Abstract: Jay Z and Kanye West’s 2011 Watch the Throne is a self-avowed “luxury rap” album centered on Eurocentric conceptions of nobility, artistry, and race. In this paper, I examine how the album alternately imagines and critiques the mutually reinforcing ideas of Europe, nobility, old money, art, and their standard bearer, whiteness. Articulating black Atlantic, postcolonial, and critical theory to work on the prophetic nature of music, I conclude that their performance of critical excess on the album seems to exceed the limits of conspicuous consumption and usher in an age of deeply ambivalent hypercapitalism.
J. Griffith Rollefson is lecturer in popular music studies at University College Cork, National University of Ireland. He has served on the faculties of music at the University of Cambridge and the University of California, Berkeley, where he also served as UC Chancellor’s Public Scholar. His next book, Watch the Throne: Critical Excess and the New Gilded Age in under contract with University of Michigan Press’s Tracking Pop