It Ain't Easy
One of my favorite acts on the Rhymesayers Entertainment roster is Brother Ali. He’s not a rapper, he’s a lyricist. When people tell me things like, “Rap is crap,” Ali is the one I recommend they check out and rethink their life decisions.
I like to evaluate hip hop music through the lens of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), as I usually select a verse and expand upon a topic or two. However, Brother Ali’s entire song “It Ain’t Easy” is worth examining herein.
The setup of this track is Brother Ali having a discussion with someone whom he loves, perceivably a friend, though possibly a romantic interest. The outro indicates that perhaps a person became upset when discussing politics at a social event.
Rather than engaging in mutual verbal combat—as is increasingly the case upon the sociopolitical landscape many of us traverse—Ali attempts to persuade the individual with an appeal to connection, understanding, and vulnerability. Without further ado…
I did it again, huh? Yeah I know.
I’m writing you a song though.
It goes something like this...
You said, “One love, you can’t un-love.”
I don’t know what it is you’re trying to run from.
Like, you just, you tryna unfriend me in real life? (Uhh)
I want it all real, nothing fake please.
I don’t want to wonder what your handshake means.
I don’t need to say everything I think I must.
My ego’s trying to ruin everything I touch.
What I mean though, or what my point is,
That you’re much more important than my point is.
If I win an argument and lose your heart, Lord,
Hit the bullseye on the wrong dart board.
Want to thank everyone for being patient with me.
It’s a journey that I’m on, I pray you take it with me.
And to quote myself that’s what this is about.
“We live, learn, and figure it out.”
Oh my God, now...
Throughout my years of hip hop appreciation, the phrase “one love” has been used to indicate unity. Though graff writers, breakers, DJs, and emcees don’t always see eye-to-eye, this unifying phrase has kept the four elements of hip hop intact.
Brother Ali reminds whomever he’s addressing that the two people are unified, as un-loving one another isn’t an aim of the words to follow. I advocate this practice with clients through use of open, honest, and vulnerable communication.
Being open entails not going into the conversation with a predetermined conclusion. Through the free flow of communication, an open mind is willing to consider other perspectives and allows one to change a point of view when appropriate.
Being honest involves not intentionally misleading the other person. When we’re honest with ourselves and others, we may be less likely to become irrationally emotive during a conversation.
Being vulnerable means not merely providing bland details during the course of discussion or remaining emotionally unavailable. Some people relate this to the experience of empathy, though I think compassion and understanding better define what vulnerability may achieve.
Ali highlights that through the position of “one love,” the lyricist can’t make sense of the other person’s actions. The other person’s behavior is perceived as being conflict-driven.
As I’m all too familiar with this process, conflict can be useful for destruction, though it’s not so great for constructing relational bonds. Speaking with connection-based language is how Ali approaches the discussion.
Rather than simply pointing out the other person’s flaws, Brother Ali admits his own shortcomings by saying, “I don’t need to say everything I think I must. My ego’s trying to ruin everything I touch.”
This highlights two REBT points. First, the entertainer expresses familiarity with his should, must, and ought statements and how they may not serve him well. Rigidly demanding that others must obey our whims may not be the healthiest, most helpful strategy to use when striving for connection to others.
Second, Ali confesses that his own interests are flawed. This is akin to the concept of unconditional self-acceptance in REBT. Using vulnerability with his friend, the Rhymesayer is able to help ease the defenses a person may employ if perceiving an offensive topic.
In fact, the emcee openly declares that his relationship with the person is far more important than whatever gotcha point Brother Ali could use to dunk on his friend. Sure, Ali may win an argument though the victory isn’t worth the cost of a companion.
One of my favorite portions of the first verse is how the lyricist thanks not just his friend, though everyone for their patience with him. Ali admits that his process of growth is ongoing and expresses hope for people to remain in his life as he tries to figure out self-improvement.
He doesn’t express fear about others potentially choosing to exit his life, which often manifests by “what if” statements fired rapidly within the mind. Likewise, Brother Ali doesn’t inflexibly demand that others must accept him.
Rather than catastrophizing or awfulizing, Ali reminds himself of an effective belief by expressing, “We live, learn, and figure it out.” And when does he say this can occur? “Now.”
It ain’t easy when it’s real.
Just don’t leave, because I still need your patience.
And hear me when I say this,
It ain’t easy when it’s real.
In my heart, you know I feel.
All your greatness and baby we can make it.
I truly dig how Brother Ali lays out the hook. “It ain’t easy.” Oh my, how I promote this message in my sessions with clients. So often, I hear about how implementing REBT outside of session is “hard.”
Who lied to you? Who told you psychotherapy should be easy? What social media app did you use in which you learned that therapy must be comfortable? Which source deceived you about how the process of change ought to be easy?
Change? “It ain’t easy when it’s real.” Just as Brother Ali urges his friend not to leave, because patience is required during the process of growth, I encourage by clients to push through the discomfort and see the therapeutic process to its desired and expressly stated endpoint.
