Saturday, March 04, 2006

Diggin' the Scene with a Gangsta Lean 

A patron wanted to know the artist of the song containing the lyrics ‘Diamond in the back, sunroof top/ Diggin' the scene with a gangsta lean.” Through a little research, we discovered the song was a one hit wonder in the 70s by William Devaughn entitled "Be Thankful For What You Got" (1974). It has since been sampled in several rap songs, most notably by half-pint Eazy-E in the N.W.A. classic Gangsta Gangsta, which happens serendipitiously to be on my Ipod, sandwiched somewhere between Air Supply, (Pipin' Hot) Bread, Enya and The Little River Band. As you know, librarians are nothing if not full of street cred. I had always wondered myself where the rather mellow excerpt, which is sung in sweet falsetto, originated. It's used with such jarring effect in the middle of that gritty, violent and angry song. Although the sample seemed so out of place, so harmonically incongruous and dissonant, it worked well within "Gangsta Gangsta." It was catchy enough to lodge itself in my memory, to the extent where I would find myself humming it.

Lyrics from the William Devaughn song:

Though you may not drive a great big Cadillac
Gangsta whitewalls
TV antennas in the back
You may not have a car at all
But remember brothers and sisters
You can still stand tall

Just be thankful for what you've got
Though you may not drive a great big Cadillac
Diamond in the back, sunroof top
Diggin' the scene
With a gangsta lean
Gangsta whitewalls
TV antennas in the back

The diamond in the back refers to the diamond shaped rear window of certain makes of Cadillacs popular in the inner cities during the 1970s. Although the message of the song is a positive one of non-materialism, Devoughn still rather wistfully decribes the Cadillac in loving, lingering detail.

However, it is a much more life affirming message than the murderous and “life ain’t nothing but bitches and money" message of the NWA song in which its sampled. NWA also twisted the classic R&B Express Yourself, a song about individuality, healthy non conformity and the courage of artistic expression, into a much more violent, cynical, crude, message full of thuggish bravado. Perhaps this is a reflection the level of anger and alienation that has pervaded in the inner city and they're trying to turn the prior message on its head. Or, the songs are familiar and in the popular collective consciousness and they're capitalizing on its catchy hook.

From Gangsta Gangsta:

Police tried to roll, so it's time to go
I creeped away real slow and jumped in the six-fo'
Wit the "Diamond in the back, sun-roof top"
Diggin the scene with the gangsta lean
Cause I'm the E, I don't slang or bang
I just smoke motherf**kers like it ain't no thang

Ludacris samples Diamond in Back song to justify a life of crime.

Hmm, what about that pimpin'? It's good tippin'
Tax free, and I know a lot of people that love to screw
Yeah, it's just a way of the world, with boys and girls
I'm adjustin' to my environment
This government cheatin' us, so I'll cheat 'em back
Why can't work feel like retirement?

Diamond in the back
I wanna (sunroof top)
I wanna (diggin' the scene with a gangsta lean)
I wanna (diamond in the back)
Could use a (sunroof top)
Sho' wanna (diggin' the scene with a gangsta lean)
I wish I had a (diamond in the back)
I wanna (sunroof top)
I wanna (diggin' the scene with a gangsta lean)
I wanna (diamond in the back)
And I wanna (sunroof top)
I wanna (diggin' the scene with a gangsta lean)

Gangsta, gangsta, gangsta...

i love librarians. this is seriously cool. gangster lean was jostling around in my head and I couldn't remember what it was from. then I heard it on NPR tonight in a DC go=go mix. Google brought me to you where I got the original artist AND a citation to NWA's Gangsta Gangsta with the sample!!! I love you.
E-40 ( 40 water) used it as well from the album "federal" I wanted to know who used it first, federal is from 1992 or 3 I believe.
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