This week, I’m treating you to another display of my analytical acumen when it comes to conceptual hip-hop albums. Mind you, I actually wrote this nearly three years ago when this album was released. Long before RapGenius rose to prominence as the SparkNotes of hip-hop lyrics (but, I still got love for you, RapGenius). It’s never seen the light of day…until now.
The loose storyline for “Oneirology, in a nutshell, is that the three rappers fall asleep, dream, wake up, go back to sleep, dream again and then fully awaken. That’s as simplified as I can make it. Of course, there is more to it than that. Lots more.
The lyrics are personal and there is social commentary on relationships, racism, and societal ills. Remarkably, they manage to have those ideas fit within the framework of the album’s conceptual design. Like holding a blood sample under a microscope for careful and clinical inspection, the album’s lyrics and music will undergo the same process in order to fully understand how it cohesively operates.
As with my previous analysis, you can listen to the album in full right here:
Also, to aid with your reading, here are a few definitions to help:
Ember: a.) A glowing or smoldering piece of coal or wood, as in a dying fire. b.) The fading remains of a past emotion.
Hypnopomp: A hypnopompic state (or hypnopomp) is the state of consciousness leading out of sleep, a term coined by the spiritualist Frederick Myers. Its twin is the hypnagogic state at sleep onset; though often conflated, the two states are not identical.
Incubi: Demons assuming male form and prey on human females for sexual intercourse while the victim is sleeping.
Oneirology: a.) The systematic and quantitative study of dreams within a scientific framework. b.) Studying the process of dreams in order find a correlation between the functions of the brain and dreaming. c.) Understanding cerebral operating mechanisms during dreaming.
Phantasmata: From Greek phantasma. Images of the soul, mental images, something existing in perception only; Mental imagery (varieties of which are sometimes colloquially refered to as ‘visualizing,’ ‘seeing in the mind’s eye,’ ‘hearing in the head,’ ‘imagining the feel of,’ etc.) is quasi-perceptual experience; it resembles perceptual experience, but occurs in the absence of the appropriate external stimuli.
Predormitum: a.) The stage of semi-unconsciousness preceding actual sleep. b.) The period of waning consciousness interposed between the waking state and sound slumber.
Succubus: A demon assuming a female form and preys on human males for sexual intercourse while the victim is sleeping.
And now, the hard part:
01 Predormitum (Prologue)
This is the album opener. The term “Predormitum” means that one is partly awake and partly asleep, almost akin to a drug-induced haze. It starts off with a vocal sample, “I had a funny dream the other night, I was a-floating on a cloud”. With the beginning of the album starting off at the end, it indicates that everything that happens after this track is essentially a flashback. Then the beat drops after the vocal sample. With booming drums and a lush background, a Notorious B.I.G vocal sample from his classic track “Juicy” is scratched in, “It was all a (dream)”. The (dream) portion was actually cut out, which is inconsequential because most hip-hop fans know how that lyric goes. In any case, it coincides with album’s concept. In this track, Natti, Deacon and Kno are describing their individual dreamscapes.
Natti feels uncertain. But he also feels euphoric, which for him means that time does not matter. In a dream, nothing Earthly matters. The limitations of reality have no meaning in a dream: The lowest of the low can rise high and fly above (“Peasants become pheasants and soar part acceptance”). Natti uses words with strong meaning and connotations to create his verses, he compares his journey to consuming hallucinogens (psychotropic references are made frequently throughout the album). However, as euphoric as he may be feeling, it’s actually the cause of his lingering uncertainty, making him feel “cornered like the puss that crusts one’s eye” (which is caused by dry red-eyes, which itself is caused by marijuana use *hint*).
Deacon comes in for the second verse. For him, the dreamscape is eternal darkness, a darkness which frightens him because it may cloud his desired path of inner (re)discovery. There’s no light, but using unpleasant weather conditions as a simile allows him to provide imagery for his mental canvas. He compares the dreamscape to an ocean with hurricanes that destroy the land in its path. And the sharks in the ocean are those that may bring him harm: His nightmares. He’s scared that this darkness could vanish at any moment without him gaining any new knowledge of self. He knows that dreams are symbolic, he wants to find the meaning within those symbols to better understand himself. But again, the darkness is discouraging. He wants to recover and relearn parts of himself that he’s seemingly forgotten about.
