Music and Modernity

In Jay-Z’s Decoded, he talks about how rap is an art form through which one can truly express oneself. Rap, he says, “is built to handle contradictions”(239). In his eyes, hip-hop and rap have “created a space where all kinds of music could meet, without contradiction”(240). Throughout our readings this year, we have seen people from all walks of life come together in the cities of the world. At times, there have been conflicts, but in the end, people show us who they really are. To me, that is what being in a city is, and it is also why I love music so much. Having been around music and theatre for my entire life, what is most heartening to see is not a great piece of music being performed, but seeing the heart and soul of the person doing the performance come alive on stage. By reading Jay-Z’s thoughts, I have a whole new appreciation for him and what he does, even though I am not generally a fan of hip-hop and rap. Like myself, he believes that music is life, nothing more and nothing less, and that the best music (or poetry) is made when whoever is creating it is being completely open and honest with themselves.

This same ideal is present whenever I think of the livelihood of the city. It has its complexities and values, an identity as a whole, but that identity is only formed from the people who inhabit it. Every individual in a city has their own identity, and in some contexts, that part of themselves has to be hidden away. But when push comes to shove, everyone’s true self comes out.  Maybe it’s the person who has the courage to wear his Derek Jeter shirt to Fenway Park. Or a slam poet, soapboxing to whoever will listen. Perhaps you are just like me, who if you see walking down the street, chances are I am not talking on the phone into my earbuds, but instead singing along to the music in my ear, enjoying the sights and sounds like I am on the stage at Carnegie Hall, singing my heart out. Jay-Z’s thoughts are compelling because they are universal. Music has often been described as a unifying force, and so too is living in a city. Both ideas have places for the individual to shine while being a part of something greater.

One thought on “Music and Modernity

  1. sarahl

    In light of the recent tragic events that have occurred in Boston, I could not agree with you more that music and living in a city have the ability to unify people. While there is such a unique group of people living in this city – Bostonians who have lived here their whole life, foreigners, college students, businessmen, people from the different neighborhoods, the city proved that it was “One Boston” after the bombings. I am not quite sure what it is about a city that brings everyone together – a love for one’s home, even if it may only be temporary? Maybe it is unity on a larger scale – the good overcoming the evil.
    Music has also unified the city in the past two weeks – such as when Rene Rancourt let the audience sing the National Anthem at the Bruin’s first home game after the tragedy. (first time in decades when this has occurred). Or how various ballparks across the country sang “Sweet Caroline” to honor Boston. This last example is an example of cities unifying with other cities – an even more astonishing occurrence.
    While we are all individuals in one city, seemingly alone, we still belong to this city in one way or another. We may be just another face in the crowd, or a “petal on a wet, black bough” as Ezra Pound said – but if we were to venture outside of Boston, we would be recognized for where we come from.


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