Thursday, October 29, 2009

Retire for Real: The Trouble with Jay-Z

jay-z-glastonbury.jpgJay-Z said this to NYMag's Vulture blog on the subject of his "Death of Autotune" song:

I really just wanted to send a message to rap; I didn’t know it’d be a cultural dispute. I really wanted to have the conversation, like “are we just going to sound like each other? Everyone’s going to sound the same? That’s what we’re gonna do? Don’t ya’ll know this is dangerous? And this is just how rock and roll got pushed from the forefront?” We did this to rock and roll. Everyone was doing the hair-band thing on MTV with the tight pants. They all had the big hair, just different colored tights. It just became about more of a look and a sound than the emotion of the music. And that’s what hip-hop’s becoming. It’s losing the emotion — you can’t have emotion in the robotic voice. I can’t feel anything! And then everyone sounds the same. I really wanted to have the conversation amongst us. And it went outside the culture.

Jay? You can't have it both ways. Blueprint 3--the album you seem to think really broke free of the hip hop pack--would be the most tired thing you've released to date, had you not also released Kingdom Come and American Gangster. And it's not exactly high on emotional expression. Your words and your actions are completely at odds with one another. It's going to take a LOT more than eschewing heavy autotune use in order to breathe life back into hip hop. Maybe you gave a damn about the music contained on BP3, but it certainly didn't sound like it. Sure, "Empire State of Mind" is a pretty good track, but it doesn't sound like anything that couldn't have come out in 2003 (and while we're on the subject, it would have been among the weakest tracks you did release in that year). If you want to keep making music this boring, that's fine. You're way past the Three Classic Album Rule. But please, stop acting like you're here to save us.

Now, if you've read this blog before, you might know a bit about my feelings on the state of hip hop: that it's tired, it's boring, it's just one stop short of dead. Everyone's afraid to try something new, and any feeble attempt to do so gets so chopped up by meddling hands that it ends up a sad neutered excuse for a record. And that's just for the artists who care, which most of them don't seem to. Call me cranky, but I defy you to come up with a compelling argument to the contrary. The best I can do these days seems to be Kid Cudi, and again, that record came out completely lopsided (I still like it a lot more than anything on BP3).

The only silver lining that I could possibly conceive of here is right in line with Jay-Z's rock music/hair metal analogy: the revitalization that rock music saw in the days during and after the hair metal craze was a direct result of said craze; four kids in Forest Hills needed to be bored to death by rock radio before they could bring it back to life as The Ramones (and that's just one example). So here's hoping that Jay can move along the utter stagnation of hip hop to the point that some kid, somewhere, gets fed up and does something completely insane, original, interesting, vital, and fun. Or any of the above. If they're out there and you know it, let me know where I can hear it in the comments.

Jay-Z on DJ Hero, 'D.O.A.,' and His Future Career As a Bar Mitzvah Performer [vulture blog]


Stephanie said...

What do you think about Flobots?

Adam Ahmed said...

1. I agree Jay-Z doesn't push hip-hop to any new frontier in the BP3, but I think he knows that he's not the person who's going to bring hip-hop to that point. I don't want to get too theoretical here, but I think Jay-Z expresses the kind of post-Obama paralysis gripping hip-hop at the moment. If we look at Jay-Z's recent oeuvre as a study in how to make cents and still "rhyme like Common Sense," then we can see a disruption in this new album.
On the first track he boasts about how "the coversation's changed" and how he's now concerned with "music," not with "rap." But he doesn’t further from the “keep it real” mentality he attacks. And I think the contradiction is too great to just ascribe to coincidence. Maybe the only song you really need to listen to grasp the album is the first one, because even when he’s talking about what we can’t talk about he’s still indulging our appetite for that played out mentality.

“Ain't nothing cool bout carryin' a strap
Bout worryin' your moms And buryin' your best cat
Talkin' bout revenge While carryin' his casket
All teary-eyed Bout to take it to a mattress”

And probably the lines that best express this paradox are:

"Talkin' bout progress I ain't lookin back
You know I run track Try not to get lapped"

So with that said, I think this album is meant to be a wake up call. If the same dude who was running this rap shit in ’92 is still around more than 10 years later there is something seriously wrong with the state of hip-hop.

“I was gonna 9/11 them but they didn’t need the help
and they did a good job, them boys is talented as hell,
so not only did they brick but they put a building up as well
then ran a plane into that building and when that building fell
ran to the crash site with no mask and inhaled, toxins deep inside they lungs
until both of em was filled, blew cloud out like an L, to a Jordan to a smell,
cos they heard the second hand smoke kills.
N-ggas thought they was ill, found out they was ILL
and its like you knew exactly how i wanted you to feel”

2. I disagree with your take on American Gangster. Jay-Z is at his lyrical pinnacle on that album: rhythmically and visually it has that same quick-witted sense of variation and love of sounds that was so characteristic of early Nas and late Rakim.

Josh said...

What do you think of Blu?