Kno references Langston Hughes’ “A Dream Deffered” poem for his verse. His imagery describes blights which imply a degree of pessimism. He uses the color of white to describe the blemishes in his dreamscape: A white dove with a clipped wing and a smudge on a white glove. White, as a color, is defined as pure and pristine. In this context, to besmirch it is to prevent flight. For Kno, this is akin to a nightmare. He can’t even see or hear the night. He talks, but no one listens. The phrase he uses, “fiends in herds who yearn for the white crumbs”, seems to be a reference for the listeners who crave Kno’s words/verses due to his sparse vocal appearance on the last few CunninLynguists releases (that’s what I get out of it, but I could be wrong). He describes the night as intoxicating , but it can definitely leave you unfocused.
Deacon steps in once more to describe the mind. When undergoing any process of dreaming/unconsciousness, you explore your own mind. He calls it a mosaic, hard to get into and hard to get out of. Making sense of what you’re seeing to gain a sense of peace is difficult, but not impossible. So for now, he’s trading his grace, his virtues so he can maintain his hatred. He believes this trade-off will allow him to learn about himself in his impending dream journey. If he learns nothing, then he’ll consider himself a disgrace.
Natti then invites the listeners to witness the soul-bearing journey of self-discovery. He wants to shine light on thoughts that only appear in dreams. He talks of how the “world twirls on an index”, which implies the concept of lucid dreaming in which you take control of your dream. But moreover, he’s saying “the world is yours, not just in a dream”. And in your hands, you can see it all.
Next, Kno and Natti trade lines back and forth. Kno says that “glaring at the ground, you can see where the end is”. So to keep it from ending abruptly, have close your eyes, dream and learn. Since the listeners (and the rappers) are learning, they’re now students. The music is the desk, and there will be plenty of lessons. The music and lyrics will be the notes for the lessons.
02 Darkness (ft. Anna Wise)
On this track, only Deacon and Natti provide verses. A vocal sample repeating the word “Darkness” comprises the intro. Both emcees have now exited the predormitum stage and have fully entered their respective slumbers. And while they may be asleep, they’re not actually dreaming yet. They’re in total darkness while the dream (though there are visual glimpses like in the last track) has yet to take form. Deacon starts the first verse off.
Deacon’s in his darkness and can’t find answers. He compares his inner search to that of Atlantis, which means he’s going to have to look deeper to find it. Regardless, he works hard at it but nonetheless feels entrapped by the lessons he knows will inevitably come. He sees brief visions and looks closer to decipher them, but all he sees is a reflection of his own shadow, his dark side. He reminisces on way he has used alcohol to clear his mind of such things, as well as marijuana to subsequently calm him. He claims to see himself within his enemies, implying he is his own enemy. He is running toward the answers in his mind, but his heart’s not in it. But he’s come too far to turn back now. He’s stuck in the darkness, scared to view and accept his true self. Despite his fear, he knows that being receptive to new and different ideas is key. If he maintains an open mind, if he’s ready, then his darkness will be illuminated.
Natti starts off the second verse. He wonders if sleep is when we see and acknowledge our hidden true selves. At first, I thought he was describing the process of shattering illusions to get to their true selves as destroying a glass house with stones. Then, I remembered that the term “glass house” is a reference to hypocrisy. Is Natti being a hypocrite or destructive? I’d say destructive. In his dreamscape, he’s in a frenzied war zone to discover his true self, which appears to be rife with sin. He compares himself to the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, laughing at those in bad situations. A drug reference is then mentioned, lending more credence to my belief that the hallucinogens are part and parcel the cause of the dreams and imagery described herein (“A caterpillar ‘shroomin’ usin’ fumes from my bong/to cloud a land wondering what fuels what is wrong”). So he ingested drugs to get himself in a higher state of consciousness to aid him in better understanding of all that is wrong with him. His vices prevent progress, mentioning two of the Seven Deadly Sins (lust and wrath) to illustrate the point. He’s aware that all of his dark urges and desires comprise the darkness he’s in. To express those thoughts externally, to actually feel them is the key shattering his own delusions of self. In his dreams however, he tends to view himself with a degree of megalomania (“Opinions of my health, myself and wealth go off the chart”). As a result, he’s skilled at keeping these dark thoughts in control while in reality. Outside of him (while sleeping, mind you), everything is silent. But inside his mind, there’s a war every night.
