This is a breakdown of the Lupe Fiasco song Failure from http://www.thekoalition.com/lupe-fiascos-failure-breakdown/
It’s mean, soldier
Now let me put the streets down like steamrollers
- Steamrollers pave streets (“putting them down”)
With the CATS that push
- CATS refers to Caterpillar Inc’s steamrollers
40 ounces through the hood, like King Cobras
- King Cobra is a malt liquors, mostly commonly known for its 40 ounces and seen in the hood
See me sling soda
Cause the extra foam in the split is mixed
It’s really 36
- Double meaning: King Cobras are famous for their 40 oz, 36oz is the beer and the other 4 oz is the foam; 36 oz – a key of cocaine
Used to buy toasters and clips
- Nicknames for guns and ammo
You can tighten your circle or boa constrict
- Boa Constrictors are known for squeezing their prey (“tightening their circle”)
While you was lighting your purple, I was over the scripts
- While folks were getting high (“purple” refers to kush, weed, etc.), Lu’s eyes were over his glasses, studying up (“scripts”)
See, I couldn’t walk the walk, couldn’t really talk the talk
Had to get my talk to properly explain my walk
Cause this lack in talk had my walk looking off
Now I’m over the limp
Watch how they mugs drop when they see my Verbal’s able (That’s the Usual)
- Last two lines refer to revelation in The Usual Suspects when Palminteri drops his coffee “mug” and realizes that Verbal Kint is “able” to walk (he’s “over the limp”,)
When I was po’, I was lo
Now me and my chaps cop Purple Label
It’s Ralph Lauren on the Rap Laureate
- Po & Lo refer to famed designer Ralph Lauren’s “Polo” clothing brand. “Chaps” is a British term, which ties into Purple Label, Ralph Lauren’s signature British line.
Niggas brownnose, they are like Alf to him
- Alf is a brown alien from late 80s/90s sitcom ALF (who has a “brown nose”)
Runners at Interscope are not as stout as him
- Interscope is an record label while stout is a play on words and a reference to Steve Stoute, who once held an executive position at Interscope Records.
Please don’t enter scope
- Plays on “Interscope” from previous line
It’s gonna be a whole lot of IV’ing and respirating
- IV’ing is a play on words referring to Jimmy Iovine, one of the founders of Interscope Records.
If I lean out this window with Irene
- People used to call their guns by female names so they couldn’t be traced (like how a 9mm handgun is referred to as a “Nina”), which also ties into the previous line (getting shot, put in the hospital, being on IV’s and respirator systems)
Niggas as tall as Yao Ming
Is the foundation’s high beams and the antennas
It’s so serious every time I write my John Hancock like
Could damn near see Detroit
Niggas is scared of heights
- Serious is a play on words, a reference to the Sears Tower in Chicago; John Hancock Center is a Chicago skyscraper and antennas sit atop it. Lupe is the “foundation” of hip hop and niggas is scared of the depth of his rhymes (“heights”)
This is saran wrap and aluminum foil
Some potpourri, a little machine oil
I, stack my paper and throw off my cents
This is top flo’, better look out below
Pennies from heaven is the same as the semi from the second
And I reign supreme
Turn your umbrellas upside down
Did you even catch the change in theme? (this is gangsta man)
- Saran wrap, aluminum foil, potpourri and machine oil are all used to disguise the smell of drugs from police dogs; Cents is a double meaning for “scents” (which ties into the previous lines); Flo is a play on words for “floor” and “flow”, continuing the building metaphor; Pennies (a known myth stating if dropped from a building, a penny could kill a human) & bullets from a semi “rain” at you, which ties into the next line (“I rain/reign supreme”); Normally, an umbrella is right-side up, but you turn it upside down to literally “catch the change” (referring to the “pennies from heaven” line)
The entire first verse features a subtle movement of height theme from paving streets, then he’s “over the limp”, meaning he’s getting taller, then up to the foundations, to the John Hancock center where “you could damn near see Detroit”.
And them niggas ain’t Was, nor from his regime
-Was’ is short for Wasulu, Lupe’s government name and “regime” refers to his label, 1st & 15th.
Hats on tilt like your Snickers ain’t drop out the vending machine
You gotta put more money in
And I shake niggas up every time I drop a bar (2 for 1)
- “Gangsta lean” plays on “tilt” in the next line. When a person’s Snickers gets stuck in the vending machine, people either put more money in (to get 2) or shake the vending machine (or “tilt” it). Bar is a double meaning for bar (as in rhyme) and bar (as in candy bar).
It’s horse in the Porsche and bricks in the box
Like mo’ money them, every time I cop a car
- Horse refers to the horsepower in a Porsche and bricks refer to stashed kilos of cocaine. He gets more money every time he gets a car (because of the cocaine in the box).
