Single Review: Kanye West & Jay-Z – H•A•M

Returning to Mezzic is Madison’s own composer/producer Jimmy Roxy. Ever since his dog died, the world has become a cruel, senseless place filled with hateful cats who feel the need to mark their territory in his closet.

When the gangsta rappers of yore are playing cops on Law and Order, starring in Are We There Yet, and shilling shitty headphones, it’s hard to take a bombastic affirmation of “street-cred” like “H.A.M.,” seriously. We can examine “H.A.M.” in two ways: 1. A poorly assembled crunk hip-hopera with earnest lyrics worse than Soulja Boy, or 2. A (genius,) ironic commentary on the gangsta rap paradigm.  For the sake of entertaining a wild cultural hypothesis, I’ll take the latter.

The song is a simple tag-team endeavor; Each man gets a verse.  It would be easy to write off this track off as a mistake, the result of a crunk producer (Lex Luger) mistaking Rossini for Rammstein, imparting a yearning for outrageous pyrotechnics and poorly-translated German metal, instead of the grandeur and eloquence a title like Watch the Throne would suggest.

The bridge (2:58), however, raises questions.  The music breaks into a heavily orchestrated, neo-classical, Latin plain chant, before rapidly deflating into a peaceful, but emotionally-charged, piano progression (B-flat, C, A7/C#, Dm), followed by a lilting soprano melody which is obscured by a second voice attempting to double the melody.  This builds, swiftly, into a brief moment of pentatonic beauty (3:40), recalling slave spirituals and American folk music, but the moment quickly obscured by unnecessary, over-dubbed voices, never climaxing the way it ought. Instead, it sounds like an failed attempt at beauty that the producer is then forced to abandon by forcing the beat back onto the track (4:05).

Given the high level of production perfection on West’s other work (Graduation, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy), it seems unlikely that Kanye (or Jay-Z, for that matter) would let Lex Luger get away with such a poorly-edited bridge.

So what do we make of it? Is it intentional? If it is, it may serve as a very astute commentary on gangsta rap: Gangsta rap has, historically, served as a catharsis to relieve some of the pain encountered in the inner-city, exaggerating and glamorizing harsh realities.  The subsequent evolution into mafioso rap is obviously referenced in “H.A.M.”, hence the attempted infusion of opera. The bridge, however, seems to suggest that the genre is unsustainable, and bound to collapse on itself, wailing in a search for beauty that cannot be achieved by splicing together bits and pieces of a soprano waveform.  Hence, when Jay-Z and Kanye go “H.A.M.” they’re merely “hamming” it up, satirizing the genre.

Then again, it could just be a bad song.

Postlude:
For a truly fantastic use of Debussy-ish, operatic-ish, “Always Sunny in Philadelphia”-ish samples, check out The Buchanan’s production of Lupe Fiasco’s “All Black Everything.”

Kanye West & Jay-Z
Official (Jay-Z) | Official (Kanye) | iTunes

Earnest Rating:2.3/10

Ironic Rating:8.2/10

Thoughts?

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