

“Peru is best since we are the richest.”

“Look at us, Venezuela! We have the strongest ports and access to the Amazon.”

The Caribbean delegates decided to just stay quiet at this part of the debate. One thing they all could agree on was not naming their new nation after Spain. In haste, they sign their constitution with “la Declaración unánime de los siete Estados Unidos de América” in Castillian — the seven United States of America — with the intention of changing it later on. After all, there are no other independent states on the entire continent to care about it, and the name came from an Italian guy 200 years earlier who had no ancestral ties to the land anyway.

More years go by, and the Estados Unidos expand their territory from the tundras of North America’s arctic to the Andes in the south. As more Spanish lands are liberated, they choose to join (or are bought by) the growing Estados Unidos. The British, French, Portuguese, and Dutch colonies all gain independence over the course of centuries. Even the Río de la Plata and Chile eventually become independent from their Spanish rulers, although peacefully, unlike their bigger neighbor.

After centuries of conflicts, from civil wars and civil rights movements, slave revolts and resistance from slave owners, Napoleonic wars, two world wars, and industrialization, the old Estados Unidos de América never does end up changing their name. By chance or luck, they didn’t divide and have become the most powerful nation in the western world, one of the most powerful on Earth. Their culture has won the world over from countless innovations in music, science, film, literature, sports, and many other fields. Though, they have a nasty habit of getting involved in other countries’ affairs.

The non-Spanish countries of the Americas assume that Estados Unidos de América must be arrogant; they do call their country América for short, and themselves Americanos. Why not Unitedstatesians, since that would be more appropriate? But, come on, estadounidense doesn’t sound right in Spanish. To make things worse, the other American countries learn that North and South America are one continent since they’re connected. But Estados Unidos learns they are distinct continents since, like Africa and Eurasia, the two are only connected at a very small point.

Not knowing this, the Americanos see no harm in their name and unknowingly offend tons of people outside their borders. Besides, it’s practical for them. They’ve been calling themselves Americanos since they were born and for almost 500 years. The poor other countries of America wish they would just change their name already. Why did that land of ignorant fools, who can’t even tell the difference between Jamaica and Guyana, ever get to “own” the name of the continent that belongs to all of them? Not like the names of their precious countries. The names that were given by people who were not natives of the land and that gave names of people and saints who they themselves never knew.

The other countries continue to question this for eternity. The Americanos, especially those that don’t travel or study, remain oblivious to the fact that their name causes any controversy at all.

The End.

“So Ambitious” [Jay-Z, feat. Pharrell]

Flag of the United States

Video down below –>

Yeah _ 3 in the morning on the Westside highway, top down baby

  • Top down” refers to being in a convertible top car.

F*** y’all _ The motivation for me was them telling me what I could not be _ Oh well

  • “Oh well” is a common response to an ironic situation, or to a situation that is out of your or another person’s control. It’s meant show that something was not a big deal. “No! I dropped my ice cream. Oh well, I’ll just buy another one.”

This a special dedication _ I wanna thank you for the fuel

  • *This is a special dedication. “Fuel” here refers to something that drives Jay-Z to be successful, much like fuel in a car.

No really, thank you

  • “No really” is said to confirm that you were serious about what you said. “Joe, I like your artwork. No really, I do.”

I felt so inspired by what my teacher said _ Said I’d either be dead or be a reefer head

  • “Reefer” is another word for cannabis, or weed. We often add the word “head” to say that someone is an addict, such as with Crackhead, Cokehead. It’s a terrible thing to say to a student though. Poor Jay.

Not sure if that’s how adults should speak to kids

  • *I’m not sure…

Especially when the only thing I did was speak in class _ I teach his a**

  • *I’ll teach his… A note, when people use the “a” word like this, they don’t literally mean “I’ll teach his behind.” Unless it’s a clear reference to a person’s butt, the “a” word is meant just to emphasize the statement. “I’ll teach him.” /correct/ “I’ll teach his a**.” /more emphasis/

Even better’s what my uncle did _ I pop my demo tape in and start to beat my head

  • “Pop something in” here means to put it in, so he put the demo tape into the tape player. “Beat” here means to move his head to the rhythm of the music.

Peeked out my eye, see if he was beating his _ He might as well have said beat it kid, he’s on the list

  • “Peek” is to look secretly or subtly at something. Here he changes the meaning of beat. “Beat it” sometimes is used to tell someone to go away, get lost. It seems that his uncle didn’t approve of his music, so he’s on “the list” of people who didn’t approve of him in the past. Similar to a “black list.”

It’s like I’m searching for kicks like a sneaker head

  • He uses two meanings of “kicks” here. “Searching for kicks” refers to him looking for excitement or adrenaline. But “kicks” can also mean tennis shoes. Again, “head” is used here to compare him to a shoe addict. He plays on the two meanings of kicks in the same line.

He gon’ keep pushing me until I reach the ledge _ And when I reach the ledge I’ll tell ’em all to eat a d***

  • *He’s going to keep… “The ledge” is the final point of what someone can handle under pressure, much like the edge of a cliff. That last part is just an insult that people say sometimes.

Take a leap of faith and let my eagle wings spread _ Spread spread

  • “A leap of faith” is to put yourself into a situation in faith that it will all be okay. Eagle wings remind me of the song “Fly Like an Eagle” by the Steve Miller Band. He won’t fall, but he’ll fly like an eagle. Figuratively, of course.

