Features: Ghostface Killah
“Can It Be All So Simple” by Ghostface Killah and Raekwon paints a raw, gritty picture of street life, gang conflict, and the harsh reality of survival in the urban jungle of Staten Island. With this song, the duo provides a profound socio-cultural commentary on the rough life they led while botches a nostalgia for simpler times. The track is filled with allegories, metaphors, and vivid imagery, indicating the complexity of life in the hood and the longing for an easier past.
The song opens with a tense exchange between Ghostface Killah and Raekwon, filled with street slang and brimming with anxiety. This interaction sets the stage for a dramatic confrontation. In the hook, there’s an element of nostalgia, questioning, “Can it be that it was all so simple then?” This repeated line resonates throughout the song as they remember a time before the harsh realities of their current struggles.
The first verse is peppered with references to drug dealing, violence, and a run-in with the law. Ghostface is detailing a life of crime that’s more forced upon than chosen. He paints a grim picture of life in the street, rooted in gritty realism. His mention of “falling in lust” and “smoke the black dust”, showing the use of narcotics as a means of coping with their difficulties.
The chorus, delivered by Raekwon, again reiterates the question, “Can it be that it was all so simple then?” Here Raekwon dedicates the song to various sections of the street life; ‘babies who came feet first’, ‘rich niggas who sell weight’, ‘projects with black kids’, and ‘man who build pyramids’ – Those who hustle to survive, those who profit immensely from the game, those growing up in the projects, and those striving to build a legacy.
The second verse sees Raekwon reflecting on the transformation from a life of crime in Shaolin (another name for Staten Island) to one of success and prosperity. He talks about trading ‘Tommy Hil’ with caves’ (fashion of his past life) for ‘300 Benz and mad Timbs’ (symbols of success). And yet, he’s haunted by a near-death experience, a rupture from gunshot wounds that lands the phrase, “God forbid I lay in the casket”.
In the repeated chorus, the phrase “Can it be that it was all so simple then?” further underscores the stark contrast between their past and the present. Congruent with the theme of the song, the chorus embodies a sense of longing for simpler times, when the impacts of their choices were less severe.
Ghostface Killah and Raekwon, two of the most prominent members of the Wu-Tang Clan, release an anthem of survival on the streets with “Can It Be All So Simple”. The song encapsulates their struggle to rise above crime-infested environments and their eventual rise to fame and success, all while reminiscing about a simpler past.
In the closing section of the song, the artists bring forth a sense of unity, acknowledging their roots and their communities, and expressing their solidarity with those still struggling. The repeated phrase “Peace to man, woman and child” is an elucidation of this sentiment.
In the end, “Can It Be All So Simple” is a vivid portrayal of the harsh reality of street life, nostalgia for simpler times, and a homage to their communities. It’s the kind of track that showcases the best of what Ghostface Killah and Raekwon have always brought to hip-hop: great storytelling, complex lyricism, and an unfiltered view of the world around them.