From The Grio — America is still in the unfriendly throes of the Great Recession, and the economic outlook steadily becomes bleaker. On Friday (Aug. 5), credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded the nation’s rating from AAA to AA+ for the first time since the U.S. won the top ranking in 1917. In response, yesterday (Aug. 8), the stock market suffered its worst day of trading since the financial crisis of 2008, wiping out $1.2 trillion in stock wealth.

It’s a good thing Jay-Z and Kanye West can still afford Maybach’s though, right?

Watch the Throne, the highly anticipated collaborative album between two of hip-hops biggest stars, was released at midnight eastern time on Monday and immediately had the social media world buzzing. People were split on the quality of the record overall, but a recurring point of criticism, one that has plagued at least Jay-Z for most of his career, is that these two have chosen a time in which so many of their potential fans have an uncertain economic future to release an album that celebrates opulence and conspicuous consumption.

We find Kanye arrogantly boasting about how “Y’all weed purple, my money purple. y’all Steve Urkel, I’m Oprah’s circle,” while Jay laments that he’s “planking on a million” and asking “what’s 50 grand to a motherf***er like me, can you please remind me?” The lead single, “Otis,” finds the two “poppin bottles, putting supermodels in the cab” and “Driving Benzes with no benefits” but this time over an Otis Redding sample that once pleaded that we all “try a little tenderness.”

This drew the ire of Public Enemy frontman and hip-hop elder statesman Chuck D, who recorded a YouTube video asking that these two highly influential superstars use their voices to“reflect the people better.”

It’s not entirely their fault. There’s no way Jay and Kanye could have anticipated the debt ceiling debate, the U.S.’s credit downgrade or the subsequent stock market turmoil. If they could, they would be economists and not rappers. But unemployment figures have hovered around 10 percent for some time now, reaching up to 16 percent for black people, 17.5 percent for black men, and just under 50 percent for black male teenagers.

We are three years deep into an economic recession that has greatly affected the racial wealth gap, widening it the point that the average white household has 20 times the wealth of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic ones. These are not auspicious numbers. It’s possible Jay and Kanye, in order to be empathetic, could have toned down the braggadocio and, as writer dream hampton put it, “tuck[ed] away G4 talk this summer.”

This isn’t new. You don’t have to reach too far back in hip-hop’s history to find examples of rappers flaunting their riches while their fans experience a much different economic state. In 2007, T.I. was rapping about “Big Sh*t Poppin'” while gas prices were flirting with $3 per gallon for the first time and driving food prices up right alongside them. T.I. was acutely aware of his unique situation, as the next year he rapped on the song “Every Chance I Get”: “High as gas is, the country at war and people are starving, and I pay a million dollars for Ferrari’s, retarded, huh?

Last year the economy wasn’t much better than it is now and the big summer hit was Rick Ross’ “B.M.F.” which stands for “blowing money fast.” That’s a far cry from the reality of people seeing smaller paychecks week to week and worrying about whether unemployment benefits will be extended.

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  • Bey Zee

    I read a good point on another site stating how the poor are willing pay Jay Z and Kanye West to ridicule and condemn them about being financially poor and apart of the bottom 95%. How sick is that????? As this country (black people specifically) are being assaulted with record unemployment, foreclosures, underemployment, cuts to EVERY program designed to help the bottom 95%, Jay Z & Kanye West create an album that once again mocks the poor and flagrantly disrespects their fan base because they are apart of the bottom 95% of all income earners. As Jay Z and Kanye began to pull out of touch with the black community by electing to exclusively praise the top 1% and their life styles in their music, the same ones who take from the bottom 99%, black net worth has decreased by 53 percent from 2005 to 2009. Verizon is making record profits but yet it is requiring its workers to pay more for their benefits. Where does Jay Z stand on this issue?….. One the side of the corporate elite or the on the side of the poor and middle class unionized workers who make up their fan base? I think we know the answer which is why Jay Z will never see ANY of my money in spite of the fact that I still like a lot of his previous music.

    Name one issue that Jay Z or Kanye has addressed as it pertains to the downward social movement that their people have dealt with. Jay + Kanye only speak about the social elite & ridicule those who aren’t wealthy enough to join it. It’s disgusting. They have the attitude and the sympathy of republicans towards the poor who are not friends to the plight of people with color. Sadly I now see Jay and Kanye (as talented as they are) as kin to The Tea Party and the republican party. It hurts my heart to say it but it’s now true.

    Also notice how dark, demonic, and slightly satanic this albums sounds. Why does it have to sound so spooky?

  • isolde

    “Is it bad economic timing for Watch the Throne?”

    . . . apparently not, if the first week sales projection for the album is 400-500K units sold. Besides, “The Script,” I can’t think of any popular artists singing about hard economic times or poverty on the radio, so why are Jay and Ye being singled out? I can respect Chuck D, but the whole Otis cover struck me as more of a self promotion vehicle, than a public service announcement. I mean, not many were buzzing about him before he appropriated The Throne’s track.

  • SoTired