After the verses, Anna Wise sings the outro. She repeats, “Don’t give me that bullshit….don’t let it take over you”. She’s like a muse (maybe something greater) reminding the dreamers to not let the darkness (their own or otherwise) overtake them. Lastly, a vocal sample repeats the phrase, “mushrooms trees and I was thinking”. Another drug reference, duh!
This track appears on the surface as a musical interlude. It’s actually an interlude of the storyline. The term “Phantasmata” is a Greek derivative for “mental imagery”. It’s showing that the dream is taking shape. It’s being shaped into a nightmare, in fact. The vocal sample in the beginning describes the nightmare as evil, with devils and creatures all reaching for him trying to take him down to their level.
The album cover is a clear illustration of that assertion. There’s a woman sleeping naked under covers with several demonic hands of varying sizes reaching to grasp her, they’re like incubi. The woman shares a striking similarity to the one used on the cover for A Piece of Strange, however I can’t fathom the correlation, if any.
Anyway, the man in the vocal sample represents the dreamers. He wants to look away from the evil he sees and be enthralled by the beauty that he knows is hidden somewhere. Another vocal sample is inserted afterwards: “He’s lost the crown, he’s falling down”, meaning that the dreamer has lost control over their own dream and have allowed it to descend into a nightmare. An infomercial vocal sample about dreams states that our basic desires (basically, any of the Seven Deadly Sins) appear disguised in our dreams.
The dream is now starting, ending the track with the sound of clicking clock that smoothly transitions into the sound of an image projector.
04 Hard As They Come (Act I) ft. Freddie Gibbs
Here is where the dream starts, albeit as a nightmare. The title contains “Act I” in parenthesis. In theater and literature, Act I is the exposition, the introduction of the premise and situation. Kno and Natti are joined by Freddie Gibbs, with each verse representative of their respective unfettered ids. They express committing violent acts, fully aware of the consequences and without a shred of remorse. But as stated in the previous track, the basic desires in dreams “are modified by regrouping, substitution, displacement and other devices that disguise them“.
In this nightmare, the desires of the three men are disguised as social commentary on societal/worldly troubles. In the first verse, Natti is rapping as alcohol. He uses alcohol-related wordplay and metaphors to describe himself and how he affects his targets. He tells his target that they should have self-control when they go to him (drinking), they’ll either be lively or very dead. He will be around when they wreck their car, and even compares how dangerous he is by using guns and bullets as double-entendres: “Send shots to your liver, I deliver you death ” or “Too reckless, now you helpless from the rounds you caught “. He’s dangerous, but people still want him…so much so, that he’s government-sanctioned. The U.S. Prohibition couldn’t even keep him suppressed. He is bravery, but too much of him means that he’ll “teach your ass a lesson, outlined in chalk/Have you hostage in the hospice, high and trying to walk “.
Freddie Gibbs’ verse personifies crack-cocaine. His verse has him acting as a devil-on-the-shoulder of a drug addict, acting as his one true friend when he really means him deadly harm. Gibbs’ compels his host (the drug addict) to steal money and the personal possessions from family to feed his addiction. He describes the progression of his addiction (“You tried to sell me but you took a hit and eventually you just couldn’t stop“). At first, Gibbs was simply cocaine powder, frequently used to attain a high level of intoxication. With the advent of “an event when you got hip to cookin’ me into them rocks“, the addiction became deadlier. Gibbs tells the addict not to give a second thought about his children, bills and possession. The only thing he has to worry about is continuing his habit at all costs. He supports his subterfuge of friendliness by remind him (and the listener) about the history of death he carries with him, causing death since the 1980’s amongst drug dealers, addicts and affecting whole communities. And while they all die at each others hands, Gibbs (crack cocaine) proudly proclaims himself as the true murderer, death itself.
Kno raps as HIV, using clear double-entendres to make an incurable disease look like a street-deadly gangster. The drug addicts on the street corner sharing needles are also sharing Kno. People are too frightened to get HIV since the 1980’s since anyone can have it. Kno describes himself as being guaranteed to destroy anyone he spreads to. If people tell that they have HIV, then they’ll be shunned and counting the number of while blood cells they have left (“Cuz next to me you’re looking quite frail & if you snitch you’ll be counting your days in white cells“). His last line in the verse is that he gives a “new meaning to going viral” since he’s part of US federal government’s scheme to eradicate the poor population through drugs and STD’s. He says he’s “on America’s dick/Uncle Sam fucks the poor and it’s making em’ sick“, phallus references and made throughout the album, keeping in line with the Freudian aspects of dreams.
