"Dedicated To The Winners & The Losers..." - Raekwon

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3: Review – Part 1: Jay-Z Vs. The Grizzly Bear Concert

"Politics As Usual."

For the last couple of months, my Sunday nights have been spent playing in the infamous Brooklyn Hipster Kickball league (Go Divine Sisterhood Of The Sacred Bleeding Heart!!!) that transforms McCarren Park into the be-jorted hipster heaven on the weekends. For the first three summers that I moved to the city, I had viewed this league as the type of precious, twee, faux-ironic, scenester bullshit that the indie culture has unfortunately come to represent in the eyes of outsiders. The spectacle of watching emaciated, bearded hipster rocking uniforms made of Snuggies and prancing about on a kickball field made my skin crawl and wish that I could afford to live in Manhattan. I felt that way until I was asked by one of my friends if I wanted to join their team. I naturally balked a bit at first but then I decided what the hell, “I’ve got nothing to do but cure my hangover, anyway.” I soon realized the playing kickball was undeniably awesome and that my fears of being infected with incurable hipster cancer were completely unwarranted. Kickball rules. I want to be 10 years old, again.

Now while you are down at the park on Sunday evenings, you can often catch the ethereal vestiges of music floating in the air, emanating from the free Pool Party concert series played down near the waterfront in Williamsburg. These concerts are usually played by some flavor-of-the-month indie rock band that has the Pitchfork crowd in a tizzy. On the promise of free alcohol and a V.I.P. pass, I have attended these shows before. They are exercise in everything that’s annoying about hipster culture. Men with pretentious facial hair. Poor Dye Jobs. Unfortunately tattooed pretty girls consciously trying to make themselves unattractive as possible. Girl Talk. You can smell the irony in the air.

Last week, Grizzly Bear (of that one song that’s kind of awesome fame…) was headlining the last show of the summer and the neighborhood was abuzz with the typical amount of ironically detached excitement that these things can foster. Basically, the few Williamsburgers that were not at the Grizzly Bear concert were down being seen in their Sunday best at McCarren either kickballing or lounging about. Around 9 o’clock, the park started to buzz with excitement as the first few conquering heroes from the concert joined the herd and informed us that they had seen a unicorn in the crowd. Shawn Corey Carter and his wife, Beyonce (and Solange but really who cares…), had graced the trust fund brigade with their presence to watch Grizzly Bear grizzly bear it up. Controversy ensued.

Since Jay-Z’s faux-fake-not (that’s a triple negative, y’all) retirement, there has been a lot of talk about Jay’s betrayal of his hip hop, drug-selling roots. Over the years, Jay has slowly taken the doo rag off, moved from button-ups and beach sandals, to keffiyehs and other assorted scarves. All of his long-time associates (except the irrepressible Memphis J. Bleek. Get that inheritance money, Malik!) have accused Jay of forgetting where he came from (or rather not making them insanely rich as he is) and abandoning them for greener pastures. His associates over the years have grown whiter and more “respectable.” He dropped Beans for Buffett, State Property for Coldplay, and Amil for Gwyneth Paltrow. Consequently, his music has shifted from tales of crack sales and gun battles to Jigga’s adventures with the yacht club. His music has been definitive narrative shift for six years now and it’s peaking with the release of his new album, “The Blueprint 3.” Jay-Z is no longer about the streets. The fact that Jay-Z would attend an indie rock concert (in 2009!) is irrefutable proof that Hov is more concerned with fitting in with white people than making music that appeals to hip hop’s core audience of people who think Gucci Mane is a genius because he’s using fourth grade vocabulary words. (Word to Andrew Noz!) Clearly, Jay hates the streets now. And as for the hipsters, Jay’s presence at one of their most sacred of institutions, at best, was trend hopping carpet-bagging and, at worst, a corruption of all that is pure and decent about indie culture. Jay-Z does not belong there.

Of course, that’s a profoundly idiotic notion and belies more on the prejudices of those making the assertion than any calculation that Hov is making. Jay-Z grew up in the Marcy Projects in the adjacent neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant. If you were to walk from the corner of Marcy Ave and Flushing, it would approximately take you about 20 to 25 minutes to reach the waterfront in Willamsburg where the concert was taking place. It’s a 10 minute cab ride (5 minutes if you get lucky with the lights and traffic). He is not invading foreign turf that does not belong to him. Brooklyn is his home. The fact that Williamsburg has been overrun by twenty-something, white film students from the Midwest (Word to myself!) does not make Jay a foreigner in a distance land. When Jay was growing up in Marcy that neighborhood was populated with a majority of black faces and if anything by attending one of these concerts, it can be seen as some kind of weird, reverse colonialist hipster reclamation project. In four years of living in Brooklyn, I have met few, fellow Brooklynites living in Williamsburg that were living there longer than 10 years ago. And I can guarantee that almost nobody at that concert (including the Brooklyn-based performers) were living in the neighborhood when Jigga dropped “Reasoable Doubt.”

