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A Fantasy Theme Analysis of Jay-Z¶s 99 Problems Selena Marquez St. Edward¶s University March 9, 2011 Rhetorical Criticism
A FANTASY THEME ANALYSIS OF JAY-Z¶S 99 PROBLEMS Abstract This essay explores the messages within the hit Jay-Z song ³99 problems´ using fantasy-theme method and criticism. The song lyrics were coded for character, setting, and action themes. By grouping similar fantasy themes 3 villain fantasy types and 1 hero fantasy type emerge; The Media, The Law, The Wangster, and The Hip Hop Idol. By analyzing the established hero fantasy type with the three villain fantasy types, three rhetorical visions emerge. First, the media industry will misunderstand, exploit, manipulate, and is fickle and demanding causing established hip-hop artists frustration, anger, and lack of trust. Second, be wary when dealing with law enforcement; they make assumptions and are out to get you. Third, loud snitching wannabe gangsters will bring you down if you are not cautious. These rhetorical visions imply
messages of caution, understanding, and burden within the rhetor¶s world view. Areas in need of furthur research were found to include the use fantasy-theme method with additional hip-hop lyrics to furthur these messages relevance to the hip-hop rhetorical community and others.
A FANTASY THEME ANALYSIS OF JAY-Z¶S 99 PROBLEMS A Fantasy Theme Analysis of Jay-Z¶s 99 Problems ³If you having girl problems I feel bad for you son. I got 99 problems but a bitch ain¶t
one.´ This powerful word punch is the first line of the hit Jay-Z song ³99 problems´. Released as a single off the Black Album in 2003, this track was part of what was supposed to be Jay-Z¶s final album (Jay-Z, 2011). Attributing his departure from hip-hop to many things, this song allows for the audience to have a closer look at what may have been on the mind of this rap legend as he attempted to make his exit from the spotlight. This Grammy winning artist had a lot to leave behind. Devoted fans, loyal hip-hop royalty, and interested up-and-comers listened to every song on the Black Album, wanting to hear what last words Jay-Z had to say. This song¶s relevance to this hip-hop rhetorical community reveals that certain messages lay within the rhymes that are compelling to the entire group. In attempt to reveal those messages this study will explore the following research questions: 1. What rhetorical visions are developed in Jay ±Z¶s ³99 Problems´ lyrics? 2. What kinds of messages are being communicated through those rhetorical visions? Applying fantasy theme method to the ³99 Problems´ lyrics will demonstrate what kinds of messages are widely understood within hip-hop¶s rhetorical community, made up of fans, rap artists, and critics alike. Jay-Z is looked up to as one of the greatest hip-hop artists of all time. His lyrics, often said to be the best rap has to offer, exemplify what many have to say within this community. By exploring this artifact with fantasy theme method, the rhetorical visions deciphered will offer valuable insight into related cultural and societal implications. This study will first review a brief history of fantasy theme method and other scholarly studies using hip-hop/rap, followed by the analysis of the ³99 Problems´ lyrics using fantasy theme method. Finally, the results of the analysis and the rhetorical influence will be evaluated.