The three rappers modified themselves in this nightmare to be more equipped to commit hostile and violent acts. There’s a vocal sample throughout this track saying “gonna kill them”, signifying that when death comes, it comes hard. The OutKast vocal sample at the end of the track contains a line to “blow out our backs” leads to the next act.
05 Murder (Act II) ft. Big K.R.I.T.
This next nightmare is a near-identical segue to the previous track. The urge to commit violent acts has transitioned into a desire to commit full-blown murder. It’s apt that the title is referred to as “Act II” since the second act is where the lowest point is reached and the objective is further away from being reached. Also, the verses remain social commentary. Both verses appear superficially as arrogant braggadocio rapping, but from the perspective of the guises that are used to modify their deadly desires. Guest star Big K.R.I.T. raps the first verse while Natti performs the second. Interestingly enough, Deacon and Kno do not appear in this sequence.
The chorus is a vocal sample that encapsulates the theme: “If I could get away with murder/I’d take my gun and I’d commit it”. Here the dreamers are giving into their murderous impulses, admitting and acknowledging them in their dreams, even if those desires are in a disguised format. In K.R.I.T’s verse, he is the President of the United States (possibly George W. Bush). He goes on to describe violent actions in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, bombing foreign countries and killing innocent and guilty alike. Destroying his own countries economy, allowing clandestine drug dissemination, and engaging in cronyism are all par for the course of being the President. K.R.I.T.’s verse is that it’s easy to commit these kinds of acts if you have power and are in a position of power that allows for it.
Natti’s guise is religion (not any in particular). He seems to describe himself as very Machiavellian in that he uses the worship from the masses to divide and conquer. For him, it’s a game to manipulate people to further his own power, it doesn’t matter that anyone dies in the process. The innocent and the guilty are one and the same, he makes the people his minions, scaring them into doing his bidding while promising a heavenly reward in the afterlife. And the wars that have religion as the impetus only serve to make war-profiteering companies (ex: Halliburton) prosperous. He gains influence by distributing fear, he’ll tell his followers what to do, but won’t practice what he preaches. He influences preachers, politicians, devout religious followers all in the name of murder justified by religious zeal.
Since Natti has been part of both acts of this nightmare, it harks back to “Darkness” where he wonders if his dark side is his true self. This is the war he described, he has to go through the acts to gain a deeper knowledge on how to shatter these images.
06 My Habit (I Haven’t Changed)
At this point, both rappers have surpassed the violent urges of the last two tracks and are now in a dream where they are acknowledging a vice they both share. As stated in “Phantasmata”, the vice is disguised in dreams. The opening vocal sample is pleading for someone to accept this habit, and then states that people have called him a shame for this habit. Natti opens with the first verse.
Natti speaks on his addiction, which isn’t bad but his family disapproves. He smokes marijuana to take his mind of off his disapproving family and to indulge his actual habit: Rapping. He uses drug addiction as an extended metaphor for his love for rapping. He’s not getting any sleep, so he tries to take himself away from rapping, staying home for a few days to give himself a break. His efforts are futile, because his love for the art form constantly pulls him back whether he’s at home, in a studio, or a club. Also, other hip-hop artists that he keeps as his company are his enablers. He fiends to hear beats for him to rap over, his habit makes him happy and doesn’t really harm anyone, making him wonder why anyone cares.
Deacon continues with the metaphor in his verse. He wants to rap constantly, even in his waking moments. He says that his habit is more soothing than any actual drug. When indulging this habit, he draws on all aspects of humanity (the best and the worst) to inspire his raps. He also uses musical terminologies as wordplay for his addiction: Black notes, the smaller black keys on a keyboard or piano (kilos); Bass (free-base). He has an arrangement, an accord of sorts with rap that he views as peculiar.
The song itself is a love-letter for hip-hop in metaphorical form. The ending vocal sample is an admission that they have an addiction, but it’s not a problem. Neither men are going to change or compromise their shared habit.
