Loading...
Hip-Hop

Jay-Z's Great Gatsby Soundtrack Is a Failure

Comments (0)

By

Wed, May 8, 2013 at 3:30 AM
click to enlarge ggsoundtrack.jpg

When the first trailer for Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby was released a year ago, it was set to the music of Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," from the sometimes duo's incredibly self-important Watch the Throne album.

On the surface it made sense. Jay-Z -- who retired as a rapper in 2003, only to re-emerge three years later as a branding mogul who raps mainly to further his brand recognition and expand on his legacy (and occasionally become a topic of discussion in White House press briefings) -- has become the soundtrack for film trailers from 42 to Sex in the City 2 to Safe House to GI Joe: Retaliation to a few movies that could be listed but no one would recognize.

See also: The Making of The Chronic

There's no clear beginning of this music-to-movie relationship. One could say it began with 2007's American Gangster, Jay's underwhelming post-retirement, post-Kingdom Come backlash comeback-slash-concept album.

But looking further back, there was 2004's Fade to Black concert documentary, his 2000 Backstage concert documentary and, before it all, Streets is Watching, his loosely plotted feature film/music video compilation DVD from 1998.

What made the Gatsby trailer different from everything before it was that it was released at the height of Jay and Kanye's griping about the gilded cages they had wrought with the fame and fortune they've pursued with almost single-minded mastery and featured a group of well-dressed Black folk cruising a New York City bridge in a fancy drop top vehicle while clinking champagne glasses and wielding a bottle of alcohol.

Set in the 1920's, it played like a science fiction or alternate history, making a dozen statements without missing a beat. By the time the actual boring, overblown Romain Gavras-directed  video for "No Church in the Wild" came out a few days later, it paled in comparison. Where the video was all aesthetic and slow-motion signifiers signifying nothing, the Gatbsy trailer was garish and raucous and vibrant and personal and decadent and sinister. Gavras alluded to Arab springs and London riots and civil rights battles and Occupy movements with beautiful moving pictures, but Lurmann's trailer was all tension and menace and masquerades of a more relatable form. For all its visual reaching, "Church" was provocation for provocation's sake; Gatsby's trailer was provocative because it made a book we've all read more than once seem like a movie we had to see -- even if it's already been translated to film four times and this one was directed by the guy who brought us Moulin Rouge.

All this needs to be taken into account when evaluating the soundtrack for The Great Gatsby because, despite the quaint origin story of Jay and Lurhmann meeting in the room at the Mercer Hotel where Jay was recording "No Church in the Wild," this soundtrack has not been advertised or talked about in terms of art, but sheer market power: the big names, the big event, the "executive produced by Jay-Z" of it all.

Yet, listening to the album, there seems to be a small handful of songs (if that) that Jay himself would actually pump through his solid rhodium Beats by Dre headphones. This is not his Made in America festival, which he ostensibly curates with music that would be in a playlist that actually gets used on his iPhone 7. This is not Paid in Full, the 2002 soundtrack to the movie he produced, which highlighted the type of music he grew up on and served as a platform for the artists on his label. This is his minority share in the Brooklyn Nets, being flipped for courtside seats, a box suite, 40/40 and Roc-a-Wear stores and Ace of Spades deals in the Barclays Center. This is Business Jay. Even the "JG" (Jay Gatsby) insignia from the movie poster is transformed into "JZ" for the soundtrack artwork. Because he's not a business, man, he's a logo, like the Coca-Cola script or the golden arches.

For his part, Jay shows up on "100$ Bill," a throwaway track full of Gatsby-inspired Easter egg rhymes and boasts of how he used to sell drugs ("Malcolm of the talcum") but is now the "new Kennedy, no ordinary Joe," and it's all puffed out via a stilted flow that sounds as if he can't even be bothered to finish his couplets. André 3000 and Beyoncé remake Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black," an idea that doesn't read well on paper and comes off even worse in reality. Realizing that neither of them can match Winehouse's comfortable despair or vocal range, Three Stacks and Mrs. Carter opt for coquettish detached deliveries over a minimal pulsating semi-groove, which is a shame; the original would have fit the movie's theme better.

Related Content

Related

Now Trending

  • The Best Concerts to See in L.A. This Week

    Be sure to check out our constantly updated concert calendar! Monday, July 21 Lady Gaga STAPLES CENTER Since she first burst onto the scene and into the hearts and minds of her little monsters, Lady Gaga has become a genre unto herself. Beyond her hit-laden catalog, featuring many of the...
  • Alice Cooper's Words of Warning to Guitarist Nita Strauss

    At age 27, new Alice Cooper touring guitarist Nita Strauss is younger than many of the fans in the audience. But gigs playing guitar with acts as diverse as reunited ‘80s rockers Femme Fatale, video game tribute band Critical Hit, and Jermaine Jackson – yes, that Jermaine Jackson – have...
  • The 10 Biggest Classic Rock Douchebags

    While rock ‘n’ roll is necessarily classified as a form of pop music, it is actually an idiom whose radical, destructive primitivism established a new type of socio-cultural disorder. It’s about rejection of the status quo and celebration of the dis-imprisonment it instills. Always exploited for profit, rock’s unmanageable aspects...
    277
Los Angeles Concert Tickets

Slideshows

  • Air Guitar Championship Semifinals @ The Troubadour
    The Southwest Semifinals of the US Air Guitar Championship were held last Saturday at the historic Troubadour Club in West Hollywood. The event determined who would compete as regional representatives at the 2014 National Finals in Kansas City on August 9th. The colorful contestants (many of whom opted for elaborate codpieces) were judged by comedians Kristen Schaal and the Sklar Brothers. The top score was awarded to crowd-surfing guitarist Kingslayer, the mother of a teenage son who also competed wearing little more than an American flag bathing suit. All photos by Gustavo Turner.
  • Lucha VaVOOM @ The Mayan Theatre
    Lucha VaVOOM to The Mayan Theatre on Thursday night with a dose of their Sexy, Hot, Summer FUN! show to a packed house. With all the girls, guns and muscles what could go wrong? All photos by Timothy Norris.
  • The Best L.A. Concert Scenes of 2014 (So Far)
    With more secret shows, more once-in-a-lifetime performances, and more venues than any place else, there is no doubt that L.A. is one of the top places on the planet to see live music. Here are the best concert scenes of 2014 (so far).