A FANTASY THEME ANALYSIS OF JAY-Z¶S 99 PROBLEMS Literary Review The next two sections of the literary review will first overview a brief history of fantasy theme method and studies using fantasy theme method, followed by a brief overview of scholarly studies that incorporate hip-hop or rap. Fantasy theme criticism is based on the work of Robert Bales who ³discovered the
process of group fantasizing or dramatizing as a type of communication that occurs in groups´ (Foss, 2009, p. 97). His research was furthured by Ernest G. Bormann, who took Bales¶ studies of small group communication and developed a theory and method ³designed to provide insight into the shared worldview of groups´ (p. 97). Symbolic convergence theory became the theory that supported the fantasy-theme method of rhetorical criticism. There are two major assumptions on which symbolic convergence theory is based. The first assumption is ³communication creates reality´ and the second assumption is ³individuals¶ meanings for symbols can converge to create a shared reality or community consciousness´ (p. 97). The process of using fantasy theme method for rhetorical criticism uses fantasy themes, fantasy types, and rhetorical visions to examine a ³symbolic drama or a coherent interpretation of reality´ (p. 100). Boorman explains, ³The sharing of fantasies within a group or community establishes the assumptive system portrayed in the common rhetorical vision and contributes to the special theory associated with the community¶s communication style´ (Bormann, 1982, p. 293). Following the establishment of fantasy theme criticism, a number of scholarly studies were conducting using fantasy theme method (Benoit, Klyukovski, McHale, & Airne, 2001; Bishop, 2003; Taylor, 2004). The general findings of these studies showed the presence of fantasy themes and rhetorical visions within artifacts (such as TV shows, music lyrics, and
A FANTASY THEME ANALYSIS OF JAY-Z¶S 99 PROBLEMS political cartoons) when fantasy theme method was applied. These studies are helpful because they continued to verify the relevance of Boorman¶s theory and method application while continuing to further its reach through multiple applications. In addition, a number of scholarly studies were conducted using hip-hop/ rap (Krohn,
1995: Koprano, 2002; Myer, L., & Kleck, C., 2007). While the methods of study varied from quantitative analysis to more simple methods of rhetorical analysis, the general findings of these studies were related to prevalence of certain topics such as sex and violence within hiphop/rap lyrics. These studies are helpful because they can be applied to a general expectation of what rhetorical visions may appear after applying fantasy theme method to the ³99 Problems´ artifact. These studies also provide a base line for those messages to be confirmed or negated by the results of this study. Therefore, my contribution to furthuring rhetorical criticism through fantasy theme method will be bring additional rhetorical visions related to hip-hop to compare to ones already established through other studies. These additional rhetorical visions can be analyzed for messages that can furthur confirm or negate patterns previously established by other hip-hop/rap studies. Analysis The first step in the fantasy theme method involves coding the lyrics for character, action and setting themes. This is done to determine the artifact¶s fantasy themes, defined by Foss as, ³a word, phrase, or statement that interprets events in the past, envisions events in the future, or depicts current events that are removed in time and /or space from the actual activities of a group´ (Foss, 2009, p. 98) Coding the ³99 Problems´ lyrics reveals several fantasy themes. By grouping similar fantasy themes 3 villain fantasy types and 1 hero fantasy type emerge. These fantasy
A FANTASY THEME ANALYSIS OF JAY-Z¶S 99 PROBLEMS types are examined through setting, character, and action themes. The second step in fantasy
theme method is to construct the rhetorical visions by ³finding patterns in the fantasy themes´ (p. 103). A rhetorical vision is ³a swirling together of fantasy themes to provide a particular interpretation of reality´ (p. 100). By analyzing the established hero fantasy type with the three villain fantasy types, three rhetorical visions emerge. These ³interpretations of reality´ are defined by examining patterns found within the four established fantasy types. The 3 rhetorical visions are then analyzed for messages understood by the hip-hop rhetorical community. Fantasy Types Coding the ³99 Problems´ lyrics required that character, action, and setting themes be defined and separated. Once separated several, character themes were easy to group and actions attached to those groups. From these groups come four major fantasy types. The four major fantasy types are The Media, The Law, The Wangster, and The Hip-Hop Idol. The first three are presented as villains, while the later represents the hero. The Media. setting themes. There are no setting themes to apply to The Media fantasy type. This may have implications towards the types of boundaries media has within the rhetor¶s worldview. character themes. As explained by Bormann, ³When people dramatize an event, they must select certain characters to be the focus of the story.´ (Boorman, 2001 , as cited in Taylor 2004, p.14) The ³certain characters´ selected by the rhetor to represent The Media are ³rap critics´, ³radio´, ³rap mags´, ³advertisers´, and ³paparazzi´. These characters are deemed ³stupid´ and are looked
A FANTASY THEME ANALYSIS OF JAY-Z¶S 99 PROBLEMS
down upon by the rhetor, also referring to them as ³fuckers.´ These negative attributes make The Media a villain in the rhetor¶s worldview. action themes. The Media as a fantasy type is most clearly defined when connected with the related action themes. The first verse of the song is a narrative of the rhetor¶s experience with The Media. Rap critics ³say he¶s µMoney, Cash, Hoes´ references a typical theme the music industry labels to be found in rap music. The rhetor establishes that rap critics often stereotype hip-hop artists. Rap critics ³can kiss my whole asshole´ is a reaction to rap critics and their ³stupid´-ity. Radio ³don¶t play my hits, if I don¶t play they shows´. The rhetor sees radio as fickle and demanding. Rap mags (magazines) ³try to use my black ass so µadvertisers¶ can give them more cash for ads.´ This action narrates the rhetor¶s experience of exploitation with hip-hop print media. There is no respect shown for this fantasy type in the rhetor¶s worldview. The Law. setting themes. The setting themes where The Law is found are ³in my rearview mirror´ and ³ the car´. The situation involves the rhetor being pulled over by a police officer. The rearview mirror reference may imply that The Law is always right behind you. character themes. The first character theme is ³rap patrol´ described as ³foes that wanna make sure my casket¶s closed´. Rap patrol represents law enforcement with an unofficial agenda to investigate rap artists. The rhetor perceives The Law as having it out for him/her. Several negative names for law enforcement, ³mother-fucking law´, ³the devil´, and ³jakes´ are also used. The Law is also made a villain in the rhetor¶s worldview. Other names used to represent The Law are ³the
A FANTASY THEME ANALYSIS OF JAY-Z¶S 99 PROBLEMS canines´, ³the system´, and ³D.A.´ ³The captain´ is also used, but in reference to how Wangsters would perceive law enforcement, rather than the rhetor. action themes.