“And hear me when I say this, it ain’t easy when it’s real.” What a powerful chorus for a song, and one worth repeating!
I want the real love, not the false kind,
Not the one that need perfectness at all times.
When it seems most difficult to keep me close
Is probably the time that I need you most.
I let you down though, I didn’t mean to.
Even the people who try, we get weak, too.
And when you said we were family, I believed you,
Because I needed so bad for it to be true.
Now is my heart that way? Would I try to betray?
Is there any such thing as an honest mistake?
If what you need and what I have don’t match,
That’s when we need the love thing to fill those gaps up.
Ali begins his second verse by clearly expressing his goal. While we cannot prescribe how others should behave, I think it’s important to clearly communicate expectations.
This affords others the opportunity to agree, disagree, compromise, or reach some other conclusion. Without first understanding what it is we desire, it may be virtually impossible for others to know what we want.
Regarding his goal, the lyricist rejects perfectionism. As well, he advocates acceptance of his flaws while admitting how he let down the other person. If this doesn’t represent vulnerability, I challenge you to find a better hip hop example that does.
Perhaps my favorite portion of the second verse is Ali’s use of the Socratic Method, as he uses disputation questions to better understand what role he played in the situation. This is a wonderful example of personal responsibility and accountability.
Highlighting differences by saying, “If what you need and what I have don’t match,” Brother Ali advocates the practice of love to help accept the matter at hand. Understand that love in this regard is an exercise and not simply an emotion.
It requires effort. “And hear me when I say this, it ain’t easy when it’s real.”
(You tryna save the world, right?)
Yo, I’m a hot mess and if I’m honest,
It’s not just one event but a process.
If I’m tryna get out here and protest,
Let me first save the world from my foolishness.
Let me guard my heart from its harshness,
Try to rid my truth of its falseness.
If your beauty is closer than an arm’s length,
You’d be hard pressed to tell me that it’s farfetched.
I know I hurt you though, you took it personal.
But what’s love if the essence isn’t merciful?
And I see no need for us to live with regrets.
I’d rather just forgive and forget.
Oh my God, now.
One could miss the eloquence with how the lyricist initiates the third verse. More of a question asked in the background, independent of the message, Ali acknowledges what he believes the person’s intentions are. “You tryna save the world, right?”
Whoever the other person is—friend, love interest, family member—doesn’t matter as much as what the individual’s aims are in this regard. One who tries to save the world has an extraordinarily challenging endeavor to undergo.
Identifying the daunting task upfront is a form of steel-manning a person’s argument. It’s a good faith attempt at expressing one’s understanding of the matter at hand.
If it’s true that Ali’s friend seeks to elicit change and advocate development of whatever condition is being discussed, Ali manages the person’s expectations by reminding of how flawed the lyricist is. He urges the person to consider how not a sole action is as important as collective deeds overall.
As well, the emcee urges, “If I’m tryna get out here and protest, let me first save the world from my foolishness.” Those familiar with activism may understand how emotive calls to action and the madness of crowds isn’t always represented by rational forethought or helpful behavior.
Brother Ali exercises appropriate restraint by expressing how he first needs to focus on where he can effect change—in the sphere of control—before subjecting the world to his vengeance. This applies to whether or not the imagined conversation relates to social justice or relational discord.
The lyricist admits the impact of his actions and how the other person interpreted the behavior. This isn’t a simple “sorry” and a shift to another topic song-and-dance. Rather, Ali acknowledges his role in the situation and implores the other person to be merciful.
If the entertainer’s companion is willing to forgive, Brother Ali suggests they keep no record of wrongdoing. And when does he request this solution occur? “Now.”
I was thinking; maybe not debate politics in the pool.
Nah, just because it’s your daughter’s birthday party, I just… you know.
No, I feel you. Yeah, but nah, but, yeah.
Yeah, word up, email me about that.
You said, “One love, can’t un-love.”
I don’t know what you think you’re tryna run from.
You said, “One love, can’t un-love,” tryna run from.
Said one love, love, love.
Said one love, love, love.
Said one love, love, love.
I considered not including the outro, though I think the message herein is as important as any other element of this track. Ali brings the conversation to a conclusion by considering the appropriateness of setting.
Not every venue is suitable for the complexity of the matter contained in the song. Likewise, not every discomfort we experience in life must be taken to the halls of social media for review. I question whether or not such action joins or divides in the end.
Brother Ali completes his message with a reminder of unity. He does so by using the basic structure of an essay (introduction, body, and conclusion), tying together his message and reminding the person why the lyricist’s stance matters.
This can be a useful approach to effective communication. When our emotions enter a conversation, or if there are distracting noises around a swimming pool, clearly expressing the overarching goal may be helpful.
If you’d like to know more about effective communication, not opting to take the easy route, and you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, and hip hop head from the old school, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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