You see I’m a roller, right
So it might be a Rover, right
But every time I drop a ‘r’
It’s “over” aight
- “Rover” refers to a Range Rover. Drop an ‘r’ from “rover” and you get “over”… pretty simple.
Bet I be in her head like overnight
Like rollers, right
She the chauffeur, right
So I keep her sober
She don’t get fed ex like overnight
I am Dolemite
- Women put rollers in their hair when they go to bed (overnight). Fed Ex acts as a double meaning; Fed Ex (as in the overnight shipping company) and Fed X (as in fed ecstasy, which is why he “keeps her sober”). Dolemite, refers to the first line (“Bet I be in her head like overnight), a pimp, stays in his girl’s head and controls her mind.
All that gas can’t help you, but solar might
So just call on ’sun’
Drop a ’s’
Pick up an ‘o’
U-no, put it all on “one”
- Pretty self-explanatory: Solar power refers to the sun. SUN – ‘S’ + O = U-NO. Uno is spanish for the number “one”.
And, brace yourself like overbite
For that quiet nigga that relocated down south
Coming back to floss
Nigga get your molars right
Fix your grill
No plaque, but a whole lot of cheese
This the drill, Mr. Chill
- This particular set of bars feature a running dentist/mouth theme (“Brace”, “Overbite”, “Floss”, “Molars”, “Grill”, “Plaque”, “Cheese”, “Drill”). Braces are used to correct overbites. No platinum “plaque” but a whole lot of money (“cheese”). Mr. Chill is a reference to Lupe’s 1st & 15th partner, Chilly.
Gave me the green light like Yoda knife
So I’ma force my will
Like the Force I will
Of course you will
- Green light refers to Yoda’s lightsaber, of Star Wars fame. The next couple of bars feature a double meaning; one meaning refers to the use of the Force and the Jedi Mind Trick used to control people in Star Wars while the other meaning refers to Green Lantern, whose ring receives its power from sheer WILLpower.
Take my time
But weight behind only pertains to that Porsche grill
It’s snakes in the hood
Gotta watch for that Cobra bite
Let me see, there’s snakes in the hood
A bird, a horse behind the grill
Some gator on the seat
And a fox behind the wheel
No, it’s not Noah’s ark
Ahk, it’s just a flower’s start
- Weight is a play on words; (wait, which ties into the previous line (“take my time”), and weight (drugs), which is usually stashed behind the grill of a car. There’s also a continuing animal theme (“snakes”, “cobra”, “bird”, “horse”, “gator”, “fox”) and it’s tied together by Lupe revealing that it’s not Noah’s ark, a biblical boat that was used to store animals. “snakes = backstabbers”, “bird=drugs (behind the grill)”, “horse = horsepower”, “gator=alligator seats”, “fox=attractive female”.
To proceed at all cost, no breather
I’m all walk
Rain, snow or fever
I’m all coughs, coming after your teacher
- Postal Service: through Rain, Sleet or Snow. “Coughs” line connects with the previous line’s fever reference.
I’m on the ball like FIFA
Viva, Lupe Dulce
Love Live the Leader
- FIFA is the Federation Internationale de Football Associatio (soccer). Dulce is Italian for “emperor”. Viva II Dulce is an Italian reference for “Long Live the Leader”, most famous for being Benito Mussolini’s catchphrase.
I remember I ain’t have sneakers
It was welfare
Coming up for air like whales there
But now I’m well here
I’m Shamu with twelve pair
And niggas wanna take my back to zero like tare, fare
Well, my scale’s clear
- Whales have to come up for air to breathe (unlike fish); Air is also a reference for (Nike) Airs, which ties into the sneaker theme and the next line’s reference to Filas. “Coming up for airs” also refers to how Lupe had to “come up” to be able to cop sneakers. “Well here” is a play on the world “whale”. Lupe is Shamu(the whale) with twelve pairs (of sneakers). On a scale, the “tare” button resets the scale back to 0 (“clear”).
You see world
It’s Braille here
I’m Bumpy Johnson, I stick to the streets
Keep my dogs out in front of me
You see what I’m saying
And I push keys wonderfully
- “See World” is a play on words for the marine mammal park “Sea World”, where Shamuis the name of the whale attraction; “See World” ties into the next line as Braille “shows” blind people how to read andwrite. “Bumpy Johnson” is a play on words (as braille lettering is “bumpy”) as Bumpy Johnson was a well-known Harlem Gangster. The “Keep my dogs” line has a double meaning (blind people usually travel with guide “dogs” and Bumpy Johnson kept his “dogs (protectors)” in front of him. He asks do you “see” what he’s saying and the final line is a double meaning (one meaning, being selling kilos of coke, andthe other, a reference to blind pianists (who push piano keys wonderfully).