On November 26th, 2003, rapper Soulja Slim was gunned down outside of the duplex he had bought for his mother in the Chantilly neighborhood of New Orleans. Today, Soulja Slim can be heard rapping on Juvenile’s hit single of the summer, “Slow Motion.” Soulja Slim and Juvenile trade off verses and Slim sings the hook on this track about a man’s reaction to a fine woman, stacked, who knows how to work it. When we listen to this song, we are hearing the voice of a slain man lusting from the grave. “Slow Motion” both mourns and celebrates at once, and in doing so, presents the deepest-cutting, most poignant and perceptive restatement of the human condition in recent years.

The music video opens with “THOU SHALL NOT KILL” written vertically in chalky white letters on a swath of black. As the camera pans down from word to word, we finally see, at the bottom edge of the frame, that this is a large sign held above a crowd of people. The image of the throng gathered to assert (and receive) this principle recalls the assembled Israel’s reception of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, and establishes the enormous scope of Juvenile’s song. This end of the scale – its widest – is that of the human planet and its moral climate, wracked by violent storms. “THOU SHALL NOT KILL” – the underlined “not” posted before a world in which it seems people have misheard this commandment completely. As the track comes in with its soft, honeyed guitar lick, Soulja Slim’s lyrics are set against scenes of a community in mourning – for him, as well as for the tragic mess of it all. An older man wears “R.I.P. Soulja Slim” on his homemade T-shirt, and a family is painting the same phrase on a poster. A rapper exiting Juvenile’s tour bus (which has pulled up in this town of greenery and brown brick) wears an “R.I.P.” shirt too, pouring liquor onto the ground. Juvenile sits for a moment on a porch to read of his friend’s death in a newspaper: “Rapper Soulja Slim Laid to Rest.”

These crisply filmed images of commemoration, however, are not complemented but counterposed by Soulja Slim’s hook:

Uh, I like it like that she working that back I don’t know how to act

Slow motion for me, slow motion for me, slow motion for me

Move it slow motion for me

Uh I like it like that she working that back I don’t know how to act

Slow motion for me, slow motion for me, slow motion for me

Move it slow motion for me

To friends and neighbors beset by sadness at his murder but ultimately at his death, Slim’s response is not a sermon on the evils of the world, but another lesson entirely. Ignoring the moral and social implications of his murder, Slim simply tells us that, “she working that back I don’t know how to act.” That is, the arena of human consideration is more often than not unconcerned with the big and barely bearable picture but instead with the immediacy of experience and the escape into pleasure. This consideration, however, is not unaware of its smallness, its inadequacy in standing up to the struggles of life. “…I don’t know how to act,” Slim tells us, and neither do we. Our only hope as people, then, is to plead for slow motion – “Slow motion for me,” Slim asks, again and again. It is this “slow motion” that is the human being’s relief in an ultimately tragic world. When we are in slow motion, all the threats to which we are susceptible, all the malignancies growing in us undetected, all the fear that friends and family may be suddenly swallowed up – all this phases out of sight as our tunnel vision sets itself on the immediate and its joy, which has been drawn out now so that we are wrapped entirely in its warm cocoon and can convince ourselves that we are safe after all. Later, Juvenile says of having a nice grip on a woman, “Feel like I got the world in my palms.” Unlike the world of today’s headlines and probably all of history, it is at moments like this and to that world in Juve’s palms where we can confidently share God’s sentiments about His creation: vayehi tov m’od. And it was very good. So Slim asks the community, “Slow motion for me.” He asks for them to find that solace which is the key to living.

As the repetitions of the hook continue, the community finally accedes to Slim’s request. Suddenly we see gorgeous women with jaw-dropping backsides moving those things like mmm! From brief clips intercut earlier into the video, we understand that these women are in attendance at a gathering in memory of Slim that is, in keeping with his wish for slow motion, also a barbecue and, as we will see, a concert. The most noticeable feature of these shots, besides the women and the beauty of their undulations, is the late afternoon sun coming through the trees, burning the women at times into silhouette. This entire music video, its long-shadowed shots of small moments in the life of the neighborhood, of crowds at the barbecue and concert, of everything, is deeply bound up in the mood and notion of twilight. Toward the end of the “Quentin” section of The Sound and the Fury (which Faulkner originally intended to be entitled “Twilight”), a section that is particularly full of the sense of that time of day, Quentin recalls of a trolley ride:

… but when we ran out of the trees I could see the twilight again, that quality of light as if time had stopped for a while, with the sun hanging just under the horizon…

As in The Sound and the Fury, the late-afternoon/twilight cast of “Slow Motion” serves to thicken the medium of time and slow its surge to a gentle roll. The guitar lick, like the opening lilt of a mother’s lullaby to her baby child when no one else is around, plays continuously. Juvenile mouths the lyric of sex. We are presented with flashing images of a vacant-staring, toothless woman alone among the brick, of young men and boys whose stares are not vacant but filled with quiet anger, of throngs converging on the event whose stare is vaguely touched by a small sadness. And alongside this despondent portraiture we see smiling, clapping masses. A man opens his mouth in a wide laugh as he holds a snake above his head. Fellow rappers make appearances; they lean on one another’s shoulders and alternately grin and mug stoically. In this twilight of carefully dissonant sounds and images, we see mourning and celebration at once.

The music video for “Slow Motion” is an overrich text. A great deal more can be said about the relations between sex, community, violence, grief, and happiness, discussed by the music video in its unique language of juxtapositions. This is a music video about the state of the world, about the state of people. Many may turn on BET or MTV and ask, “What is this music and why am I its contemporary? Why am I compelled to listen to it? Why am I living through this particular period in music, in culture!?” The widespread sense of a worsening stagnation in the arts is probably accurate. However, no matter what nadir art has fallen to in a particular era, if we are able as people to express the basic facts of our predicament on earth, as “Slow Motion” does, then all hope is not lost; the ember is still carried in cupped hands, waiting for its fire.