Mr Hudson posted a video today of a Jay-Z show in London that he showed up at to sing “Young Forever”, a riff on Alphaville’s “Forever Young”. Here’s a clip of the chorus done a couple of times. You better bet that this will show up in a concert video or promotional video for the clip:
The most striking thing to me, though, was at the end of the second round, where Hova kicks in to the intro of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. This happens at every concert…someone segues from their own song into a crowd-pleaser that gets the audience hyped, or maybe they play a bunch of party jams right before the show starts. For Jay, the fact that he can stage a huge sing-along for a song that was considered alternative in the 80s, it becomes a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, there is no question that Jay-Z can rock a crowd, no matter where they are. But does that ability hurt his street cred? Sadly, it does. There’s a double-standard playing here…so much of the rap body of work talks about escaping poverty and making it big. Yet Jay has to deal with the “sell out” tag, amid accusations that he isn’t street anymore. There’s no winning for winning, is there?
When you get to travel the world and meet people of different cultures and ethnicities, that changes you. If Jay-Z brings other influences to his music, that makes him better, right? Well, you would hope so. And yet, using “Forever Young” as the hook on a track also creates a built-in sing-along for a certain portion of his audience, especially in foreign territories. The hook is undeniable, and the associations for people my age are ingrained. This begs the question of whether “Forever”‘s inclusion is strictly for artistic purposes, or if it is just a crowd-pleaser. From my perspective, I think “Young Forever” is one of the stronger tracks on Blueprint 3, but maybe I need to remove myself from the debate, since I would have been right there in the middle of the crowd, singing at the top of my lungs.
We talk about selling out, catering to certain audiences, working with the “right” producer, but at the end of it all, if the listener finds something that resonates, then the music has done its job. As much as I hate the God-and-nation forms of country music, it works for someone, and who am I to deprive them of that. So the same goes for rap music. If you can bridge the gap by speaking the musical language of the audience you are playing to, more power to you.