Friday, 27 May 2016
Oliver: WC and The Maad Circle - Out On a Furlough (2 February 1992)
A fortnight or so ago, I was rather fulsome in my praise for Poor Georgie by MC Lyte. As time has passed though, I've started to find it trite and lightweight, probably because my observations about it were equally flawed. I praised it because I was happy to hear a hip-hop track that wasn't rooted in crime or self-aggrandisement. But when a track like Out On A Furlough comes along, it makes a lot of other hip-hop tracks sound like pretenders.
Out On a Furlough deals with some well worn themes - a brother, who's been going legit, finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up behind bars - but manages to do something fresh with it, as well as being deeply troubling. WC - Willie Calhoun - finds himself set up by friends, but old loyalties die hard, and in refusing to speak up, he finds himself in jail. The theme of the first half of the song refers to the disproportionate sentences that young black men find themselves on the end of when they get sent down. My hearing wasn't sharp enough to catch whether the " two five" sentence refers to 2.5 or 25 years, but nevertheless, WC and the Maad Circle find it excessive. However, the twist in the tale comes when, after 7 months in jail, WC is let out on a furlough - compassionate leave granted to prisoners in the U.S. Realising that one day out of jail will be followed by many more years inside it, WC goes into hiding, protected by the casbah-like Maad Circle featuring the soon to be huge, Coolio. The point is made more explicit by a memorable chorus refrain:
Time again, you wanna lock me up.
Lock me up, lock me up.
People like you wanna lock me up.
A n****r like me, you wanna lock me up.
A sample from an interview with a penitentiary inmate, lamenting the fact that he has spent 18 years in prison already and is expected to spend another 20 years inside helps to frame the argument further, and makes the track even more depressing and multi-layered. The implication being that if you're innocent but compromised (WC used to sell dope for the man who has ultimately set him up) you have to choose between whether you get hunted down by the guys on the street, or whether you take it in the ass from the fixed sum game that is the American judicial system. The one disappointment is that the track doesn't make more out of this terrible Hobson's Choice, but then complaining about The Man was probably considerably less life-threatening for many rappers than calling out their brothers.
When he played this, Peel said that it featured "clever editing of rude words". However, the n-word slipped through, undisturbed.
When it comes to penitentiary, I go to Richard Pryor:
"Arizona State Penitentiary real popular?"
Videos courtesy of ShamrockHipHop (WC) and Bojan Mrdja (Pryor).