An Essay On Murder To Excellence
‘It’s time for us to stop and redefine black power.’
A powerful statement rapped by Kanye West on his and Jay-Z’s collaborative effort ‘Murder to Excellence’ is for me the standout track on their highly anticipated ‘Watch The Throne’ album. The album has been a critical and commercial success, selling 436,000 copies in its first week in the United States. It did come under fire for its materialistic subject matter for being inappropriate in these hard financial times. However, underneath the luxury music and the rappers show off of their lavish lifestyles is the excellent track ‘Murder to Excellence.’
‘Murder To Excellence’ to me as a UK listener has a poignant message as the song is a celebration of black ascension as well as a critique of police brutality. Last month when the London riots erupted, some on the left saw it as a reaction to government cuts, social exclusion and police brutality among other factors. The riots started in Tottenham in northeast London as a response to the police killing of a black man Mark Duggan. Some similarities in this case can be seen when Jay-Z raps in his first verse about the murder of Danroy Henry, a college football player killed in a police shooting in October, 2010 in New York. Controversially, the officer who shot Henry was later given Officer of the Year award by the police union.
This is to the memory of Danroy Henry
Too much enemy fire to catch a friendly
Jay-Z’s lyrics echo the feeling of anger of black males on both sides of the Atlantic in particular towards the police and the government. ‘Too much enemy fire’ is particularly powerful and reminds me of the murder by the police of Mark Duggan, who apparently never fired at the police. Jay-z brands the police ‘enemy’, a common notion shared by a lot of black males who live in inner city areas. English Frank, a white popular UK rapper tweeted “Everyone up and roll to Tottenham f*** the 5-0 (police). I hope 1 dead tonight.”. A popular phrase among young black males I see is ‘f… feds (police)’. Why black guys are so against the police, Jay-Z tells you later on in the verse.
Strays from the same shade nigga, we on the same team
Giving you respect, I expect the same thing – Jay Z
‘Giving you respect, I expect the same thing’ – you often hear political commentators on the right saying that the youths have no respect for authority. Maybe it has never occurred to such commentator that the authorities have no respect for the youths. Justice Secretary Ken Clark described those who were involved in the riots (primarily black people) as a ‘feral underclass’. Terminology like this is unhelpful, patronising and increases the feeling of unease and resentment in the black community. If you keep referring to those who already feel estranged from society as ‘feral’ (animal like) you continue to alienate and anger them. Hopefully when the police start to respect the black community — that means no more aggressive stop and search and police brutality among other issues — riots might not have to occur. Then hopefully the police will no longer be the enemy but the friend that they are supposed to be.
Jay – Z ends the somewhat morose first part of Watch The Throne which has Kanye West rapping Chicago’s murder rate on a positive note.
You’re gon’ end up pulling down niggas that look just like you – Jay-Z
Here Jay-Z is addressing black men in inner cities, and this to me is not just limited to the Americans but to the British black men too. ‘Niggas that look just like you’ ‘Niggas’ is a derogatory term for black people that African Americans casually use to refer to their own. Jay-Z saying they ‘look just like you’ is saying that we’re all black and should be helping instead of attacking one another. It is powerful hearing Jay-Z say this and not some self-appointed voice of the youth. Jay-Z is a successful black man, married to a successful black woman. Jay-Z has built a musical empire, is a multi-millionaire who regularly features in Forbes lists. Jay-Z came from selling crack on the streets of Brooklyn to being a global franchise. Therefore his advice should be listened to and embraced.
What up, Blood? What up, cuz? It’s all black, I love us – Jay –Z
What up, Blood? What up, cuz?” to demonstrate that he is talking to all young black people (“Blood” refers to the Bloods gang, and “cuz” is a common Crip salutation). To me this lyric transcends African Americans and applies to all suffering and oppressed black communities worldwide. Jay-Z saying ‘I love us’ shows that success can be a part of black culture and although he has come very far he is still part of our community.
The second part of Murder to Excellence takes on a more jovial tone – that I love.
It’s a celebration of black excellence, black tie, black Maybachs – Jay-Z
The word black is too often associated with negativity. For example black magic is usually evil. Here Jay-Z celebrates the word and gives it a beautiful meaning. He celebrates black people and all our achievements that are too often casually overlooked. Not just our obvious achievements in sports, music and entertainment but our achievements in politics such as those of Barack Obama in America and David Lammy in the UK. This is a celebration of the social ascension of blacks and how we have achieved and hopefully will continue to achieve.
Black excellence, opulence, decadence
Tuxes next to the president, I’m present – Jay- Z
The repetition of black excellence is so beautiful. Jay-Z proudly reinforces his pride in our community. That we are excellence, even if some choose to refer to us as the ‘feral underclass’ This also shows that the album is more than what some people may see as mindless bragging on Watch The Throne from rappers who earn more than the average Joe. It’s beyond that. The album is a celebration of black people on the up. Sixty years ago could black rappers rap about ‘popping champagne with supermodels in the back?’ No, they couldn’t. Could they brag about their endless funds? Could they have truthful raps like these ‘Couture level flow, it’s never going on sale.’ It’s so powerful to see Jay-Z rapping about tuxes ,showing that the black uniform in America has elevated from sagging jeans to formal wear, saying that blacks in America have risen from the streets to the White house.
What’s up to Will? Shout out to O
That ain’t enough.. we gonna need a million more – Jay-Z
Jay-Z cites successful black people, Will who is Will Smith. Will Smith is one of the most successful actors regardless of his race. Smith’s films, such as Independence Day, are huge blockbusters and always sell out. O is obviously Oprah Winfrey, a woman who came out of a single parenthood in Mississippi, was pregnant at 14 to being one of the few black billionaires in the world. Jay Z reminds us that we need a million more; we need more black people to be successful. This isn’t an unachievable aim.
In the past if you picture events like a black tie
What the last thing you expect to see, black guys? – Kanye West
Kanye West brings us back to the past, to America’s past of racial tension. Who would have thought a country where forty years ago black people did not even have the vote, they are the vote and they are being voted in.
What’s the life expectancy for black guys?
The system’s working effectively, that’s why!
Kanye West’s verse is a lot more negative than Jay-Z’s. He’s reminding us of the harsh truth. There is a gap of 6.33 years in the life expectancy of black men and white men in America. Kanye West says it’s the system that is responsible for this anomaly. By the system he is referring to the government. This repeats the idea of the system being the enemy as the police are. West maintains the American political system is racist and this can be seen in healthcare which many black Americans can’t afford, racial profiling, decrease of affirmative action among other things.
So let’s savor this moment and take it to the floor
Black excellence, truly yours – Kanye West
Kanye West ends this powerful song on this note. Let’s celebrate our black achievements and let’s celebrate black excellence. I know I’ve used the word ‘powerful’ a lot in this article and that’s on purpose. I t is so that those black people who feel weak and have no voice can realise that they are powerful. I started this article with West’s lyric ‘‘it’s time for us to stop and redefine black power.’ Let us do so.We need to veer power away from being seen as only being gained violently but as being gained through our successes socially and economically. To me the black guy with the degree is more powerful than the black gangster with the gun. Murder To Excellence to me is one of the best songs on the album because it is the cross-Atlantic anthem for black people in western societies. It details the injustice we suffer from the hands of the authorities. It’s not all negative though. It rejoices in all that we have achieved and all that we will continue to achieve. Murder To Excellence the title itself is a transition, from high murder rates that will hopefully be in the past and give way to the excellence of the present and the future.