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Meaning of ‘If I Ruled the World’ by ‘Nas’ feat. Ms. Lauryn Hill

Released: 1996

Features: Ms. Lauryn Hill

“If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)” by Nas featuring Lauryn Hill is an imaginative and deeply reflective hip-hop track that explores the possibility of a world shaped by the rapper’s ideals. The song delves into social issues, systemic injustices, and dreams of a better future, coalesced with Nas’s distinct street-savvy wisdom and Hill’s soulful vocals.

The opening verse sets the track’s tone, with Nas envisioning a world without police harassment, biased court trials, and the exploitation of impoverished communities. His reference to “cruising blue Bahama waters” and a world where “everybody flashing fashion, designer clothes” isn’t just about living a life of luxury, it’s a critique of socio-economic disparities and the systemic barriers that limit the opportunities for people from his community.

When Nas raps, “The world’s hot, my son got knocked,” he’s lamenting societal prejudices that lead to mass incarceration and the criminalization of Black youth. The line “They want us all gone eventually” speaks to the perceived plot of systemic erasure of Black communities.

The chorus, sung soulfully by Lauryn Hill, reiterates Nas’s utopian vision. However, the line “Still living for today, in these last days and times” keeps the song firmly grounded in reality, emphasizing the urgency of ongoing struggles.

In the second verse, Nas shifts from reflection to action, detailing his plans for better living conditions, wealth, and experiences outside ghetto life. He speaks of “tripping six-digits on kicks and still holding,” which signifies financial freedom and the power to indulge yet remain stable economically. The line “I’d civilize every savage” could be seen as a jab at colonial narratives that painted non-Western civilizations as ‘savages’ in need of ‘civilizing.’ Under Nas’s rule, the script is flipped.

The third verse takes the listener through a narrative of the dangers and struggles faced by those living a thug’s life, driven by desperation for financial gain and constantly under threat from authorities (referred to as “running from Jake”). His assertion that “you could have all the chips, be poor or rich, still nobody want a nigga having shit” is a candid commentary on the racism deeply entrenched in society, regardless of one’s economic status.

“If I Ruled the World” remains an enduring classic in Nas’s discography, managing to capture the socio-political climate of its time while remaining relevant today. Its potent blend of poignant social commentary and extraordinary lyricism showcases Nas’s uncanny ability to paint vivid pictures with words while pushing listeners to think deeply about the world we inhabit.

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