A Conceptual Metaphor Analysis of 'I Know'

Mar 20, 2016

We need to understand why rappers use words like “copping” to stand for buying drug or use the language of food “bread”, “cheddar”, “dough”, to stand for money. We need to understand why in rap lyrics we constantly trip over novel conceptual metaphors.


Like most upper-middle class youth growing up in the 90s, I grew up with Yo! MTV Raps. I grew up in what has been termed by some as the “golden age” of rap music. I grew up listening to Dre, Tupac, Naughty By Nature. I danced at friends parties, grinding to 2 Live Crew with Uncle Luke telling us that “Oh we were horny, we will love you long time.” Even though I didn’t even know what the song was talking about, I just knew it was the jam and we all lost our minds to it. I flexed, I went back and forth with Aaliyah, I shooped with Salt ‘N’ Pepa like the best of them. I remember in 96 when I moved from Lagos to America, the soundtrack of that summer was the Fugees, Nas featuring Lauryn Hill: If I Ruled the World, Blackstreet featuring Queen Pen — No Diggity, it was an awesome time. Fast forward a decade and I graduated from dilettante to advanced beginner, I think the moment of my transition came when two separate worlds collided.

I was reading Bram Stocker’s Dracula, I was at the chapter where they were in the asylum and they came upon the zoophagous character R.M. Renfield who had an encounter with Count Dracula. Around the same time, I was once again revisiting the majesty that was The Fugees The Score, somewhere on that album I came upon the same word zoophagous. I was like “Oh Snap! Get outta here, did he just say what I think I heard, did this dude just say zoophagous? Word.” That moment of logophilic experience would have a lasting impact on my Computer Science world. From that moment, I started paying deeper attention to rap lyrics, I felt there were nuggets in there to be had for those that were diligent enough to study. This study led me to start thinking deeper about the nature of computation, especially how I could use computation to kick my study into hyper-drive.

Fast forward some more years and the gift that is The American Gangster album dropped. Unlike most people, I really lived for that album. Most folks think that album is a pass, but for me, it was everything. I got hooked on the narrative of piece. It’s one of those albums that you have to experience as a unified whole. You listen to the songs sequentially. The whole piece tells the tale of the rise and fall of Frank Lucas, a big time heroin dealer in the “cocaine 80s,” Harlem,New York City. Its full of soulfulness, its full of grit, its full of luscious horns, and rich celebration of success as encapsulated in the song the Roc Boyz, (And the winner Is). . . But by far, one of my favorite songs of that album is I know.

This essay is an attempt at unraveling some of the conceptual metaphors that are embedded in that song, until I build a computational model for conceptual metaphor analysis, we will just have to make due with doing it by hand. In the mean while, if you feel like you have the skills to build such a system, hit me up on twitter @omojumiller. If you’ve read this far, then you are into this kinds of things and you can find my analysis here