Sunday, November 20, 2011

From GQ: Jay-Z's path from the streets to high society (and what about fronting?)

As one of the 2011 GQ Men of the Year, Jay-Z is designated King. Alex Pappademas observes:
Take Watch the Throne, on which two grandiose motherfuckers explore the theme of grandiose-motherfuckerdom from vastly different perspectives, stacking dubstep on top of opera on top of Otis Redding, triumphalism on top of sorrow on top of more triumphalism, striving for a sound as vast and strange as the world they've come to inhabit. It's glorious and obnoxious and pointedly self-aware, and it was more fun to argue about than any hip-hop record since, I don't know, Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak or Jay-Z's widely jeered Kingdom Come.


The gist of a lot of those arguments: In an economic moment as bleak as this, is it not sort of a dick move to drop an album—even a great one—about what it feels like to be richer than a fifteenth-century pope? On what turned out to be the day of a stock market crash? Even the Watch the Throne T-shirts were limited-edition Givenchy and sold for $300.

...Watch the Throne is an honest record about trying to find your moral compass when insane wealth and success have knocked down every boundary that once gave shape to your world. Write what you know, y'know?
He credits Jay for making it from the 'hood:
Nearly every rapper tells a version of that story. But nobody tells it better or to a wider cross section of the population—children, rap nerds, corporate America—than Jay-Z. No hip-hop artist who owes his credibility to the street has moved farther beyond it and into the rarefied air of twenty-first-century high society than Jay has. But at 42, he remains, precedent-defyingly, a rapper people still care about, because he's managed to frame all his achievements—his front-office stint at Def Jam, his ownership stake in the NBA franchise soon to be known as the Brooklyn Nets, the $150 million deal with LiveNation that's said to rival Madonna's, even the pop star he put a ring on—as we-shouldn't-be-here victories for a kid from public housing, and for hip-hop, too.
Fair enough. It's just that he's running interference for some of the people making false promises (it is alleged) to Brooklynites from the neighborhoods he left.

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