A Thanksgiving Guide to Turkey in Rap Songs

Turkey. It might be dangling from jaws right now. It might be in your oven or in your belly or on your plate or on your television screen or in your greasy, gravy-soaked, bone-gripping paws. It’s Thanksgiving, motherfuckers, and turkey is the bird and the bird is the word. Word.

Yeah, turkey is everywhere today, but that doesn’t mean that it’s nowhere other days, you know? Turkey is great, and we shouldn’t be limited in discussing it. Rappers certainly don’t feel that way. They rap about turkey all year long, and that’s just great, because like turkey, rap is great, and rappers know that.

There are approximately three uses of the work “turkey” in rap songs, and I say approximately because there are actually many more than that, but of the most common uses, there are three. For instance, Action Bronson saying “Smoking fucking Thanksgiving turkey bags” before “9-24-11” is likely the only use of the word to describe the size of ones vaporizer smoking apparatus, which in this case, is presumably a Volcano.

It does neighbor one of the three main uses, though, which is to allude to Thanksgiving, the reason why I’m writing this inane piece to begin with. Thanksgiving symbolizes family, feasting, and time off, but for many who came from harsh conditions, it symbolizes the lack of all of those things. The most memorable instance is likely Jay Rock on Kendrick Lamar’s “Money Trees,” rapping, “Baking soda YOLA whipping / Ain’t no turkey on Thanksgiving.” A similar sentiment is heard during Cam’ron’s verse on “Christmas in Harlem” — “No turkey or greens, just Jimbos” — and Public Enemy’s “Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man” — “Eatin’ welfare turkey out of the can.”

I didn’t intend for that to rhyme, but it did, and I think that’s a pretty accurate reflection on the power of turkey. Further Thanksgiving references can be found in Eminem’s “Music Box” — “He’s dancing with carcasses cheek to cheek / Like a Thanksgiving turkey, a holiday ham” — but what this first use really alludes to is turkey as food, and there are many more ways to eat our gobbling bird-friend than to cook that some-bitch whole.

There’s turkey bacon (Jay Z “Picasso Baby“), turkey burgers (Fabolous “Really Tho“), turkey legs (Kendrick Lamar “Heaven or Hell“), turkey sandwiches (Action Bronson “Amadu Diablo“), and turkey lasagna (2 Chainz “G.O.O.D. Morning“). Shit is delicious, ok, end of discussion. Moving on.

You might be able to guess the next two uses, perhaps thinking of a certain ’70s term used to describe a clown, an idiot, a bullshitter, someone who is lame in every conceivable way. I’m talking jive turkeys, homie, which is occasionally shortened to just turkey. Without a doubt, the most famous instance of its use in rap is on Jay Z’s “Encore” in which, and I’m guessing you’re already saying it in your head, the interlude before the third verse goes, “Ow, it’s star time / This man is mean, he’s killin’ all y’all jive turkeys.” Hov chants come soon after, and yadda yadda yadda, you get it. It’s the summit of turkey as a diss in a song. But by no means the only instance.

In “Push Thru” by Talib Kweli, Curren$y lends a verse, saying, “I ain’t bluffing / Kush puffing on you jive turkeys.” Indeed, a jive turkey is the perfect candidate to blow your kush smoke on to. Stupid ass turkey.

Drake gets in on the fun, too, in a throwback song that predates So Far Gone. On “Comeback Season” Drizzy raps “Your man is a turkey you wit’ a liar / I’m clearin’ the air I’m a humidifier.” Now, before you pounce on that terrible punchline like a family on a turkey at the Thanksgiving table, understand that the mixtape that bears the song came out in 2007, when Drake was still sharpening his turkey carving chops. Either way, I think it’s safe to say that that girl’s man was a turkey, and deserved the roast.

Ok, now I’m guilty of the terrible punchlines and should probably quit. But quit how? Well, cold turkey of course. Which is the third and final use of turkey that rappers so regularly deploy. The expression, for the clinically unaware, means to give up a habit abruptly rather than gradually.

You may hear the phrase while listening to the Marshall Mathers LP 2. Eminem has been open about his battle with addiction, but on “Evil Twin, ” he kicks another substance, rapping “I done quit chicken heads cold turkey.” As you should.

There are plenty of sings titled “Cold Turkey,” and even more lyrics that use it, but a standout track is one that Em happens to be featured on — “Lean Back (Remix).” Before Em rips it, talking about pistols in his pants and whatnot, Mase references the years he took off from the game to be a pastor, saying, “Who else could take 5 years off / Cold turkey / Come back and fly leers off.” The obvious answer is no one, except that Mase has since attempted to reignite his career, and both times that shit did not take off. No disrespect to Mase.

So while you ponder the difference in taste between dark and white meat, or why it’s called cranberry sauce when that shit more resembles jello, remember that turkey can be celebrated year round with a simple scroll through your favorite rapper’s catalog. You can eat a turkey sandwich in the middle of May while blowing kush in a jive turkey’s face, and enjoy being a free thinking American, because that’s what rap and turkey and Thanksgiving are really all about.

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