Everybody has a war story. Some are gorier than others and each has a unique sequence of battlefields.
Along his, Nashville rap artist Starlito has been involved in a summertime shootout—with his ego. The biggest fight of his life may be within fingers reach. At least that is what the album art suggests.
“At War With Myself Too” is not just a sequel; it is an acknowledgement that life is like a box of gaming console.
Flickers of sound leave you in a freakishly meta-ish theater of the mind.
It’s an audio production in the form of a cerebral-war documentary seven years since first strike. (The prequel, “At War With Myself,” was released in 2011.)
Starlito rhymes with a fair use of elision, a technique made acceptable with a charismatic Southern accent. Throughout the 11-track album, he enlists the assistance of a fictional American cultural icon from Greenbow, Alabama.
“Forrest Gump” audio clips sprawl about the album as sampled hallmark movie scenes adjoin each song.
“At War With Myself Too” begins with Forrest waiting at a Savannah, Georgia bus stop. He insists, “There’s an awful lot you can tell [about a person by their shoes]. Where they going, where they been.” The aphorism ushers in a sluggish Bobby Caldwell sample that echoes Starlito’s song title.
In “Where I’ve Been,” Starlito settles the curiosity implied from the opening lyrics of Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do For Love.” He tells us he’s armed, dangerous and not wanting for new company.
“One deep and it’s on me. Room full of people, I’m lonely. I don’t really need no new homies. Matter fact, f— a friend.”
A lionhearted Starlito also finds himself prey to a dependence that leaves him at least financially healthy if not mentally.
“Get the package. Gymnastics. Big facts. I’m in traffic…’cross the street from Kirkpatrick. Money was my first habit. Hustlers we the worst addicts.”
He also pledges to the tactical, efficient use of resources:
“When I’m out, I’m gettin’ it in. I ain’t goin’ out, if I can’t get it in. I’m growing up, I rather flip than spend.”
There is just one way through a war with oneself. You have to be willing to outmaneuver and kill your shadow, your old you. The more damage you sustain, say due to fear of your own shadow, the closer you come to the lights getting cut out on your future.
What is armed conflict without a good old-fashioned appeal to the divinity? A battle of biblical proportions calls for biblical references.
What it is like to be at war with oneself is made clear by the Apostle Paul where the death of some carnal aspect bears new spiritual life. Paul asks and answers:
“And why should we ourselves risk our lives hour by hour?” For I swear, dear brothers and sisters, that I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31, NLT).
To “die daily” is a perpetual pruning process. Further, Paul writes:
“Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4:21-24, NLT).
Then the album transitions to “No Rules.”
Untrustworthiness and isolation may beset even the most well prepared, decorated combat veteran in an unforgiving war. It’s arduous yet just, fighting on one side or another.
“I’m coast to coast with the s- – -. My reputation precedes me. I really ain’t f – – – in with [people]. They either ungrateful or greedy. They say it’s hard but it’s fair. You gotta take it or leave it. You either hate it or love it. You better stay with a heater.”
Again holding fast to his weaponry, there is also a cautious appeal for loyalty rooted in martyrdom.
“Heater for a buzzer-beater. In the cut where I keep it. I’m clutch. I don’t f— with people. Paper like a trapper keeper. Safe look like I rap for QC. Free C Murder, I was taking notes from Master P. Idolizing Soulja Slim, are yall really down to die with me?”
When asked, “What’s your sole purpose in this army!” Forest Gump answered, “To do whatever you tell me, drill sergeant!”
In an oxymoronic twist of blasphemy that so happens to affirm God’s commission for His people, “No Rules” ends with Gump publicly commended: “Got-dammit, you’re a got-damn genius! You must have a got-damn IQ of a hundred and sixty! You are got-damn gifted!”
Convalescence does not always look pretty, especially in a no pain, no gain atmosphere. But Starlito makes it at least sound attractive.
He opens up a piano keystroke-heavy confessional on “Bet Back.” “Lost it all got it back. Lost it all got it back. Lost it all got it back. Then I finally got tired of that.”
Starlito is simply fed up with traveling through a revolving door of loss and redemption.
Through it all, he does not mind being vulnerable. He brings his vices to light by giving flashes of addiction. Starlito postures like a shrewd poker player behind dark tinted shades, willing to risk it all if his enemy’s attempt at deception flares unconvincing.
“Yeah, I got a gambling problem. It’s a sensitive subject. But I’m going all in if I sense that you bluffing. I was trying to get even. When the odds against me, I love it. Independent and winning. Ain’t gotta convince you I’m thuggin’. Not to mention, I’m hustling. Don’t want no attention or nothing.”
Starlito again uses a meta-ish approach on “Bet Back.” It serves as a new testament to the old adage of being sick and tired of being sick and tired:
“Homie behind the fence grinding strips. I’m tryna quit saying I’m trying to quit.”
Next, “Grudge 2.0” has Starlito in another internal battle. In the midst of it, he bemoans contrition for not showing enough love to another and harbors an unforgiving spirit toward himself.
On “Sometimes,” he flexes a dogged country electric guitar, sonically painting temperamental affection.
Starlito harps on apologies and enters a not-guilty plea in the circuit court of love in “Wasn’t Wrong.”
The sixth album track is a survivor’s impact statement turned catharsis:
“I just rap cuz this s— therapeutic. I survived a f—in scary movie. I ain’t guilty of what they accusing. I watch the news and my look like it’s their amusement. Either way, I lose. So I put that s- – – all in my music. Then I come home and you bring up s- – – I ain’t got s- – – to do with.”
