Guest post by Karl Brisseaux.
I’ve made it very clear on Twitter and my blog: I am pretty excited about Watch the Throne, the new Jay-Z and Kanye West collaborative album. How excited?
Anyway, I’m writing to address some more of the underlying issues and themes present throughout the album. There are a lot of different ways we can (and should) look at the art we consume – especially the music we listen to. I love listening to music so as to appraise its entertainment value, and Hip-Hop is probably my favorite genre. I grew up on it, memorizing the rhymes and nodding along to iconic melodies. However, I often feel conflicted about some of the themes that are all too present in Hip-Hop, moments where you wonder whether or not something’s OK to say. And Watch the Throne is filled with them.
Kanye West is one of my favorite rappers, but it can be hard to ignore some of the blatantly misogynistic lyricism throughout this latest offering. The same can be said about Jay-Z. The kind of destructively sexist language used isn’t exclusive to this duo, but since this album is the most au courant thing in music today, it’s worth looking at specifically.
I believe that the materialism and objectification on Watch the Throne, and in Hip-Hop music in general, stems from the fact that rappers in particular have lived in marginality themselves. For example, Jay-Z grew up in poverty, and today is worth upwards of $500 million. His raps about luxury cars and private jets make sense – a Black man flaunting the spoils of success in the face of a world that wasn’t exactly built for him to succeed. On the other hand, some of Kanye’s raps about his sexual conquests might be occasionally entertaining, but point to some issues he may have with his own self-image. In our society, men who have a lot of sex with women are often seen as more masculine – perhaps the sexism rampant in entertainment is compensation for low self-esteem.
And yet, in spite of the issues I can point out in the music, I still find it entertaining as a whole. Am I wrong for listening and being a fan? Maybe. I find value in Watch the Throne, in the same way I find value in television like Mad Men and in movies like City of God. But I also recognize the fact that there’s a line between creative and inappropriate. A very fine, gray one.
Karl Brisseaux is a senior at Lehigh University pursuing a degree in Applied Science and Mechanics. He serves as a volunteer as a part of Break The Silence, a student group dedicated to addressing sexual violence. He has served as the editor of a social justice magazine on his campus and as a columnist in the university’s newspaper.