Nas is known for writing his rhymes down, for carefully constructing his songs before hand. This song is one of the places where you see that Nas is a writer. There have been some hip-hop songs that effect me this deeply, but the song "Rule" is perhaps the only hip-hop song that has made me cry just from reading the lyrics. The lyrics are even more impressive because they don't try too be too impressive with either the vocabulary or the wordplay, but come from their meaning.

There are two obvious facts about the song: first, it is seemingly about 9-11, and second, it borrows a chorus, sung by Amerie, from the 1980's pop staple Everybody wants to rule the world. Within that, the song's lyrics move around from point to point, with the unification in the song coming from Nas' emotional emergency, and from obvious and not-so-obvious conclusions the listener can make. I will give a little sample reel of some of my favorite lyrics:

Everyday as a child,
I would think I was part of the USA and be proud
Nas isn't writing an angry, ideological rant. Students of hip-hop and of American culture know that the early 1990's, it was common to dissect and criticize the entirety of American culture from various view points. For various reasons, this isn't going on in the same way. Nas isn't standing outside the system, criticizing it, but talking about his own experience in it.

Ancient kings from Egypt, up to Julius Caesar
Had a piece of the globe, every continent
Yo, there's Asia, Africa, Europe, France, Japan
Pakistan, America, Afghanstan
I like this part because besides some of the obvious meaning in the lyrics, it is an updated version of what MCs were doing as far back as the late 70s, when they would call out the buroughs of New York City to their audience.

But since the beginning of time it's been men with arms fightin
Lost lives in the Towers and Pentagon, why then?
Nas may seem to be engaging in some fatalism here, but he also may be stating a plain fact. Wars have been going on for a long time. Throughout the song, in many places, Nas just states facts and lets the listener put two and two together in their own head.

All this hate can't last forever
It's time that we stand together
Everybody wants to rule the world
World peace, world peace, world peace,
The chorus of the song, sung by Amerie, is almost generically uplifting and positive. Its a great hook, though, and also gives some contrast to the other lyrics.

I want land, mansions, banks and gold
The diamonds in Africa, oil in my control
The world's natural resources, all its residuals
But then comes foes, I have to guard it with missiles
There have been better explanations of the connection between people's greed and their never-ending wars, and the world system could be explained in more detail, but considering everything else touched on in this song, it is a good explanation.

Y'all know that's my style, to hit you at the right time
No other compares to what Nas write down
A hip-hop song, even a hip-hop song this weighty, can't exist without some bragging. This bragging isn't idle, and actually may be the key to the entire song. The line about "to hit you at the right time" I will discuss in closing.

Ain't nothing without struggle, listen up, it's critical
We used to fear arms, now the weapons are chemical
In Hip-Hop, the weapons are lyrical
To be the best you challenge the best, and the blessings are spiritual
These four lines I feel are the key to the entire song. I myself, and probably plenty of other Americans, may have forgotten what it was like when we heard of the first Anthrax deaths, when we really didn't know whether chemical weapons might kill thousands of people at once. Not that we aren't still afraid of that, but we have grown accustomed to it. Nas sidesteps the entire niche of hip-hop that is obsessed with paranoia, because he now points out that being targetted doesn't make you special anymore. Its a very stark reminder, and then he throws it into contrast with the fact that hip-hop culture is still vital, because it teaches people that struggle doesn't have to be based on fear and anger, to avoid losing, but that it can be a positive thing done for spiritual reasons. The fact that we live in a state of very real fear makes this need for spiritual uplift more pressing, not less.

Yo, what this war has shown me is, whatever you want out of life
Whatever you feel is rightfully yours, go out and take it
Even if that means blood and death
After the uplifting last verse, and the happy pop chorus, the spoken outro seems a little jarring. It shouldn't be surprising, however, since rappers love arguing, and rappers like Nas and KRS-One like arguing with themselves by contradicting what they have previously said. I don't think Nas is purely doing this, although the entire song "Rule" constantly brings up contradictions. I think Nas may also be pointing out, in his own way, that if people wanted to reach for peace and happiness with the same vigour as they went out to fight, they could get it. In the end, peace is rightfully ours, and we should go out and take it.

Earlier on, I mentioned Nas' statement about "to hit you at the right time". I was riding the bus the other day, and thought about the fact that if I had suddenly lost all my memories of the last ten years, the first difference I would notice is that the cell phones are smaller. Despite everything that has happened in America since 9-11, it seems to have not caused the cultural change it might have. I don't think that the upheavel has really gone by, it is just waiting to come out in the culture. Nas wrote and released this song relatively soon after the attacks, when they were still an obvious item of attention. Now, in 2005, they are ever present, although they are in some way being digested. In the next few years, although maybe not until the start of the next decade, we will see cultural exploration of what happened. And when we do, many of the songs and movies and books may bring up the same conclusions, points, and more importantly, energy, that Nas showed in this song.