Then he brings genuine loyalty into the interrogation room:
“Look, I can’t tell who really with me and it get confusing. I’m disillusioned, you live and you learn. I’m just a student. But I come to this conclusion.”
“Have It All” echoes, “You can have it all. Still might not be enough” and thereby announces clearly that living for the pride of life is futile and unfulfilling. “Have It All” evokes the heartbreak and fate of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain—then-recent celebrity suicides that occurred near the release of “At War With Myself Too.”
Despite death and dissatisfaction, Starlito demands a greater return on investment for life, opting for the finer things. “Have It All” warns of the sorrow that lies ahead when making a mad dash to be anesthetized from the stresses of the world.
“Gimme the memories and experiences over possessions. Taking designer drugs got me name brand depression.”
It urges that, even in Mister Nice Guy’s world, time is money—money that the Most High so graciously allows us to manage:
“It ain’t even just pride. All that nice s— will get ya life took. I might not write a hook. S—, I could write a book. We all on borrowed time. I ain’t giving mine to the State. Tryna get up out of these streets. Yeah I’m really tryna to escape. Only the grinders relate. Still finding my way.”
Functioning almost like a starving creative writer, Starlito resides in a city of brotherly infidelity with intrepidness as his living mate:
“She keep saying she love me but she’ll lie to ya face. Same homies that owe you disown you like they don’t know you. I been to Minnesota, I promise the streets colder.”
And he’s in no mood to reconcile or apologize for a livelihood earned from drawling.
“Got me riding with fire extinguishers. I don’t want to rekindle. Humble but in my feelings. Still remember the fundamentals. Stumbled upon a million from mumbling on instrumentals.”
Later, along his home tour, he proudly shows us that even the loveliest gardens have a few weeds.
“Did it out of love. Guess what? They still gone hate.”
If there was ever a maxim to be placed on Starlito’s mantelpiece, it’d be Ephesians 4:31-32. On “Ain’t Gonna Ride for Me,” Starlito groans:
“No grudges just blessings. No losses. Just lessons. No talking. Just listen. Get caught, no confession. I was destined. I was bred to not regret s- – -. I forgive ya. I don’t forget s—. You was real ’til you did that s—.”
“Crying in the Car” snuffs out a sullen album aura with some humor—an interpolation from the 1995 movie “Friday.” After being strong-armed by Deebo, Red, mortified, speeds away from Craig’s house. Then Smokey curtly notes to Craig, “He gon cry in the car.”
“Crying In The Car” leaves to only a brief chuckle where Starlito defers his introspective tell-all away from his mother’s ears and to us “screen-watchers” instead:
“Just got through crying in the car. Wish I could rewind it back when times weren’t so hard. Trying to remind myself that I done came so far. So much on my mind, plus I’m blinded by my heart.”
So goes the adage, “hurt people hurt people.” A transparent Starlito says in kind:
“I can’t even lie, my feelings hurt. I just wanna hurt some feelings. I don’t know a worser [sic] feeling. I can’t go to church for healing. So I use my First Amendment. Took about thirty minutes. Wrote this verse and I mean every word that’s in it.”
Later, At War with Myself Too has a directive for us—one that can be found in the Old Testament—“Stay Humble.” And all at the same time, he gongs triumphant, tests our emotional pulse, rebukes guilt and claims patience and faith as vital field rations.
“I’m in a far left lane. And I’m changing my gears. No shame. I left them lames in the rear. Look how my pain disappeared. I was feeling salty. Ever tasted your tears? A guilty conscious [is] dead weight on your spirit. Hate to see my face in the mirror. I want to say it where I’ll make sure you hear it. Let’s be clear, patience and faith [is] the only way I got here.”
He leaves his transgressions to work themselves out and cautions against the precious cost of pride. “Stay Humble” attests to a 2003 proverb from rapper Jadakiss–“it takes something to happen for [people] to learn”:
“Ima let karma catch all my trespasses. I’m busy chasing this check. I’m getting faster. Them [people] making them threats. You hear the laughter. I was brought up in that life. Don’t get caught up in the hype. I got twenty thousand on me; I made all that s— tonight. Even though what we do is wrong, I ain’t had a thought of livin’ right. Until I learned that foolish pride can really cost a [brotha] his life.”
Starlito is a war veteran who lives on to tell his story. So much so that, notwithstanding “Exclusive Audio Footage,” he does not let you forget that “You Don’t Know The Half.” The album finale enlivens yet another scripture (1 Peter 5:10):
“No need for bringing up my past. But, you don’t even know the half. Nah, you don’t even know the half. Hard times don’t last. I was down to my last end. Stayed down ’til I cashed in. Just like I imagined when I was riding around in that Magnum.”
His occupation is no ordinary one. What is Starlito fighting? He’s a Tennessee Volunteer “against one of the mightiest military powers of the day”—his passions.
James 4:1 asks us,
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1, ESV)
This inquiry is no ordinary one. It’s a choice.
Inside, our passions (emotions) are fighting one another. And passion is suffering.
Ego is defined as “edging God out.”
Altogether, the album is a cheat code to life such that it packages itself like a first-person shooter role-playing video game. Your mission is to vanquish the boss. The boss is your ego.
Like virtual reality, no matter the damage you sustain, as long as there’s breath in your body, you’ll get seemingly unlimited chances to keep fighting.
“At War With Myself Too” operates as an answer to the typical arcade game prompt upon crushing defeat—“continue?”
And when we respond, let’s just hope we opt for the passions of Christ.