The first action theme deals with what The Law does. The rap patrol is ³on the gat patrol´. In the rhetor¶s worldview there are law enforcement that are actively searching for rap artists because they assume rap artists have guns. This implies a lack of trust between the rhetor and The Law. The Law also pulls the rhetor¶s car over in the narrative. Besides the typical Q&A, the exchange reveals certain assumptions made by the officer, ³know a lot of you are (carrying a gun)´ and ³see how smart you are´. The D.A. ³tries to give a nigga shaft again´ implying that The Law will be harsh especially because of the rhetor¶s ethnicity. The Wangster. setting themes. There are minimal setting themes to apply. ³On the floor´ appears; perhaps implying how low The Wangster is in the rhetor¶s worldview. character themes. In the hip-hop community ³wangster´ refers to a wannabe gangster. Although the term is not used in the song, it is a common term used in the hip-hop rhetorical community. Character themes found in the artifact defining The Wangster include, ³ho´, further explained as ³not a ho in the sense of having a pussy, but a pussy having no god damn sense´. This refers to hip-hop¶s history of using female terms to imply weakness, an attribute also given to The Wangster. Other character themes make The Wangster almost a jester in the rhetor¶s worldview, such as ³fools´, ³love to perform´, and ³loud as a motorbike, but wouldn¶t bust a grape in a fruit fight´. The Wangster is seen as all talk.
A FANTASY THEME ANALYSIS OF JAY-Z¶S 99 PROBLEMS action themes. The action theme that sets the negative implications for The Wangster is ³gonna be yappin¶ to the Captain´. The Wangster is made a villain by being a snitch and by holding The
Law in higher regard than the rhetor. This character ³pushes´ the rhetor in his narrative. ³Trying to play´ is another action theme that implies The Wangster is only acting and is a wannabe. The Hip-Hop Idol. When coding for fantasy themes, extensions of The Hip-Hop Idol fantasy type were made. As a result, The Hip-Hop Idol character themes will be explained, but setting and action themes will be connected to the previous fantasy types to create implications for rhetorical visions within the rhetor¶s worldview. In this study, The Hip-Hop Idol is representative of the rhetor, which is Jay-Z. character themes. The first set of character themes involve The Hip-Hop Idol coming from meager beginnings: ³ from the hood´, ³ grew up with holes in your zapitos´, and ³rag to riches´. The rhetor implies that hard work is a part of The Hip-Hop Idol fantasy type. The second set of character themes involve The Hip-Hop Idol having street smarts: ³ain¶t dumb´, ³know my rights´, ain¶t passed the bar but I know a little bit, enough that you won¶t illegally search my shit´, and ³sharp as a tack´. The third set of character themes apply to the physical characteristics of The Hip-Hop Idol: ³nigga´, ³black´, ³African´, ³young´, and ³hat¶s real low´. Most of these themes draw attention to the rhetor¶s ethnicity, a common characteristic of rap lyrics. The final character theme of The Hip-Hop Idol is ³got 99 problems, but a bitch ain¶t one´. This major fantasy theme applies directly to the rhetor¶s worldview of the villain fantasy types. The Media, The Law, and The Wangster represent the 99 problems The Hip-Hop Idol is characterized as
A FANTASY THEME ANALYSIS OF JAY-Z¶S 99 PROBLEMS having. It also implies that The Hip-Hop Idol does not have girl problems or is satisfied in his/her current state involving female interaction. Rhetorical Visions The Hip-Hop Idol and The Media. The Media fantasy type is characterized as one that stereotypes rap artists, specifically The Hip Hop Idol. The Hip Hop Idol uses action themes to define motive, a key aspect in deciding rhetorical visions. According to Boorman, ³motives do not exist to be expressed in