Rule (?), n. [OE. reule, riule, OF. riule, reule, F. régle, fr. L. regula a ruler, rule, model, fr. regere, rectum, to lead straight, to direct. See Right, a., and cf. Regular.]


That which is prescribed or laid down as a guide for conduct or action; a governing direction for a specific purpose; an authoritative enactment; a regulation; a prescription; a precept; as, the rules of various societies; the rules governing a school; a rule of etiquette or propriety; the rules of cricket.

We profess to have embraced a religion which contains the most exact rules for the government of our lives.

2. Hence:


Uniform or established course of things.

'T is against the rule of nature.


Systematic method or practice; as, my ule is to rise at six o'clock.


Ordibary course of procedure; usual way; comon state or condition of things; as, it is a rule to which there are many exeptions.


Conduct in general; behavior. [Obs.]

This uncivil rule; she shall know of it.


The act of ruling; administration of law; government; empire; authority; control.

Obey them that have the rule over you.
Heb. xiii. 17.

His stern rule the groaning land obeyed.

4. (Law)

An order regulating the practice of the courts, or an order made between parties to an action or a suit. Wharton.

5. (Math.)

A determinate method prescribed for performing any operation and producing a certain result; as, a rule for extracting the cube root.

6. (Gram.)

A general principle concerning the formation or use of words, or a concise statement thereof; thus, it is a rule in England, that s or es , added to a noun in the singular number, forms the plural of that noun; but "man" forms its plural "men", and is an exception to the rule.



A straight strip of wood, metal, or the like, which serves as a guide in drawing a straight line; a ruler.


A measuring instrument consisting of a graduated bar of wood, ivory, metal, or the like, which is usually marked so as to show inches and fractions of an inch, and jointed so that it may be folded compactly.

A judicious artist will use his eye, but he will trust only to his rule.

8. (Print.)


A thin plate of metal (usually brass) of the same height as the type, and used for printing lines, as between columns on the same page, or in tabular work.


A composing rule. See under Conposing.

As a rule, as a general thing; in the main; usually; as, he behaves well, as a rule. --
Board rule, Caliber rule, etc. See under Board, Caliber, etc. --
Rule joint, a knuckle joint having shoulders that abut when the connected pieces come in line with each other, and thus permit folding in one direction only. --
Rule of three (Arith.), that rule which directs, when three terms are given, how to find a fourth, which shall have the same ratio to the third term as the second has to the first; proportion. See Proportion, 5 (b). --
Rule of thumb, any rude process or operation, like that of using the thumb as a rule in measuring; hence, judgment and practical experience as distinguished from scientific knowledge.

Syn. -- regulation; law; precept; maxim; guide; canon; order; method; direction; control; government; sway; empire.


© Webster 1913

Rule, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Ruled (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Ruling.] [Cf. OF. riuler, ruiler, L. regulare. See Rule, n., and cf. Regulate.]


To control the will and actions of; to exercise authority or dominion over; to govern; to manage. Chaucer.

A bishop then must be blameless; . . . one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection.
1 Tim. iii. 2, 4.


To control or direct by influence, counsel, or persuasion; to guide; -- used chiefly in the passive.

I think she will be ruled
In all respects by me.


To establish or settle by, or as by, a rule; to fix by universal or general consent, or by common practice.

That's are ruled case with the schoolmen.

4. (Law)

To require or command by rule; to give as a direction or order of court.


To mark with lines made with a pen, pencil, etc., guided by a rule or ruler; to print or mark with lines by means of a rule or other contrivance effecting a similar result; as, to rule a sheet of paper of a blank book.

Ruled surface (Geom.), any surface that may be described by a straight line moving according to a given law; -- called also a scroll.


© Webster 1913

Rule, v. i.


To have power or command; to exercise supreme authority; -- often followed by over.

By me princes rule, and nobles.
Prov. viii. 16.

We subdue and rule over all other creatures.

2. (Law)

To lay down and settle a rule or order of court; to decide an incidental point; to enter a rule. Burril. Bouvier.

3. (Com.)

To keep within a (certain) range for a time; to be in general, or as a rule; as, prices ruled lower yesterday than the day before.


© Webster 1913

Rule, n. --
Rule of the road (Law), any of the various regulations imposed upon travelers by land or water for their mutual convenience or safety. In the United States it is a rule of the road that land travelers passing in opposite directions shall turn out each to his own right, and generally that overtaking persons or vehicles shall turn out to the left; in England the rule for vehicles (but not for pedestrians) is the opposite of this.


© Webster 1913

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