The motivation for me was them telling me what I could not be _ Oh well _ I’m so ambitious _ I might hit two sisters

  • “Hit” can be used sensually to say that you will sleep with someone. “Sisters” and “brothers” is usually an affectionate way for the African American community to refer to each other, or to black people in general.

Hey, I’m on a mission _ No matter what the conditions _ Forget the personal issues _ When you know what I been through

  • *What I’ve been through

Hey if you believe it _ Then you could conceive it

  • You have to believe in something to make it happen.

I had to lace up my boots even harder _ Father is too far away to father

  • “Lacing up bootstraps” is a common idiom that means you have to be strong and endure through something that is difficult. He’s saying his dad was not around to be a good father.

Further-more of the kids either smoke reefer _ Or either move white, there’s few writers in my cipher

  • He separates the word “furthermore” so that it makes sense in the lyric. *More of the kids… He uses a different pronunciation of “either” here to rhyme with cipher later on. Both pronunciations of “either” and “neither” are acceptable in English, by the way. To “move white” is to sell crack or cocaine, not that you’ll need to know that. *There are few writers… A “cipher” is a set of raps that a rapper does, or a situation where rappers come together to practice rapping with each other.

So they made lighter

  • They made it lighter, so good rappers started to fall away while he had more success. The bad artists were dropped like bad weight.

My type of dreams seem dumb _ They said wise up, how many guys’a you see making it from here?

  • To “wise up” is to become wise. *How many guys do you see… To “make it” is to have success in general, with the idea of making it out of the ghetto (poor/bad neighborhoods) in this case.

The world don’t like us, is that not clear?

  • *The world doesn’t like us. “Us” most likely refers to black people or poor/underprivileged people. It can also refer to people who make rap music, since rap was much less accepted when Jay-Z was younger than it is now.

Alright, but I’m different _ I can’t base what I’m gonna be off a what everybody isn’t

  • *Off of what everybody… This is a great message. Be unique!

They don’t listen, just whispering behind my back _ No vision, lack of ambition _ So wack!

  • “Vision” here refers to having dreams, wanting to do something big in the world. “Wack” means that something is not good, not cool, or has bad quality. He’s referring to people who don’t have ambition, or didn’t take the time to listen to his dreams.

Motivation for me was them telling me what I could not be _ Oh well _ I’m so ambitious _ I might hit two sisters _ Hey I’m on a mission _ No matter what the conditions _ Forget the personal issues _ When you know what I been through _ Hey if you believe it _ Then you could conceive it _ Had a couple of meetings no offers yet _ Maybe I ain’t good enough for these offices

  • *Maybe I’m not good enough…

Back to the drawing board, ducking officers

  • “Back to the drawing board” is a common phrase meaning to get back to work on a plan that failed. “Duck” here means to avoid or dodge something. Like when someone throws a rock at your head, a friend might yell, “Duck!” so that you can avoid getting hit. Basically, he’s going back to illegal activity since he’s trying to avoid police officers.

It’s all good ’cause the streets is A&R’ing this

  • “A&R” (Artists and Repertoire) is a division of a record company that is responsible for scouting and searching for new talent. He means that the streets (the common people from his community) are going to support him, since he doesn’t get support from big music companies. “It’s all good” is a great way to say that things are fine, especially after a setback. “How do you feel?” “I feel a little sick, but it’s all good. I’ll feel better tomorrow.”

So with or without any of your involvement _ We coming for all of this, respect my conglomerate _ I went from pauper to the President

  • “Pauper” is a very poor person. It’s not used very much anymore, but was made popular by old books and stories that tell of poor people turning into kings and nobles, especially from Britain. *We’re coming…

‘Cause every deal I ever made set precedent

  • To “set a precedent” is to set a standard for how things should be done. It means that he made big changes in the industry.

N***** thought I’d fall without old buddy _ Oh buddy, what I do is make more money

  • “Old buddy” is a common way for people in some communities to refer to a person indirectly when they don’t want to say the name. Same with “old girl,” and “old dude.” “Oh buddy” is a way to show excitement or to emphasize something. It’s usually used as a joke or to be funny. “Oh buddy, we’re gonna have a good time!”

Dear Teacher, your probably somewhere near a speaker _ I’m balling outta control, can you hear my sneakers?

  • To “ball” is to have lots of success and make lots of money. In sports, it means to play extremely well, which is why he asks about his sneakers (sports shoes). He’s not really playing sports, but it’s a reference to the two meanings of balling. *Balling out of control. “Dear [Person]” is the way we usually start a formal letter in English. It’s as if Jay is sending his message directly to his teacher by song.

F*** y’all _ (Word up, Fly, High)

  • “Word up” is a way to say that what you’re saying is true, or to call attention to what someone said. “Hey, word up. I’m about to make some real money.” To be “fly” is to be successful, stylish, have nice clothes, and have a winning attitude all in one.

The motivation for me was them telling me what I could not be _ Oh well _ I’m so ambitious _ I might hit two sisters _ Hey I’m on a mission _ No matter what the conditions _ Forget the personal issues _ When you know what I been through _ Hey if you believe it _ (Then be) _ Then you could conceive it (You see?)

  • “Do you see?” is a popular way to ask if someone understands.

The motivation for me was them telling me what I could not be

Listen to the song here: