Monday, September 28, 2009

Jay-Z More Than a RockStar

  On September 11, 2009, eight years after the attack on the World Trade Center, Jay-Z returned to New York for his 9/11 Answer the Call benefit concert. Among the artists who joined him are: Kid Cudi, Pharell, Kanye West, Rihanna, Swizz Beatz, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, John Mayer, and Sean ‘P.Diddy’ Combs. All of these artists came together to show how the genre of hip-hop has evolved over the decades, and is now staking a claim in the genre of rock music. It is also very much evident that the there are distinct gender roles are the genre of hip-hop.

            The concert begins with the Pledge of Allegiance and an electrifying guitar instrumental of the Star Spangled Banner. Then Jay-Z comes from backstage and greets the audience, and through the reminiscing of 9/11 and reaffirming with the audience that New Yorker’s are still alive and that they “Run This Town”, a play on one of his songs that he would sing later on in the night, they form a comradery. Jay-Z begins the concert by first forming a bond with his audience, both being New Yorker’s and survivors of  9/11, and from this moment until the end of the concert, there is not an instance when the entire arena is not involved in the music and the experience, the audience is never watching the performance, but are performers as well.

            Jay-Z begins his concert with an electric guitar instrumental, but it is only a taste of the crossover that he and his peers of the hip-hop artists have made into the genre of rock music. Jay- Z begins and ends his concert in the same ensemble, a black leather jacket, a classic accessory of rock music, black sunglasses, and an all black shirt, pants, and sneakers, typical of rock artists. This common trend is also seen in the ensembles of the other male hip-hop performers of the night, such as Kanye West. The costumes of the female performers on the other hand are not as conservative, what is consistent however is the black leather; all the female performers don a black leather jacket, and black boots. The crossover from hip-hip music toward rock influences is also seen through the rock band that accompanies Jay-Z and his peers on all of the songs performed that night. Even John Mayer, an acoustic rock performer, joins Jay-Z onstage for a five-song set; by first performing solo instrumentals of a compilation of Jay-Z hit records. The interaction between Jay-Z and John Mayer, along with the drummer, resembles that of a rockband. As John Mayer plays the guitar, it’s a give and take between him and the rhymes of Jay- Z, as they both begin to play off of one another, and fit perfectly together, as they complement one another.

            Another aspect of the benefit concert that deserves further examination is that of the female performers of the evening. Although blending in with their male counterparts in the portrayal of rock influence within hip-hop, through their black attire and leather accessories, artists such as Beyonce and Rihanna approach the stage in scandalous outfits, that are black and sheer, which call great attention to their sexuality. It is also worth noting that Rihanna performs with Jay-Z bra-less. The objectification of women within the genre of hip-hop is still prevalent because of the popular demand for this women to be as clothes-less as possible. In all of the songs performed that night, the male performers referred to their female counterparts as their “bad bitch”, or their “ho”, never addressing them in a positive or respectable light. The women performers of the night although dressed in the most provocative outfits onstage, do their best to be musical powerhouses in their performances. Beyonce shows her vocal strength her song ‘Diva’, as she belts out with domination, ‘ A diva is a female version of a hustla’”, stating that she is nothing less than her male counterpart, just a different version. This is also seen in Rihanna’s chorus in “Run This Town”, as she states, “She’s gonna run this town tonight”. Through their musical delivery, these female performers reclaim their sexuality and do their best to distract the audience from viewing them as objects by showing strength, control, and the power they possess through their voice.

            The ‘Answer the Call’ benefit concert is an excellent source for the examination of the genre of hip-hop, as it begins its crossover into the rock genre, and as it continues to shape separate gender roles for its male and female performers. Jay-Z states his own claim to the crossover hip-hop is making with rock in his lyrics to his song “Jocking Jay-Z”, stating: “That Bloke from Oasis said I couldn’t play guitar/ Somebody shoulda told him I’m a fuckin rock star”.

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