Kanye West: Rap Game Jay Gatsby?

July 3, 2013 4 comments

Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry “Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!”
—Thomas Parke D’Invilliers1

thegreatyeezy

Artwork by: Daniel Hew

Wild parties, fast cars, beautiful shirts and the mansion. Over the course of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal novel “The Great Gatsby,” it’s clear that Jay Gatsby will do whatever is in his power to rekindle the romance he had with his one true love, Daisy Buchanan (née Fay). His plan was to woo her, to draw her in with wealth, opulence and grandiosity.

Despite the choice riling a number of people up, when Jay-Z was revealed to be the executive producer for the soundtrack of the summer blockbuster version of “The Great Gatsby,” it was obvious that Jay-Z would be a perfect fit.

How could they add modern music to a story with ties so close to the Roaring 20s? That era does have the nickname “The Jazz Age,” after all. It should just have jazz music, dammit! Well, if you really want to create a modern film based on a classic story of exuberance and a guy who made himself from nothing by selling a drugs illegally, Jay-Z might have some insight here. He could be the guy you want to be in charge of sounds for the flick.2 The trailer, which featured “No Church In The Wild“—a song that can more accurately depict the decadent time than a Cole Porter record—put two characters who are very similar in a close proximity and made one thing more blatantly obvious than its ever was. Kanye West is Jay Gatsby. Kanye West is in the same boat borne against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

“Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!”

 

In 2006 Kanye West got engaged to Alexis Phifer and in 2008—after 18 months—the engagement was called off. Along with the tragic death of his mother Donda West, what came of this was 808s & Heartbreak, the emotional album that has given rappers the courage to be more sensitive than people who have a Tumblr.3 Kanye switched up his style and made a transformation in the general public’s eyes from really-eccentric-”jackass“-rapper to kind-of-batshit-crazy-rapper.

When considering the Kanye career arc 808s & Heartbreak is the most import album in his discography. 808s was the  inauguration of  the artistic Kanye: the album to follow the pop-rap crossover hit Graduation. Furthermore, 808s was the start of West’s clandestine plan to use his music and grandiosity to cathartically acquire his lost love Alexis Phifer and a focused attempt at being an icon. West’s music is a grand party at Jay Gatsby’s mansion. The alcohol flows liberally and the band plays with pomp and circumstance, but just as Gatsby, all Kanye seems to be interested in the green light glowing from a distance. Wether it be Gatsby’s  yearning for Daisy Buchannon, the girl he fell in love with as a young soldier or Kanye for both Phifer and the desire to be an icon, they both close their eyes and desperately reach for it. The symbol for the American Dream hypnotizes both men.

West essentially dedicated the entire album to Phifer. He’s said publically that the songs aren’t based on one woman in particular or one experience and how could they? He was well into adulthood at the time which must call for plenty of source material to write the songs about women. However, “Love Lockdown,” “Heartless,” “Say You Will,” “Bad News?” Let’s not kid ourselves.

In the period between 808s and West’s next album he showed his ass. Shortly before the album’s release he was arrested twice for smashing paparazi’s cameras.4 He dated Amber Rose for some time, a stuntastic move on West’s part. But, first and foremost at the Kanye West showing his ass pinnacle there was what we’ll call, “The Incident.” In the cover story from Complex’s Oct/Nov  2010 issue editor-in-chief Noah Callahan-Bever reveals that West decided he was going to give up music, move out of the country and focus on fashion after “The Incident.” He ran away, just as Gatsby did out of shame. After only attending college for a short time Gatsby dropped out of college because he couldn’t bear poverty. ((Is it worth mentioning that Kanye West dropped out of college at this point? Not sure; but it definitely is worth mentioning that Kanye West is the founder of Broke Phi Broke, the saddest fraternity of all time. The upside is that they won’t be date raping anybody because they can’t afford rohypnol.)) When Gatsby befriends and becomes copper tycoon Dan Cody’s mentee he learns the ways of the wealthy. Cody’s death and his mistress cheating Gatsby out of a large sum of money causes him to enlist in the army to serve in World War 1. During Gatsby’s time as a soldier he meets and falls in love with Daisy Buchanan during military training in Louisville  Kentucky. Daisy is the daughter of a rich family with money so old it has white hairs. Needless to say, she is out of Jay Gatsby’s league  Again, Gatsby leaves, this time because his job requires him to. While overseas  Gatsby received a letter from Daisy which revealed to him that she had married Tom Buchanan—a racist brutish dickhead. Gatsby would set his heart on returning back to America and winning Daisy’s love: through excess.

 

“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.

