Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby is as grandiose, glitzy, and glamorous as the commercials suggest, but where does Hip-Hop fit in?
Jay-Z attempts to answer that question by making rap music the soundtrack to epic parties, infidelity, and major groupie love, set in the 1920s.
Visually, Gatsby is stunning. Lead characters, Leonardo DiCaprio (Jay Gatsby), and Tobey Maguire (Nick Carraway) have no problem slipping into a period roughly a half-century before their birth. It’s this believability, that helps viewers transport into a 3D version of “old New York.”
But the music doesn’t fit.
With Hov at the helm, Gatsby is turned into a hodgepodge of misplaced rap tunes in scenes where jazz music –or something more suitable for the time period– should be. Not staying true to the ’20s theme is an admirable risk, which Luhrmann believes paid off because of Jay’s vision. “He totally nailed that the book was aspiration,” the director told MTV News. “That the book was really about, if you’ve got a cause, you can move towards a green light. That you don’t reach it isn’t the point; that you aspire is.”
In short, Gatsby’s climb to the top is one Jay can relate to. Growing up in Brooklyn’s Marcy projects, and selling drugs before rap stardom, the man now worth more than $400 million is a true rags-to-riches story. Perhaps it was this correlation that inspired him to juxtapose the main character’s extravagant lifestyle with his own “$100 Bill,” record. The aforementioned release was recorded specifically for the film, and stands as one of two (the second being Beyoncé and Andre 3000’s take on the Amy Winehouse favorite, “Back to Black“) tracks played during the movie that don’t feel as out of sync with the storyline.
Given his influence over the music, sports, and entertainment worlds alike, producers behind the film likely believe that adding Jay to the mix makes for a greater box-office return. He’s Hip-Hop’s quintessential big brother figure, one whose moves we –and his peers– watch, mimic, and praise. It’s this level of confidence that points to why he tackles The Great Gatsby soundtrack in the same manner in which he approaches other business ventures. Jay is not here to conform, he’s a trailblazer.
Despite owning less than a 1 percent share of the Brooklyn Nets (which he sold last month), the 43-year-old played a large role in redesigning the team’s logo, colors, and move from New Jersey to Brooklyn. As the NBA season wraps up, his various courtside appearances, and promotion of Nets’ gear, did little to push merchandise off the shelves. “The New Jersey Nets have been almost expunged by the black-and-white hipness of Brooklyn,” Steve Busfield writes in an article for the UK Guardian. “While an occasional retro jersey can be spotted among the throng and a (small) number of New Jersey achievement banners hang from the rafters, the team are already so much more Brooklyn than Nets, a transition that can be felt by the gusto with which the crowd chant “Brooooooklyn, Broooooooklyn” compared to the relative lack of conviction in ‘Let’s Go Nets!'”
Of course, the reaction of sports fans doesn’t necessarily dictate whether or not Jay’s foray into film scoring will be a success, but it forecasts a potential outcome. No matter how big his name has grown since the days of Reasonable Doubt, inhabitants of Hip-Hop culture aren’t always lining up in droves to throw money at his projects; and The Great Gatsby may become the latest in a growing list of marketing misfires.
Will Hip-Hop show stronger support for The Great Gatsby because of Jay? Feel free to weigh in below.
Photo: Don Emmert