In some respects, you can see Jay’s gravitation towards indie rock culture as a natural evolution for an artist that’s been consistently adapting his style his entire career. People forget but Jay has been, perhaps, the most avant-garde pop rap artist of all-time. From “Hard Knock Life” onwards, Jay’s sound has consistently taken chance after chance and its consistently come out in victory. Taking cues from hipster rap and indie culture seems logical when you consider that he grew up near one of the great vestiges of urban art culture in the twentieth century and has shown an interest in cultures that extend beyond the traditional boundaries of hip hop for years. You think Jigga would’ve worked with UGK and Timbaland if he was stubborn, east-coast traditionalist (like myself)? Hell The Fuck No! What do you think “Big Pimpin” was but a play at avant-garde, southern relevancy? Becoming friends with Chris and Gwyneth seems logical when you consider the chances that he’s taken professionally over the years. And so does attending a Grizzly Bear concert? Tastes evolve as you grow. This ain’t some calculated play for hipster cool, people.

Still I had extreme reservations about “Blueprint 3.” I wasn’t sure if Jay-Z was the musician or rapper in 2009 to be able to pull off a hipster rap album. “D.O.A.” was unequivocal, reactionary basura and “Run This Town” made my body want to rapidly bleed out through my ears. When I returned home that evening from kickball (after a fucking monster game. I had like 3 unassisted double plays, a bunch of hits, and a plethora of great defensive plays. Yes, I’m bragging about kickball! WHAT?!?!) , I was dreading listening to the leak. It turns out my fears were unfounded...

To Be Continued...


Anonymous said...

uhhh there is no review here...so how is this "part 1"?

DocZeus said...

Patience, grasshopper, patience.

Christopher said...

I would like to imagine a Jay-Z led Reconquista of Brooklyn. I've been here too long to not cringe at Markowitz' positing the borough as the new Seattle. Queens and the Bronx do not have "VISIT BROOKLYN" tourist trap signs, but the place where I spent years living in a Bed-Stuy brownstone with other kids of Caribbean descent is now spoken of in derision because of a few thousand entitled, faux-artistic middle class opportunists. I don't miss the violence and lingering nighttime scariness that still permeates Canarsie/East New York, but I don't appreciate having my entire borough turned into Park Slope over the course of 7 years either.

Side note: People have actually been bitching about Jay being at the Grizzly bear show? I didn't bother reading the comments when it was reported on Brooklyn Vegan but I wouldn't have thought anyone to be lame enough to have some meely-mouthed ideological issue with it.

And good call on the relevance of the Marcy/Bed-Stuy/Williamsburg proximity

bding7 said...

I've been here too long to not cringe at Markowitz' positing the borough as the new Seattle.

I'm curious what you're trying to imply with that statement. I lived in Seattle, and it's quite lovely.

Honestly, you should spend even more time musing about kickball. It's the true uniter.

DocZeus said...

Kickball is the greatest sport in the history of beer leagues. Simply because it requires no inherent talent to play and athletic talent gets muted when nearly every fly ball is an instant out. It becomes a game of small ball, defense, base-running and strategic kicking.

My team has won the majority of its game this year and we have scored no more than 3 or 4 runs in each of them. You can win just by simply kicking smarter and not making an costly errors.

Trey Stone said...

to be fair, all noz was saying what that those words aren't super common in hip hop, not that Gucci Mane must be some kind of scholar since he uses 'em. not a Gucci fan, and i'm sure you were probably half-joking there, just that i think people need to chill on the exaggerated visionary genius/mentally retarded binaries when it comes to rappers like Wayne/Cam/Gucci. just evaluate 'em on their own merits

good post otherwise. really think the whole Jay desperate to be hip angle has been read too much into. it's entirely possible to be a casual fan of other genres without going for token eclecticism or whatever. and dude was maybe a little out of his depth with his indie v. hip hop comments, but really, it's a thought that applies to music cycles in general

Rap Music said...

Great posts!

Hip hop Honeys said...

interesting stuff