communication but rather arise in the expression itself and come to be embedded in the drama of the fantasy themes that generated and serve to sustain them.´ (pg 406) The action theme ³celebrate the minute you was having dough´ is a reaction to growing up with little monetarily, and justifies why some rap music may have ³money´ and ³cash´ as a reoccurring topic. This misunderstanding between The Media and The Hip Hop Idol creates a tension between the two, resulting in the action themes ³fuck critics´, ³don¶t give a shit´, and ³don¶t know what you take me as´. The Hip Hop Idol reacts negatively towards The Media. As previously discussed, other fantasy themes applied to The Media by the rhetor include exploitation and being fickle and demanding. The mixing of these two fantasy themes results in the first rhetorical vision: The media industry will misunderstand, exploit, manipulate, and is fickle and demanding causing established hip-hop artists frustration, anger, and loss of trust. The Hip-Hop Idol and The Law. Several setting themes were coded to The Hip Hop Idol when discussing The Law. ³Year is µ94´ and ³side of the road´ establish a history of dealing with police enforcement, especially being pulled over. The final setting theme is ³in the 54´. The 54 is referencing the road speed
A FANTASY THEME ANALYSIS OF JAY-Z¶S 99 PROBLEMS
limit on which the rhetor is stop. This implies The Law is attempting to enforce a regulation that the rhetor perceives as ludicrous or nonexistent. This could also imply that there was nothing to be pulled over for in the first place. Action themes ³in my trunk is raw´ and ³pulled over´ explain that when the The Hip-Hop Idol was pulled over, there were drugs in the vehicle. Other action themes, ³got two choices: pull over the car or bounce on the devil ± put the pedal to the floor´, explain The Hip-Hop Idols thought process. One reaction would be to try and get away while the other option is to comply. This enforces that The Hip-Hop Idol has street smarts and does not take dealing with The Law lightly. The rhetor considers the consequences of both options ³ain¶t trying to see no highway chase with jakes´ and ³got a few dollars, fight the case´. The Hip-Hop Idol then has a conversation with The Law, where as previously discussed, the rhetor shows The Law makes assumptions about his/her person based on physical appearance: ³cause I¶m young?´, ³cause I¶m black?´, ³cause my hat¶s real low?´ The Hip-Hop Idol keeps it cool, ³don¶t know´, ³guess some more?´, also applying street smarts to keep the situation under control. The mixing of these two fantasy themes results in the second rhetorical vision: Be wary when dealing with law enforcement; they make assumptions and are out to get you. The Hip-Hop Idol and The Wangster. The setting theme ³once upon a time, not too long ago´ is the only one applied to both of these fantasy types. The tone of the setting theme suggests that the rhetor is retelling a frequently told story. Also, ³once upon a time´ resembles the opening of a children¶s story, implying the situation is some sort of lesson. The first action theme ³had to strong arm a ho´ implies that The Hip-Hop Idol had to use physical force against The Wangster, and also that it was deserved (³had to´). Another reference to physical aggression is ³get to clappin´. In the rhetor¶s
A FANTASY THEME ANALYSIS OF JAY-Z¶S 99 PROBLEMS worldview, The Wangster has to be put in place. As previously discussed, several of The Wangster¶s character themes are ³having no god damn sense´, ³fool´, ³loud as a motorbike´,
and being a snitch. All of these themes are considerable opposite of The Hip-Hop Idol character themes. As a result of The Wangster¶s tattle-tale, The Hip-Hop Idol is ³trapped again´ and put ³back through the system.´ The Hip-Hop Idol and The Wangster become part of a cautionary tale or fable for the hip-hop rhetorical community. As a result, the mixing of these two fantasy themes results in the third rhetorical vision: Loud snitching wannabe gangsters will bring you down if you are not cautious. Results After applying fantasy theme method to the ³99 Problems´ lyrics four fantasy types and three rhetorical visions were discovered. The four fantasy types were The Media, The Law, The Wangster, and The Hip-Hop Idol. The Media, The Law, and The Wangster shared similarities such as deception and typecasting making these fantasy types villains in the rhetor¶s world view. The Hip-Hop Idol fantasy type is characterized as starting from meager beginnings, having street smarts, being black, and having many problems originating from the three other fantasy types. As a result, The Hip-Hop Idol is perceived as a hero in the rhetor¶s worldview. The three rhetorical visions were defined after separately analyzing the hero fantasy type with the three villain fantasy type. The three rhetorical visions found are as follows: 1. The media industry will misunderstand, exploit, manipulate, and is fickle and demanding causing established hip-hop artists frustration, anger, and lack of trust. 2. Be wary when dealing with law enforcement; they make assumptions and are out to get you.