07 Get Ignorant
In this dream sequence, all three men are veered further away from their violent aspects and are making an indictment of society. The vocal sample utilized for the chorus is about the downside to chasing success, leading one to engage in ignorant behavior to attain it. Natti begins the first verse, citing his frustration at chasing the American Dream. He seems to contemplating violent behavior, but fears that it will be a reflection of stereotypical behavior assigned to African-American males. He speaks of the current situation with unemployment in America, which has driven people to either take their misfortunes with a grain of salt or commit criminal acts. He attributes these misfortunes to the avarice of the rich, whom he feels control the world. The so-called American Dream frustrates him because it seems to be one preserved for the wealthy. He thinks about starting a drug laboratory to achieve it, but eventually contemplates losing his temper instead…becoming ignorant. What’s notable is that Natti doesn’t snap, he thinks about it but never acts on it here. His journey through his dreamscape is teaching him about himself and he seems to be applying the lessons.
Deacons’s verse has him in the part of a model employee. He is dedicated to his job, remains calm and uninvolved in any office disputes. But office politics are affecting him nonetheless. His supervisor is a racist and a hypocrite and is tugging on Deacon’s last thread. He has enough self-control to not lash out and create a scene, so he seeks retribution in more subtle ways. His boss acts out of jealousy and superficial spite, firing employees simply because they have a better social networking page than him. His hypocrisy shows when he’s described as masturbating at work to pictures of Halle Berry. Deacon gets his revenge by disseminating pictures of his boss’ infidelity and a uploading a video of him disparaging Blacks. Of all of them at this point, it’s Deacon who is gaining the most self-knowledge in his dream. Redirecting his anger in this manner confirms this.
Deacon also does the third verse where he describes the obsessive-compulsion to attain success as conditioned in people early on. The idea is that success at all costs is what makes people matter, but they don’t learn the pros and cons of success until they’re older. Moreover, America has an almost voyeuristic obsession with success and failure, which would explain the preoccupation with reality television programs. He describes famous celebrities desperately trying to preserve their looks, spending exorbitantly, taking drugs, selling themselves out essentially. They have the potential in them do something more, something greater…but they’d rather be vampires feeding off of others.
Lastly, Kno’s verse attacks both superficiality and ignorance. Criticizing the obliviousness of society and how people immerse themselves in mass media entertainment, Kno takes aim at the glamour that they use to conceal their ignorance about larger issues. He also points out religious hypocrisy (“flip me off with the same hand you hold your Bible with”) and tells his targets that the way that they are living their lives cannot change their ignorance.
08 Shattered Dreams
Here, the dreams overwhelm to the point where they cause the dreamer to awaken. Natti has the only verse on this song; his verse reflects his uncertainty about his goals in life. He briefly wakes from his dream before going back to sleep. He thinks his dreams are somewhat tainted, so he seeks solace in strip clubs, drugs and alcohol (all vices that were previously touched on in “Hard As They Come (Act I)”). His memories of his happier times also bring him comfort. He wants love, but it’s always mixed with lust. The combination of which is an illusion, one that is easily shattered to pieces. He’s trying in vain to put it back together, but chasing dreams (even broken ones) is hard. However, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. He’s fully aware that the vices he uses to soothe himself only serve to reinforce his self-delusions. When he awoke from his dream, he felt confused but wants to go back more prepared. He curses the delusion before the chorus sets in which is mournful of missed opportunities with a fervent wish that they be made reality.
The final vocal sample describes broken dreams as being a part of life. Dreams are sometimes meant to be broken because that’s the part of the cycle to achieve them.
09 Stars Shine Brightest (In the Darkest of Night) ft. Rick Warren
In this track, the dreamers are learning how to take flight, to achieve their dreams. It has a significantly more positive feel than some of the previous tracks, providing inspiration to make ones dreams come true. Natti starts with the first verse, making references to light in contrast to the darkness described earlier. He says that the light is best seen when everything is pitch black. When the situation is at its most grim, he wonders who will rise to the challenge and who will not. Without struggle, there is no progress and without pain, there’d be no joy. The theme of this verse is Carpe Diem, seize the day. He’s encouraging the listener to do as he has learned, devour adversity give no thought to failure. He uses sailing and weather metaphors to convey the message that if you at least attempt to continue to make your dreams come true, then they just might.
The chorus sang by Rick Warren drives home the point of this sequence. The stars in the sky are the light, a guiding light to show the right path and enlighten the day.
