M.I-King-James-official-art

The world of music is a game of thrones, right? And you play to win or die. If there’s anyone who knows the truth of this statement, it’s M. I.

In his latest single, titled “King James,” he speaks about this violence lying at the heart of any high-stake hustle, whether it’s entertainment or politics.

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Of course, M.I.’s evocation of violence is metaphorical, still it’s tapping into very classic ideas about sovereignty or kingly power.

When you’ve been out of the game for 4 years, how do you rise up from having laid low for so long and enter a battle that seems to have gone on without you?

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M.I.’s answer?  “Four years I’ve been away, still nothing this hot popping today.” The battle didn’t go on without him. It couldn’t. As the king of African rap, he alone has the right to declare war or peace. In his absence, no hits were made.

There are always people willing to test the power of a returning king. Is he still as strong? Has he lost his bite? Well M.I. warns them: “[I’m] Still gonna blow this market away.”

The first verse ends with the declaration:

and all you rappers Iʼm back…
Youʼre dead!

A direct message to usurpers. Of all the King’s enemies, usurpers—the throne thieves—are the worst.  They never survive the return of the king.

In the very catchy hook, Ice Prince continues the theme of violence running through the entire track with the image of the king as a wild beast feasting on haters.

One thing I beg you, Jah bless me haters!
Keep them alive so they can see when I am greater!
Provide for them food so I can feast upon them later!
Haters are minority, We are balling major !

This link between the king and the beast is a very old philosophical concept. Think Thomas Hobbes, the 17th century political philosopher who imagined the ideal king as a Leviathan, a monstrous beast.

It all feeds into this idea that the king is someone who has an unlimited capacity for violence. When and how he chooses to use this power to kill is what differentiates the awful tyrant from the benevolent sovereign.

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If M.I. has only been hinting at his kingly status in the previous verse, in verse 2 he declares, “Call me King James, the Lebron of verses.” In this line, he also states what is at stake in the game of rap thrones—verses, poetry, language, music.

He who wins becomes the sovereign of poetic artistry. As the biggest cat in the castle, he gets to set the bar as high as he wants. He gets to decide on what is good and bad rap.

In the next line, he says: “Me versus you is worthless.”

Again this is a sovereign reserving for himself the right to declare war. He has no problem putting up a fight in the industry. But there’s nothing like a king fighting other kings. That’s real war.

But having to fight brigands and petty warlords and weak rebels gets boring and lame.

He continues: “I am he whom all you rappers worship.” Here he shifts from a metaphor of kingship to a metaphor of divinity.

As god, he is worshiped. As king, he can’t be defeated.

But at some point he interrupts the grandstanding and thinks about the people. At the end of the day, what is a king without his subjects?

His return is not just about shutting down rebels but fulfilling the people’s desire for a true king—“the streets is feeling, the streets is yearning.”

By the last two lines of the third verse, there’s no need to couch things in metaphors. At this point, it’s clear what is at stake—the throne. “Get out of my throne,” he thunders, “get out of my throne.”

But there is this beautiful moment when he realizes that he’s just made a needless command—“wait…nobody is sitting there.”

The chair is already empty, right? It’s been empty, waiting for his return. Isn’t that the point he’s been trying to make?