A couple days ago, Jay-Z and Kanye West unleashed their new single “Otis” upon the internets. Set to a fairly inventive (if awkward) sample from Otis Redding’s classic “Try A Little Tenderness,” Jay and Ye trade bars about money, wealth and….umm, money.
The song is really, really bad.
Now don’t get it twisted. The very idea of a Jay-Z-Kanye West joint album makes me all giddy and warm inside like any other Hip Hop (or Pop) fan. But if this “luxury rap” style is going to define Watch The Throne, Yeezy and Jigga might reemerge from their luxurious, million-dollar mansions in the sky to find themselves irrelevant to a culture founded on its ability to resonate with the common man.
Obviously materialism in Hip Hop is nothing new. And Jay and Ye have always loved to talk that money shit. But when you couple this latest sonic statement of wealth (no more, and no less) with their upcoming album Watch The Throne‘s ridiculously regal and “expensive-looking” album cover, as well as their previous single, the gaudy, overblown “H.A.M.”, you begin to get the picture of what Jay and Ye think the average person wants to hear; and it’s an arrogant, out of touch, wealth-obsessed, self-obsessed picture, to be sure.
And they couldn’t be more wrong.
Judging by “H.A.M.” and “Otis,” I honestly can’t think of two rappers more out of touch with their audience. Unemployment is sky high, particularly amongst black youth. Congress has a slew of government programs on the chopping block, and yet Republicans refuse to raise taxes on the wealthiest 1% of the country (a percentile of which Jay-Z and Kanye West are clearly outspoken, card-carrying members). More and more Americans are beginning to feel that our government does the bidding of the wealthy elite, even at the expense of the lower and middle class masses. Essentially, people are losing their jobs, their savings, their cars, and their homes as we speak. The average American is struggling, and not happy about it.
So for the two most influential Hip Hop artists in the World to release a high-profile song that does nothing but revel in an over-the-top, diamond-draped, Gucci flip flop-wearing, pink champagne-sipping lifestyle of excess for the sake of excess seems absurd to me. Jay and Ye have always boasted and bragged, and Hip Hop in general has always been imbued with a kind of playful arrogance. But this time around, for some reason, a cringe-worthy Kanye line like “They aint see me cause I pulled up in my other Benz / Last week I was in my other other Benz” just feels…genuinely, sneeringly arrogant. And redundant. And unimaginative. In these hard times where greed rules the day, Jay and Ye are branding themselves as being a part of the problem, rather than the solution.
I have high hopes for Watch The Throne. In fact, I even sympathize with the pressure these guys must feel to meet the general public’s high expectations for this project. But I’m starting to get the feeling that Watch The Throne might be the moment when Kanye West and Jay-Z, and mainstream Hip Hop in general, officially jump the shark; i.e. unknowingly shed the qualities that were once essential to their success and render themselves irrelevant.
They just might be taking this shit too far.
I mean, have you ever gone to Jay-Z’s “lifestyle website” Life + Times? It features images of Audemars Piguet Royal Oak watches, behind the scenes photos from the “Salvatore Ferragamo Women’s Resort 2012 Collection” fashion show, and an exclusive interview with close friend and “sister” Gwyneth Paltrow.
Gwyneth fucking Paltrow.
Chuck D once famously said that Hip Hop is the CNN of the Black Community. Well these days it’s looking more like Fox News to me.
I’m not some self-described Hip Hop “purist.” In any genre of which I’m a fan, I’m always open to its expansion into artistic territory that said “purists” might feel betrays what the genre was initially “about.” And I’ve always accepted the argument that materialism in Hip Hop reflects the hunger an underprivileged person has for a better life, and the utter joy at turning such dreams into reality. But Kanye and Jay-Z are not hungry. They’ve been at the top for a long time. They’ve been rich for a long time. To consistently make songs that deal almost exclusively with your luxurious lifestyle does not uplift your audience. If anything, it abuses your audience. This music reflects priorities with which only a wildly wealthy person can identify.
A song like “Otis” is Hip Hop’s response to shows like Keeping Up With The Kardashians or The Real Housewives of Orange County; entertainment that glamorizes and glorifies the lifestyles of the wealthy and beautiful. Shallow, materialistic, wealth-worshiping nonsense.
A great emcee tells his story. Therefore, if this really is Jay and Ye’s “story”, then by all means shout it to the rooftops. But it’s equally important for an emcee to be able to relate and connect with their audience. Lose that connection, and you lose your spot. Period.
So If I was Jay and Kanye, I’d be watching that throne like a hawk.