The theme continues in Deacon’s verse with a similar arrangement to Natti’s. He says that the world is dark and lawless, filled with games with undefined rules. Everyone from all walks of life wants to achieve their dreams, but they must first go through the dark in order to shine. But more than that, he believes people can shine brighter than anything ever seen, uniquely. He goes on to say that you can do anything you want if you follow the light given off by the stars. For the last line, he uses the Egyptians as a prime example of using the stars as an aid to create ancient pyramids.
After the chorus, the track/dream makes a transition into a different instrumental. A third verse takes shape as Natti ties the previous verses together. This verse states that the light that guides people is their very dreams. If you can accept your cons, if you can accept that you are and can be selfish, then your struggle won’t be for naught. The mere acceptance of this fact is preparation for the struggle, and not to worry about those who doubt you. He urges you to let them be your encouragement.
10 So As Not To Wake You (Interlude)
This is the second interlude in the dream. It’s a transition into the next dream sequence. There’s a ticking clock noise in the background, possibly an alarm clock. On top of that, there’s the female vocal sample (“I tippy-toe across you each night, so as not to wake you”). The infomercial vocal sample later reappears to give more information about dreams. This time he says that experiences and dreams, despite containing some level of emotion and other sensory data, are mostly visual. All dreams are visual, even wet ones. The female vocal sample is meant to be a succubus for the male dreamers. Again, the sound of the ticking clock leads the track into its outro by lastly transforming into that of a projector showing the next set of images.
11 Enemies With Benefits (ft. Tonedeff)
The last track some experiences are personified visually, which is an appropriate segue into this seemingly sexualized dream sequence (read, “wet dream”). Here, Natti, Kno and guest star Tonedeff each cast their experiences and desires into as women. What’s more is that, on the surface, these women appear dangerously too sexual for each man. The women are a yin and a yang, so to speak. The chorus captures this love-hate relationship each man has with their dream. The scratched-in Inspectah Deck vocal sample (“trust me, we can make the scene turn ugly; you hate me or you love me”) could easily be representative of either the dreamer or their desires. The title is play on the term, “Friends With Benefits”, meaning a friendship that involves sex but no form of courting relationship.
Natti’s woman is a round-the-way girl. He is attracted to her, but knows that she’s bad for him. He wants her, but though they’re far apart, they often share a hatred for one another. She often acts irrationally towards him, listening to her equally hateful friends to have her harm him. He describes her dichotomy by juxtaposing her violent urges towards him with her sexual assets. He thinks she epitomizes irrationality, but he’s married to her nonetheless. She may love him, but she’s trying to kill him. She’s just “eye candy” as he describes her, the very kind of eye candy he likes. This goes along with the infomercial from the previous track, the experience is mostly visual. The first Freudian-phallic reference is made when Natti compares himself and his penis to Darth Vader and his light-saber.
Kno helms the second verse. In his wet dreamscape, everything is in form of a comic-book. Kno himself is rapping as Lex Luthor, then clarifies that he isn’t Rex Lewis, a reference to the 2009 film G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra wherein Rex Lewis is the real name of the film’s primary antagonist, Cobra Commander. The term Cobra Commander is a phallic reference in and of itself. Kno is fantasizing about his idealized version of his enemy’s girlfriend. According to him, she’s his ex-girlfriend with an insatiable sexual appetite. He nicknames her “X-Ray”, which is the first reference to her boyfriend’s identity. Her boyfriend is always by her side, but Kno considers him conceited and pusillanimous. He says he wears a onesie and underwear and thinks “he’s fly pullin’ stunts…”, the boyfriend is Superman. Although, Kno says he “gets the cleanest dome”, bear in mind that’s a double-entendre (oral sex and Lex Luthor having a clean shaven bald head). His ex-girlfriend is what he wants, but she’s killing him (his Kryptonite). In the last line of his verse, he reveals his ex-girlfriend to be Lois Lane. He defines his relationship with his enemy by the very thing between them: A woman.
