Chapter 4, “‘Niggas in Poorest’ to ‘That Shit Creil’: NIP’s Realpolitik in the US and France,” puts this high-profile cultural text in its Black Atlantic contexts examining Yasiin Bey’s (aka Mos Def) parody of the luxury rap track, fittingly titled “Niggas in Poorest,” and then turns to Paris itself. Here, I examine the track in relation to my work with Parisian hip hop communities over the past decades with particular focus on the reception of François Hollande’s use of the hit track as part of his (not unproblematic) minority outreach strategy in the Parisian banlieues during his 2012 campaign for French president—a campaign that proved successful.
Through an analysis of an extended interview that I conducted with the video’s producer, the French radio executive and hip hop activist, Bruno Laforestrie, I unearth some of the logics behind the video and its meanings in the majority nonwhite French banlieues. Together, the chapter thus situates the track in a history of Black American expat artists, develops the book’s theory of “critical excess,” and substantiates claims about hip hop’s postcolonial politics with an analysis of its on-the-ground impact. The chapter thus examines the category of the human and moves to the conceptual ground of anti-essentialism, examining Obama-era fantasies of a postracial society. As Jay puts it, “If you escaped what I escaped / You’d be in Paris gettin’ fucked up too.”
Music video for Yasin Bey’s (Mos Def) “Niggas in Poorest”
“Unofficial” music campaign video for François Hollande, “48H avec FH”
Nina Simone’s swaggering deformation of mastery on “Feeling Good” (1965)
Black Madness :: Mad Blackness
In the history of Black music there is perhaps no better example of “deformation of mastery” than Nina Simone’s signature performance on “Feeling Good”—not coincidentally, a recording that Kanye samples as the basis for track 6, “New Day.” Listen to the track’s Black Madness :: Mad Blackness (Pickens) from “Freedom is mine…” at 2:00 through “I know how I feel” and the rapturously improvised coda that brings Nina’s “Feeling Good” to a close. This coda is itself something of a fuck you, sliding forcefully through a mind-bending range of modal environments and testing the limits of each of those palettes against the big band’s cadential, stop-time chords.
She’s free, and she knows how she feels.
btw… here’s the original “Feeling Good” recorded just before Nina’s. A world of difference.