In time for Martin Luther King Jr. Day last month, Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def and not to be confused with the ever beloved Beyonce hereafter) released the audio for "N*ggas in Poorest," the first piece from his Top 40 Underdog series. Similarly apt, the video--largely made up of footage compiled by Bey--arrived on the 21st of this month, forty-seven years after Malcolm X was assassinated. Spit over the beat for "N*ggas in Paris" from Kanye West and Jay-Z's Watch the Throne album, Bey's message touches on the violence (structural and otherwise) that comprises many people's everyday while he, arguably, manages to reflect the people better than Jay and 'Ye did on the original.
Though "N*ggas in Paris" is what one might call a "club banger" (and thus, I've learned, outside of the realm of critique for many a blog commenter), I can't help but hark back to Jay-Z and Kanye West's "Black Excellence" gap upon hearing Bey's interpretation. With footage of Malcolm X and lines like "it's them n*ggas who poorest be them rebel guerillas," Bey seems to be getting at what I consider to be Jay-Z and West's recurring casual disjuncture between packaging and content. Since when is watching a throne an act of empowerment? For clarity: Jay-Z and Kanye West can rap about the topics of their choosing and celebrate themselves; we can even celebrate with them, but let's be transparent about a few points: 1. This is not protest music, and 2. If there is anything to be lauded here it is the journey, not an isolated material end.