Lastly, guest rapper Tonedeff takes the final verse. His woman is actually the record label he owns and operates, QN5 Music. He says she’s a “devil in a baby blue dress”. Baby blue is the color of his label’s logo. She’s a devil, but he’s “redressing her as an angel through sex”; meaning that he continues to work on his label until something good comes out of it for him personally (success). He chooses to keep at it out of choice, so he bears the brunt (if not, all of) the stress. There are times where he gives in and settles for temporary satisfaction, but he knows it’s not worth it. Tone remains uncertain at times if any of it is worth the struggle. He thinks that the woman and he are both crazy together and wonders why he’s still with her. She leaves him with intoxication that makes him want to do her against his own better judgments. He craves her and her advantages, but knows that she’s bad for him. Wants to quit her altogether, but he sees potential and has success in his sights even amidst the mixed signals he receives. There are times when he overcomes his doubts about her, and other times where we wonders if it makes him happy rationalizing why he’s still with her. He acknowledges that the blame falls solely on him because he knows what he’s getting into every time he does her (“you can always see the shape of the pan in the pie”). His primal urge is to do her with the hope that he doesn’t lose his mind in the process, which is sadly and inevitably what happens. His desire to achieve his dream despite the hardships and his own doubt harks back to track number nine.
12 Looking Back (ft. Anna Wise)
After the previous dream, CL are now reminiscing about past relationships and longings. Both Deacon and Natti are dreaming about women they know with whom they have (or have had) romantic relationships with. This is a sharp contrast to the dream in previous dream. There is more definite feeling here with less lust.
Natti verse is about a woman, but now he’s less confused about her. While there is sexual desire involved, this time it’s mixed with love as opposed to mixed feelings. He compares his relationship with this woman to one of business, a battlefield with give-or-take on both sides. Sex can be used as a weapon, as a land mine in his mental landscape. Too much sex can destroy the relationship. Regardless though, Natti’s sexual desire is fulfilled with this woman. When his feelings wear off, they depart from each other.
The hook and bridge feature Anna Wise’s return. She may represent the subconscious of the dreamers or something else entirely. In either case, her message on this track is that people would much rather be alone than be trapped in relationship devoid of passion.
Deacon’s verse seems to be about coming to terms with all he has learned on this journey. He considers his woman his muse, but realizes there’s more to their connection than mere sex. He knows that, as a man, he is hardwired for sexual activity, but he seems to consider that notion an excuse for his actions. He professes his new knowledge, successfully leaves the dream and awakens in reality. Now, just Natti or Kno are left in the dreamscape.
13 Dreams (ft. Tunji & B.J. the Chicago Kid)
The dream has almost reached its conclusion. While, at first glance, this track doesn’t seem to fit in the album’s story, it has relevance nonetheless. It seems to be a continuation of “Stars Shine Brightest (In the Darkest of Night)”, where the theme is achieving your goals no matter what. B.J. the Chicago Kid’s hook sums up that message: As hard as it can be, don’t stop pursuing your dreams/goals. Persistence is the key.
Guest rapper Tunji wants to achieve his goals, and believes the way to do that is planning and paving the way. He’s fully aware of his detractors, those who don’t understand what he’s trying to accomplish. He knows he is underestimated, but is not deterred. He also knows that in pursuing his dream, he’s going to make mistakes along the way. Because of that, he’s intent on making wise decisions. There are times when he wishes he could change his past, go back before he had a clear-cut goal, when no one took notice of him. For him, those times were simpler and less complicated. Regardless, he’s confident that he will win in the end. He stays positive to offset the negativity, using his inner pain to drive him.
Natti compares himself to Dr. Parnassus (from The Imaginarium of. Dr. Parnussus), a sly reference to the album’s concept: a journey through the imagination. Compares his sleeping mattress to an atlas, meaning he can dream anywhere anytime. He claims that it doesn’t cost much to live one’s dreams out. For Natti, his haters have no place in his dream. They have narrow vision, comparable to the screen a hand-held PSP device. He encourages fearlessness in taking center stage to allow the world to see you achieve your dreams. The bigger the dream, the bigger the audience. Natti says to aim high, but to bear in mind that the lavish lifestyle is not everything, it’s not the end result of achievement. In his dream, he has a choice: He can be rich with money or rich with life.
For the last verse, it’s Deacon (who has woken up and left the dream). With his moment of clarity, he associates his dreams to an intramural sport: Going past his own hurt in order to make it work for him. He’s learned that the bigger the dream, the sweeter the payoff (he calls it orgasmic). It should be noted that when he says, “dream big nigga, play that shit in IMAX“, he’s making a reference to the image projector sound that begins for nearly every song that represents a visual dreams (“Enemies With Benefits”; “Hard As They Come (Act I)”, et .al.). But to continue, Deacon’s belief in large-scale dreams allows him to subsequently believe he can do all things. The same applies to others, as well. It doesn’t matter who or where you are, dreams and ideas prepare you for life because they are the impetus behind your progress. But, he warns, don’t let your dreams confuse you…they have to be interpreted correctly. Dreams have just as much significance as nightmares. His final message is to let yourself be, grow and become what you shape it.