A FANTASY THEME ANALYSIS OF JAY-Z¶S 99 PROBLEMS 3. Loud snitching wannabe gangsters will bring you down if you are not cautious.
These rhetorical visions are meant to be clearly understood by the hip-hop rhetorical community and are meant to relate certain messages. The strongest message is one of caution. All three rhetorical visions stand as warnings to those attempting to follow in the rhetor¶s footsteps. Another message within the rhetorical visions is this is what I go through to be me (a well established hip-hop artist). The rhetor is attempting to bring understanding within the hip-hop rhetorical community for his/her actions. The final message is that fame comes with a heavy price. The rhetor stresses just how many problems can be brought on by achieving celebrity status, aligning with the wise word of the rhetor¶s hip-hop predecessor, Biggie Smalls, ³mo money, mo problems´. The importance and relevance of these messages to the hip-hop rhetrical community define the significance of this analysis. The first message deciphers a warning for others who hope to fill the same mold as their beloved artists. This warning might deter those hopefuls from making similar mistakes or from being misled. The second message allows for the rhetor to explain the hardships an artist must endure within the music industry. These hardships can not be realized unless the rhetor¶s message is heard and understood. This brings about an awareness to the hip-hop rhetorical community which often times includes those with direct influence on the music industry. This message can help invoke change for the better. The final message demonstrates a truth that is necessary for any fame- seeking rhetorical community, especially because many of those within it are the youth of today¶s society. An important note is that these messages seem to go deeper than the over generalized topic themes attributed to hip-hop such as violence and sex.
A FANTASY THEME ANALYSIS OF JAY-Z¶S 99 PROBLEMS The significance of this particular analysis for rhetorical criticism is the continued
extension of lyrical understanding using fantasy theme method. As more and more rap lyrics are coded for fantasy themes, types, and rhetorical visions, a better understanding is formed of this major rhetorical community . A broader understanding of today¶s music artists is also brought forth also allowing for connections to be made to other lyrical forms. Those connections could bring fans to types of music not originally considered as valid or thoughtful. Most importantly, this analysis focuses the rhetor¶s worldview and makes it accesible. The messages found within the rhetorical visions show a strong individual overcoming the daily struggles that come with fame. This provides cultural implications of the current status of law enforcement, the music industry, and media outlets and may draw attention to certain areas of these organizations that may need improvement. For example, are police enforcements truly unaware of biases felt by urban communities? Or perhaps, how can media outlets continue working with music artists without raising issues of explotation or manipulation? Other cultural implications are made about the worldview of those within the hip-hop rhetorical community today. If these perceptions of a manipulative media, snitching wannabes, and untrustworthy cops are shared by all within, perhaps reactions made by the community could be better handled and understood. The significant results of this study imply the need for additional research using fantasy theme method to analyze hip-hop lyrics. Additional data could be compiled and furthur coded for messages that would correlate an even larger worldview than just Jay-Z¶s. Also, while a better understanding of Jay-Z¶s perspective from his attempted ³spotlight´ exit, it is not made entirley clear what clearly drove him to make such a strong decision. This study does end however with
A FANTASY THEME ANALYSIS OF JAY-Z¶S 99 PROBLEMS strong implications towards the struggles within an every changing series of industries and the intrigue of those changes continues to remain enticing for study.
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