I would like to take the following few lines, dear reader, in order to respond to Andrew Ketchums review of the Kanye West and Jay Z song “Niggas in Paris” on the (now not so) recent episode of Nice Tunes “Bjork – Debut”. Andy for some reason takes a few minutes to do a mini review of this song, and although he says nothing “wrong” ‘per’ ‘say’ he does make a few misguided comments, and I would like to expand his discussion of that song (or text if you prefer (snark mark)).
First of all, Andy does say that he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about when it comes to hip-hop, that’s cool. It’s a good disclaimer because what he says doesn’t really make sense. He says that he doesn’t like the style of rapping on the song which is a fine enough comment to make, but then he goes on to say that it sounds like they’re just yelling stuff which I have to rebuke. I’ve listened to rap where the lyrics are yelled, and neither Jay Z or Kanye West prescribe to that style at all. Jay Z has a smooth flow most of the time, and Kanye too has a pretty standard and, at times, almost sing songy style. If Andy wants to listen to rappers that yell he should listen to Wu-Tang(RZA, Ghostface, Raekwon…), or The Beastie Boys(who are the kings of yelling as far as I’m concerned).
Tim then chimes in with something to the effect of “mumble mumble…braggadocio”, which is sort of right, but I don’t think that braggadocio fits the whole bill. There is something far more interesting going on here than there appears to be which is where the song’s brilliance lies. If you examine Jay and Kanye’s lyrics you will see that in fact: yes they are not rapping about anything, really. Jay Z devotes his bars to watches, basketball, and money. The hook is about “balling”, I suppose in a general sense. Kanye’s verse is about a girl not used to living like a superstar: “what she order? fish filet”, and just general bragging about how awesome he is which let’s be honest is not out of place in a Yeezy track. However West ends his verse with the lines: “Got my niggas in paris and they going gorillas” followed by the infamous blades of glory sample:
“I don’t even know what that means / Nobody knows what it means, but it’s provocative… gets the people going.”
Now we could take this analysis a few directions(no one knows what “nigga” means, no one is able to understand Kanye because he’s on another level), but I think there is evidence that supports this as a subversive move. Since the track has thus far been so much about “nothing”, the listener really can’t make much of the song. West is turning the pop song around on the audience and laughing. He’s saying of course you don’t know what it means, “nobody knows what it means”, but you like it don’t you – it gets you going. This is in service of an entrance, a real entrance to an album because “Niggas in Paris” is not just a hugely popular song, that sample and the following outro is welcoming you to the whole Watch the Throne album.
To make this point I will have to go into the album more as a whole(and at this point I realize yes, this has nothing to do with Andy’s argument). So the album starts with this incredibly thematically dense song about religion and sex and race in which the rappers more or less ascribe themselves as a new religion. And then that’s followed by a vapid song about success with their bae Beyonce. So when “Niggas in Paris” comes on the next track and it ends with their “You are now watching the throne” they are saying: this is what we are. We are pop songs yes, but we are also going to talk about some rougher stuff, and we might hide it in layers of pop, but we know it and we own it. And I think that holds up for the rest of the album. With “Niggas in Paris” they prove, “These other niggas is lyin, actin’ like the summer ain’t mine” and then they do the summer their way.