Monday, July 29, 2013

Jay-Z's Historic Performance at Glastonbury

I'm currently perusing Decoded by Jay-Z, what I would classify as a seminal text in the ever-expanding literature on hip hop history. Reading an insider's perspective from a rap behemoth offers fresh insights on the creative process that I previously hadn't contemplated; how, for example, "a 'dumbed down' record actually forces you to be smarter, to balance art, craft, authenticity, and accessibility" (130). Littered with lyrics to illustrate this point that even songs appealing to the lowest common denominator have multiple layers, it's changed the way I listen to club bangers, Jay-Z, and his latest album, Magna Carta... Holy Grail, perhaps his most hedonistic-themed album to date. Anyways, I digress.

I wanted to share a moment of hip hop history as described by Jay-Z in his book. This moment captures the tension between race and culture. In contrast to the conservatism of other artistic subcultures, Jay-Z embodies the wide and inclusive appeal and reach of hip hop endemic since its roots...since Afrika Bambaata released "Planet Rock" in 1982 and ushered in waves of rockers, wavers, and European tourists from uptown to downtown dance clubs where he and the Soulsonic Force would perform. According to Jeff Chang, "Planet Rock" was "hip-hop's universal invitation, a hypnotic vision of one world under a groove, beyond race, poverty, sociology and geography" (Can't Stop Won't Stop, 172). Here, in a display of uncanny wittiness to open his set, Jay-Z defiantly breaks down stereotypes of what music can and should be played at an English rock festival. Hova not only shows how ridiculous his baiter sounds in his elitism, but also how silly, or rather anachronistic, his music sounds in the 21st century. A historic moment indeed.

In Jay-Z's words:
In 2008 I was invited to play at the Glastonbury Festival in England. I took the gig because it was a chance to knock some doors down for the culture. It's a huge festival, one of the largest outdoor festivals in the world. It started i the seventies and mostly featured rock music, even though the definition of rock music wasn't always clear--what do Massive Attack, Radiohead, the Arctic Monkeys, Bjork, and the Pet Shop Boys really have in common? Well, here's one thing: None of them rap. When it was announced that I'd be headlining Glastonbury, Noel Gallagher of Oasis said, "I'm not having hip-hop at Glastonbury. It's wrong." That quote that went around--"I'm not having hip-hop"--said a lot, like he had a veto...
...As planned, I played that show in front of 180,000 people. I stood backstage with my crew and we looked out at the crowd. It wasn't like any other crowd I'd played. There were tens of thousands of people staring up at the stage but it might as well have been a million--bodies covered my entire field of vision. We were under a dark, open sky. Their cheers and chants were like a tidal wave of sound crashing over the stage. It was awesome and a little ominous.
Before I came out, we played a video intro reel about the controversy that included Gallagher's quote that I had "fucking no chance" of pulling off Glastonbury. Then I walked out on stage with an electric guitar hanging around my neck and started singing Oasis's biggest hit, "Wonderwall." It went over big. Then I tore through my set, with my band, a band, by the way, that's as "Rock" as any band in the world. The show was amazing, one of the highlights of my career. It was one of those moments that taught me that there really is no limit to what hip-hop could do, no place that was closed to its power. My purposefully fucked-up version of "Wonderwall" put it back on the charts a decade after it came out, ironically.
The whole sequence felt familiar to me--that same sense of someone putting their hands and weight on me, trying to push me back to the margins. Telling me to be quiet, not to get into the frame of their pristine picture. It's the story of my life and the story of hip-hop. But the beautiful thing at Glastonbury was that when I opened with "Wonderwall," over a hundred thousand voices rose up into that dark sky to join mine. It was a joke, but it was also kind of beautiful. And then when I segued into "99 Problems," a hundred thousand voices rocked the chorus with me. To the crowd, it wasn't rock and rap or a battle of genres--it was music. (163-166)

 The Introductory Video Played before Jay-Z Entered the Stage:

The Opening Minutes to Jay-Z's Performance:

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