 

 Of course Kanye West couldn’t really stay away from music. It’s in his viscera. As he stated in his recent New York Times interview West’s fifth solo effort, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was his way of being loved again—by the public and perhaps a subconscious effort to capture the attention of his ex-fiance—and he did it by being as grand as possible. West made G.O.O.D. Fridays, an unprecedented recurring weekly event in which West and his G.O.O.D. music cohorts would release music for free. A who’s who of the most hip-hop heavy hitters—and even the genius behind Bon Iver, Justin Vernon—found their way to Hawaii to work on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The studio was akin to Jay Gatsby’s house: a revolving door of faces came and went and the party would come to be the talk of the town. The album would get acclaim from the most prestigious of critics. Pitchfork named it the best album of 2010. So did Complex, Rolling Stone and Time. Not to mention after debuting at number one on the Billboard charts its since went platinum, the barometer of commercial success. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is West’s successful attempt at curating an album that is not only an essential contribution to the hip-hop canon, but the cannon of music as a whole.

Watch The Throne, the collaboration album between two hip-hops giants, Kanye West and Jay-Z would follow. Both of the artists came up from nothing as Jay Gatsby did. “Niggas In Paris,” is an example of this.5 Grasping the American Dream is tough enough and since both Hov and Yeezy made it in America they’ll make the most of it. Watch The Throne was an experiment in extravagance to the point that the album packaging is in a mock gold case designed by Riccardo Tisci, the creative director of the high fashion brand Givenchy. Watch The Throne is grandiose and self-congratulatory and contains a level of idealism. The insane nuevo riche extravaganza that Watch The Throne is is a reminder to Jay Gatsby’s lifestyle. He purchased the most beautiful shirt, the largest house and the newest cars, i.e. ninety percent of the content in Watch The Throne.

 

“No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”

 

When you’re at the top shouldn’t every thing be wonderful? When you’ve worked hard to capture something should you have it? The girl? The status of an icon?

West returns to writing songs about his beloved Alexis Phifer on the his latest record Yeezus—“Hold My Liquor” and “Guilt Trip” for sure and possibly “Bound 2″ and “I’m In It.” From the ouside looking in it would appear as though Kanye West would be content because of the success he’s garnered from his former projects. But he isn’t. He’s mad. He’s punk. After years of being hip-hop’s most reliable pop artist he transforms into and makes his undoubtedly least poppy record. It is study in nostalgia, the American Dream and wealth—rife with symbolism like “The Great Gatsby.”

“New Slaves,” in particular has some telling lyrics in the development. “They prolly all in the Hamptons, Bragging ’bout what they made. Fuck you and your Hampton house, I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse. Came on her Hampton blouse and in her Hampton mouth.” West was once the poster child for luxury rap, one of the first to mention and wear designer brands outside of the normal Versace and Gucci, the former self-proclaimed Luis Vuitton Don. This is West turning his back on that lifestyle. Saying that he is not for sale. Yeezus is the death of Kanye West as we knew him.

Perhaps, the most striking resemblance West has to Gatsby is that they are crucial pieces to classics. Though, “The Great Gatsby” wasn’t all that well-received upon its release it went down in history as The Great American Novel. Say what you will about Kanye West, but he makes the best music there is. He’s a living legend. When criticizing his shortcomings maybe shut the hell up and listen to his music or take heed to the advice the books narrator Nick Carraway’s father gave him:

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”


  1. This poem is the epigraph to “The Great Gatsby.” If you don’t know this where have you been? You haven’t read “The Great Gatsby?” Get off of the internet and go read the damn thing. Also, Thomas Parke D’Invilliers is not a real person, but he makes an appearance in Fitzgerald’s first novel, “This Side of Paradise.” 

  2. The best thing about the 2013 version of “The Great Gatsby” was by far the soundtrack. The contemporary music added to the experience because the story of Gatsby is not a period piece, but a timeless tale of The American Dream. Baz Luhrmann’s direction can make you feel like you’ve taken bath salts, yet you can’t help but feel more adjacent to the romance as Lana Del Rey’s voice reverberates in the theater. 

  3. Drake. Kid Cudi. J. Cole. The whole crybaby set. They’re like rapping Morriseys. I like those guys. I like The Smiths. Sue me. 

  4. Those sleezeballs. 358bgh5.jpg 

  5. On the surface “Niggas In Paris” is yet another boastful rap song, but when looking deeper it is a celebration of beating the odds. The title itself illustrates this ideal clearly. “Niggas” (black men with social and economic odds stacked against them) “In Paris” (a legendary city of class, wealth, romance, art and culture). The rappers juxtapose the two ideals with one another throughout the song with lines like “spillin’ Ace (expensive champagne) on my sick J’s” (essential sneaker prevalent in urban communities).