Jay-Z Bungles Nirvana

Categories: Jay-Z

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Jay-Z, flannel not pictured
Magna Carta Holy Grail and Yeezus have arrived; somehow, Jay-Z's album has the better production, and Kanye's has the better lyrics.

In any case, one of the most polarizing aspects of the former work is how it uses Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in the opening track, "Holy Grail." Between verses, Justin Timberlake sings "and we all just entertainers / and we're stupid and contagious." (The track is below.) Fans and observers have called it both genius and blasphemy, while critics have used phrases like "beyond triple corny" and suggested Jay-Z's never really engaged with Kurt Cobain's work.

See also: No One Cares About Jay-Z's New Music

Similar criticisms emerge whenever any hip-hop act quotes Nirvana, including Atmosphere, whom Pitchfork called out for marring "a sacred cow" when they similarly channeled "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on 2001's Lucy Ford. Yet it also demonstrates that Nirvana has significantly impacted hip-hop, something most people wouldn't have predicted, and that the impact has been quite enduring. (There's even an up-and-coming rapper named Kirko Bangz.)

Prior to Cobain's death, L.A. underground fixtures 3MG sampled "Heart Shaped Box" for their landmark classic "Sunsprayed". Over a decade later, Texas MC Trae the Truth rhymed over "Smells Like Teen Spirit" at the height of the "Party Like a Rock Star" trend. David Banner played the song during an on-stage breakdown in 2005.

"Holy Grail" also summons the Kurt Cobain martyr narrative: that of a tortured artist forced to become a spectacle for public consumption. For other rappers, this ushers in thoughts of suicide: "Take me away, like a bullet from Kurt Cobain," pleads The Game in "My Life." "Now it's suicidal, just like Nirvana," says Ice Cube on "Natural Born Killaz."


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