Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Nas and The Lotto

I switched my motto, instead of saying **** tomorrow/
That buck that bought a bottle could have struck the lotto/

- Nas

This line from Nas' classic debut album Illmatic always struck me as one of the best in Rap history. Both for what it's able to convey in a succinct fashion, as well as the aesthetic construction of the lines, both as written words and how they fit the beat.

However, it is worth noting that Nas suggests trading one bad habit for another. As any knowledgable gambler can tell you, the lottery is an atrocious value for your dollar. For every $1 you put in you stand to get back approximately $0.5, on average. So playing the lottery is ostensibly throwing away money. However, it's still a better value than $1 spent on liquor if that liquor is part of an alcohol problem, which costs the entire dollar with no expected return, and much expected loss even beyond the immediate financial cost. If he could have found a comparable, interesting, clever way to say "that buck that bought a bottle could have bought a sandwich" or "helped to start a business", then the line would have slightly improved.

Footnote: "****" is a 4-letter word which, in this context, means 'forget about', or 'to hell with'. In this context the language he uses is actually necessary and optimal as I can think of no comparable alternative that can fully capture the meaning. This choice of words also preserves the polysyllabic rhyme structure in sublime fashion.

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