14 Hypnopomp (Epilogue) ft. Bianca Spriggs
At this stage, the dream is over. The remaining dreamers are actually in a transitional state between sleep and awakening. The voiceover in this phase is informing the listener of two Greek mythological gods and the role they play in dreams. Morpheus and Phobetor were born to Nyx (the goddess of night) and Hypnos (the god of sleep). Both brothers inhabit the Demos Oneiroi, the land of dreams. Morpheus is known as the god of dreams. He is also a shape-shifter, able to assume any form and appear in dreams. He can shape ones’ dreams and give form to the inhabitants of the dreamscape. He serves as a divine messenger in dreams, communicating messages from gods. Morpheus, in all his varied forms, encourages the dreamer to accept his message. He gives them a choice to follow him on a leap of faith. It is said those who became kings and heroes are the ones who rose to his choice. Because of the choice he brings, he’s called the “Destiny Bringer”. To deny Morpheus is to be overtaken by his brother, Phobetor.
Phobetor is the god of nightmares, fear empowers him. Whenever someone becomes afraid of their own dreams and nightmares, Phobetor feeds off of that fear and grows stronger. He is also a shape-shifter, usually becoming an object of terror. To face Phobetor is to face one’s own fear. He’s in sharp contrast to his brother in that he is called the “Dread Crawler”, forcing the dreamer to choose between him and Morpheus. It is only in the hypnopompic stage of sleep will the dreamer make a choice as to which god to follow.
Morpheus may have been in the form of the various guests: Anna Wise, Tunji, Tonedeff, et al. giving the dreamers the courage they need to face their own fears and not let the darkness take over them. He was possibly the informational voice in the Interlude tracks as well. Phobetor manifests himself in Act I and II, “Shattered Dreams”, and “Darkness”; wanting to take them further down into their nightmares. Deacon has chosen Morpheus and he was led out of hypnopomp and back into the waking world on “Looking Back” with a new strength and knowledge of self. He no longer has the confusion he exhibited on the first two tracks.
Natti and Kno have made their choices and are emerging from hypnopomp. The opening vocal sample is Morpheus, encouraging the right path as he is the light from the burning embers. It can now be said that he is the light mentioned on “Dreams” and “Stars Shine Brightest (In the Darkest of Night)”.
Natti is feels stuck in his own formless hypnopomp, at first believing that his journey has been for naught. He has chosen the path of Morpheus and trusted him to guide him, but remains uncertain. He thinks that that he’s in Purgatory. But suddenly, he receives his answer: For a moment, Natti is in his own idealized haven. He has looked Phobetor in the eye long enough to be able to perceive Morpheus, who takes a form Natti would recognize, that of actress Meagan Good. He receives a kiss, which serves a blessing and a confirmation that he chose well and is being rewarded for trusting in his destiny. He awakes with a clean slate, now destined from the hero or king-type of greatness.
The second verse is Kno’s hypnopomp. Nothing is as it seems. For him, it feels like a dream within a dream (Inception reference). He is seeing the inhabitants of the dream world as they truly are and it frightens him. He believes these images are indicative of psychosis, or maybe that of his choice. He chose not to face Phobetor, he lacks courage and is in the darkness. He dreads sleeping because of his nightmares. Even with his eyes closed, the prospect of sleep scares him. He sees a burning bush, which is Morphues giving him one last chance. He says he burns kush (he smokes weed) to fight off his demons. All his images are moons and morgues (a reference to death concept on his solo album Death Is Silent). Again, he remains in the dark. He claims not even Freudian or Jungian psychological theories can explain the choice he has. In his hypnopomp, his wounds equal his shame in not confronting his fear head-on. When he awakens, he feels as though a part of his soul has been ripped out of him.
The outro is Morpheus again, saying that the light (embers) can be seen no matter the distance. They illuminate the path for you to follow. The ticking clock is heard again until finally, awakenings. Everything has come full circle.