It’s about time this song got an airing. Or not. Depending on how you feel about this song, all simple icy synth work, sampled yells and Will Ferrell lines, it could either be seen as the lynchpin of a masterful joint album released to popular and critical acclaim midway through last year or the overblown and overplayed single from an album by two of the best emcees in the game that could have been so much better. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, a couple of months in the States and just a week at home has been enough to confirm for me that this is probably one of the biggest songs of 2011 which has made the transition over into 2012 popularity almost seamlessly. A breath of fresh air from the sometimes locked up, sometimes baller, always enigmatic T.I. on helped the track’s momentum but it remains nigh on impossible to walk down a street in Philadelphia and not hear it’s heavy sub-bass rattling the undercarriage of a car. As far as I could tell, the whole of North America was wobbling along to ‘Paris’ for almost half of last year.
With the release of the track’s seizure-inducing video earlier this week, the soundtrack to the North American fall finally has its visual. Directed by Kanye, the kaleidoscopic, strobed-out look at the lads’ show at the Staples Centre in LA only begins to hint at the cult-like force which has come to propel the track. Almost as a condition of purchase, the repetition of Will Ferrell’s ‘Blades of Glory’ opening (probably more notable for its appropriation here than for its cinematic value) ‘We’re going to skate to one song and one song only’ and the entire track thereafter became a ticketed guarantee of entry – six times in Boston, 11 in Vancouver. When Kanye came to Sydney in late 2008 and started and stopped the even sparser ‘Love Lockdown’ three times, audience patience was wearing thin. Patrons rarely like to hear a direct live reproduction of album tracks, let alone those same tracks back-to-back ad nauseum. What makes ‘Niggas In Paris’ so different then?
Quotable lines have to be at least half of it. By bringing ‘That shit cray’ and the utterance of ‘Fish filet’ into the popular lexicon, Jay and Ye succeeded in introducing millions to two phrases that make almost less sense than the opus from which they came. You could make some overarching statement about a contemporary void in meaning, existential crisis and thus the need for hollow sentiments like ‘that shit cray’ but the reality seems less sociologically complex. Just as the track’s title hints at racial tensions but is really about the rap stalwarts chilling at the intersection of hood and Hollywood, of gangsterism and high fashion, the later Ferrell sample ‘No one knows what it means, but it’s provocative, Gets the people going!’ might be intended to be ironic but ends up a meta-commentary on the vague purpose of ‘Niggas In Paris’. Lyrical cohesion aside, the track – recorded in Paris, produced by Hit-Boy – is just that, a hit. Whether you can read into the deeper implications of the words (if, indeed, there are any) or not, the song is a triumph of simplicity and populist touches. The back-and-forth between the two on the chorus showcases a nice sense of camaraderie. It’s just a pity that they’re not quite sure what they agree on.
Jay-Z & Kanye West – Niggas In Paris