Attaching Jay-Z’s name to anything music related is usually a pretty safe bet. When the news first leaked that director Baz Lurhmann was using Shawn Carter songs to inspire the cast of his new film “The Great Gatsby” it didn’t seem like that much of a stretch. J. Gatsby is a multi-millionaire playboy in the upper crust of New York City that started from the bottom. I even came up with a few Jay-Z songs that made a thematic match to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s trouble man.
However, after actually watching this second film adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” (the first was done in 1974 starring Robert Redford) I have to admit that the selection of moderns songs was a bit jarring when juxtaposed with the 1920’s environment. In one of few scenes that focus on African-Americans in the film, a carload of folks are driving across a bridge with champagne chilling in buckets of ice while Jay-Z’s “Izzo” plays in the background. Sit with that.
While I get that Lurhmann is arguing for “jazz was the hip-hop of the 1920s” this was a missed opportunity to effectively show the connection. Why not cull the myriad of jazz influenced hip-hop songs to give the modern feel without it feeling so out of place?
So I took a moment to play armchair A&R and select some songs that may have been a better fit for the new “Great Gatsby” film.
1) Madlib, “Slim’s Return”
Scratched vocal samples of the late Guru riding over this expert rework of Gene Harris and The Three Sounds “Book of Slim” is tailor made for any modern Jazz era film.
2) ATCQ, “Excursions”
Buoyed by the bassline of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers ‘A Chant For Bu’ Q-Tip speaks to the musical bridge between the generations that director Baz Lurhmann made his case for Jay-Z on. “My pops used to say that it reminded him of bebop…daddy don’t you know that things go in cycles..”
3) Robert Glasper, “Letter To Hermione”As Bilal laments,
“They say your life is going very well/They say you sparkle like a different girl/ But something tells me that you hide/When all the world is warm and tired/ You cry a little in the dark, well so do I…”
…how can you NOT see J. Gatsby staring across the water at that green light clinging to hope of reuniting with his lost love?
4) Gang Starr, “Jazz Thing”/”Too Deep”
It’s hard to pick just ONE Gang Starr track for this list but “Jazz Thing” is a sentimental favorite as one of the first hip-hop songs I ever heard use and speak on Jazz. But the way the late Guru speaks to that time period, the artists of the roaring 20s and beyond coupled with Premier’s bass makes you wonder how any Gatsby party could have been complete without this. “Too Deep” is just a personal favorite and the way they flipped Eddie Harris’s “Lovely Is Today” still makes my head nod to this day.
5) Black Moon, N*guz Talk Sh*t
The muddy bass and brooding horns exorcised from Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” has all of the violence and ill intent of the Big Apple’s rotten, crime ridden underbelly.
6) Large Professor, “Sewin Love”
Gatsby was driven by one thing, his love for Daisy. If Extra P’s confessional, “when you and I combine, the peeps be out of their mind…” over Roy Ayers’s “Gotta Find a Lover” doesn’t capture the relentless pursuit of happiness what does?
7) Nas, “The World Is Yours” When Pete Rock extracted the subtle nuance of Ahmad Jamal’s “I Love Music” to inspire young Nasir who knew the outcome would be one of the most aspirational songs to come out of the projects. And if I’m the owner of a castle in New York City I’d wake up to this every damn day.
8) Joey Bada$$, “Waves”
The aspirational musings of this young man from Brooklyn were probably closer to a Young J. Gatsby’s thoughts as he sailed the sea. “Til I’m an owner of the world’s finest motors” (you see that yellow custom job he’s whipping?) and wishing to have kids and a wife. “Til then all I can do is imagine..I’m gonna make it happen.” Freddie Joachim’s lush keys over those Monk Higgins drums is just the icing on the cake.
9) Common, “Real People” “anointed hustlers in a fatherless region” should be carved on J. Gatsby’s tombstone. Thank Caesar Frazier and his “Sweet Children” for the instrumental inspiration.
10) Eric B. & Rakim, “Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em”/”Follow The Leader”
Having the chutzpa to incorporate not just one but two Bob James samples into the same track makes this an easy pick. Visually “Follow The Leader” was more in costume to Gatsby and his crew (and also pinches that “Nautilus” sample) but “Rhythm…” is way more appropriate given the way this story ends. No spoilers.
Steady B. “Serious”
The cartoon breakdown at 1:50 was flapper approved.