“Reality Used to Be a Friend of Mine”: Philosophical Hip Hop

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The trippy alternative hip-hop duo PM Dawn is a footnote in musical history, but for a brief time in the 90’s they were on top of the charts with their blend of new age dream imagery and mellow beats.  In Reality Used to Be a Friend of Mine, a less popular follow-up to their number one single, Set Adrift on Memory Bliss, lead vocalist Prince Be’s contentious and doubt-filled relationship with an anthropomorphized “Reality” brings him oddly close to the frame of mind of the famed philosopher Descartes, in the first of his world changing Meditations on First Philosophy.

First we see how an initial faith in superficial reality collapses, and a new determination to see outside the box emerges:

SEVERAL years have now elapsed since I first became aware that I had accepted, even from my youth, many false opinions for true, and that consequently what I afterward based on such principles was highly doubtful; and from that time I was convinced of the necessity of undertaking once in my life to rid myself of all the opinions I had adopted, and of commencing anew the work of building from the foundation –Descartes

I used to be friends with reality
She used to be a pal real close to me
But she tried to hide from me what was in store
Tried to house me but a house has doors –PM Dawn

Next comes the questioning of the evidence of the senses:

All that I have, up to this moment, accepted as possessed of the highest truth and certainty, I received either from or through the senses. I observed, however, that these sometimes misled us; and it is the part of prudence not to place absolute confidence in that by which we have even once been deceived. –Descartes

But she let the cross burn and it was my turn to say,
“The roses are red, and violets are blue,
and things are gonna stay that way, too”
And I was the nut to believe all of this
I figured life would just hand me bliss
Now I have to worry about certain doom
Or will I be here tomorrow afternoon
Now ask me about the future. –PM Dawn

There is a flirtation with insanity:

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors as to cause them pertinaciously to assert that they are monarchs when they are in the greatest poverty; or clothed in gold and purple when destitute of any covering; or that their head is made of clay, their body of glass, or that they are gourds? I should certainly be not less insane than they, were I to regulate my procedure according to examples so extravagant. –Descartes

I was insane and the picture was crazy
So the relevance here seems to be a bit hazy –PM Dawn

It culminates a full-scale rejection of unquestioned faith in the entire solidity of the universe:

I will suppose that the sky, the air, the earth, colors, figures, sounds, and all external things, are nothing better than the illusions of dreams, by means of which this being has laid snares for my credulity –Descartes

Looking and searching for a shred of proof
Knowing any time this world could go poof
Now what might happen without me knowin’
That’s why I find myself always tip-tip toeing –PM Dawn

So where do you go after questioning everything? Triumph: PM Dawn followed up Reality with the sublime hit love ballad Die Without You, while Descartes, in his second meditation, would go on to produce the Cogito, one of the most famous statements in all philosophy, “I think, therefore I am.” Controversy: Descartes’ work was banned by the University of Utrecht, while Prince Be was thrown off his own stage after questioning rapper KRS-One’s pedagogical bona fides. Tragedy: Prince Be left the music business after suffering numerous debilitating strokes, while Descartes perished from a respiratory infection while attending Queen Christina of Sweden.

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