Jay-Z's Great Gatsby Soundtrack is a Failure

Categories: Jay-Z

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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: Point: Jay-Z Sold Out Brooklyn

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.

See also: Counterpoint: Jay-Z Saved Brooklyn

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.


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13 comments
DA_Neal
DA_Neal

Just when I'm getting into the movie the modern pop culture snaps me right back out of it. Guugh. 

MusicIntheHeart
MusicIntheHeart

How is the soundtrack a failure when it debuted #2 on the Billboard 200 charts? The film is also a box office hit, making over $300 million worldwide and it's Baz Lurhman's first film to reach $100 million domestically.

I enjoyed the soundtrack and felt it complemented the film. The article reads like the author just wanted Jay-Z to fail.

MusicIntheHeart
MusicIntheHeart

How is the soundtrack a failure when it debuted #2 on the Billboard 200 charts? The film is also a box office hit, making over $300 million worldwide and it's Baz Lurhman's first film to reach $100 million domestically.

I enjoyed the soundtrack and felt it complemented the film. The article reads like the author just wanted Jay-Z to fail.

knmeier27
knmeier27

All the haters can go to HELL.  This soundtrack is revolutionary and PURE genius.  Baz went out on a limb and he scored big time.  Go, Jay-Z.  The soundtrack will outlive the movie.  DiCaprio et al are fabulous too!

ekkie101
ekkie101

Jay Z is a hack with sampling equipment. He is not qualified to score a movie about the twenties because he doesn't know and doesn't want to know anything about the music. The music of the twenties was far superior than anything Jay Z or any other rapper has ever come up with. He and director Baz Luhrmann have turned a classic story into garbage. I won't watch this movie because the hip-hop sound track will make me nauseous.

mirshahids
mirshahids

I really enjoyed the album...if kris ex doesn't then that's okay but to me it comes off that kris ex seems a little bitter...critics should be objective when assessing a work, not trying to go for a headline...

Sarah Van Sicklen
Sarah Van Sicklen

Why isn't the V V publishing Rob Bresznys Free Will Astrology? Can't find it in the pages at all! What's going on???

GORBY
GORBY

@MusicIntheHeart You maggot. That's the reason why it fails. That's the reason why Hollywood has failed in producing a movie that is supposed to recreate the genuine aura of 20's.

The fact that you condone this tasteless mass of meaningless, out of place garbage being INJECTED in a CLASSY society of the 20s, to reinforce the fallacy that good music then is equal to music now; you're pathetic.

GORBY
GORBY

@knmeier27 Hey imbecile, you call playing shitty tasteless shit in a classy environ a revolution? It's like adding water to cocktails. It dilutes the cocktails. Revolution would be more like adding some METAL music to a conservative classical piece but this shit is just a piece of blatant propaganda. Art? If conformist vapidness is the new art, go fuck yourself.

GORBY
GORBY

@felixthecat Huh?

So you actually believe this is equivalent in intellect and charm to actual 20s music?


You are one craaaazy man.

knmeier27
knmeier27

@ekkie101  

I guess you don't know art.   It is nothing to re-do the same thing over and over again. It is PURE ART to re-do it  with style, class, nuance, and modernity.  Baz and all the cast, etc deserve an Oscar for this one.

GORBY
GORBY

You're crazy. PURE ART isn't conforming to mainstream idiocy. That's tasteless BS.

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