Saturday, December 11, 2021

J. Griffith Rollefson's "Critical Excess"

J. Griffith Rollefson is professor of music at University College Cork, National University of Ireland, and the author of Flip The Script: European Hip Hop and the Politics of Postcoloniality, (winner of the Society for Ethnomusicology’s Ruth Stone Book Prize), founding co-editor of the journal Global Hip Hop Studies (with University of Cape Town’s Adam Haupt), and Principal Investigator of the five-year, €2m European Research Council initiative CIPHER: Hip Hop Interpellation, which is mapping hip hop knowledge flows on six continents (2019-2024).

Rollefson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his newest book, Critical Excess: Watch the Throne and the New Gilded Age, and reported the following:
The first thing that strikes me in looking back at page 99 [inset below left; click to enlarge] of my new book is that I’m thankful it presents Kanye West in all his controversial “asshole one-percenter” glory. The book is called Critical Excess: Watch the Throne and the New Gilded Age and is my provocative close reading of Jay Z and Kanye West’s 2011 "luxury rap” album, Watch the Throne. When I started writing the book in the disorienting wake of Trumpism and Brexit in 2016, I had no idea that Kanye would end up as a MAGA fanboy. Since publication earlier this year I’ve been worried that the book would be misread as some sort of apologia for Kanye’s increasingly questionable and reactionary politics—which, if you read it closely, was never my point. It was nice to revisit this page where I make my core argument about the album’s historical importance, but do it in a way that also reflects all its ugliness and ambivalence.

A big part of Critical Excess’s argument is that on the album Jay and Ye systematically offended white bourgeois sensibilities—and did so to such an excessive degree that Watch the Throne became a tipping point in white resentment and ultimately led to the backlash election of a known racist, misogynist, and narcissist. In the book, I tell the story of how Obama’s presidency had troubled the unspoken laws of white privilege and how, with this album, Jay and Ye threw gas on the fire—leading directly to Trump’s “birther” candidacy. It may sound like an absurd claim, but I still stand by it: Watch the Throne and its images of unapologetic Black success caused Trump to be elected forty-fifth president of the United States of America.

This brings us to the main idea I’m working with on page 99—that the album plays with and ultimately dismantles “received ideas about Europe and/as nobility.” You’ll get the idea from the excerpt (where Ye proposes that Prince William shack up with some fellow entitled mediocre white people), but suffice it to say, the album makes connections that we’re still blind to—connections captured by Daniel O’Connell’s phrase: “the filthy aristocracy of race” and W.E.B. Du Bois’s prophetic sarcasm about “the obligation of nobility to the ignoble.” Indeed, this is the critique that we have failed to heed ever since Duke Ellington, Lady Day, and Count Basie ran the jewels.
Visit the Critical Excess website.

The Page 99 Test: Flip the Script.

--Marshal Zeringue