Watch the Throne is a self-avowed “luxury rap” album centered on Eurocentric conceptions of nobility, artistry, and haute couture. This book, Critical Excess, performs a close reading of the sonic and social commentary on this 2011 album, examining how it alternately imagines and critiques the mutually reinforcing ideas of Europe, nobility, old money, art, and their standard bearer, whiteness.
Reading the album alongside Black critical theory and work on the prophetic nature of music, this book argues that through their performance of “Black excellence, opulence, decadence,” Jay-Z and Kanye West poured gas on the white resentment of the Obama presidency—a resentment that would ultimately spill over into public life, make audible the dog whistling of the Far Right, and embolden white supremacists to come out from under their rocks.
Ultimately, Rollefson argues, Jay-Z and Kanye West’s performance of swaggering “critical excess” on Watch the Throne exceeds the limits of conspicuous consumption and heralds the final stage of late capitalism—“the New Gilded Age.”
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“It is electrifying to see W.E.B. Du Bois, Frantz Fanon, and Achille Mbembe sit in the company of Jay, Ye, and Mos Def – and wince not. I simply cannot wait to teach with this book.”
“Wide-ranging and deep-probing, offering an intersectional framework for understanding Watch the Throne as a significant case study of engaging hip hop’s tethering to globalization, commercialism, and racial performance.”
—Regina N. Bradley, Kennesaw State University, English and African Diaspora Studies
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“Particularly timely in the way Rollefson ties the album’s performance to the contemporary political moment on both sides of the Atlantic.”
—Justin D. Burton, Rider University, Music
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“An excellent book with a highly original thesis and thorough theoretical analyses of the album and its related themes. Rollefson has a flair for prose that is at once academic and performative.”