Critical Excess

Watch the Throne and the New Gilded Age
J. Griffith Rollefson
Jay-Z and Kanye West’s death dance for capitalism


Jay-Z and Kanye West’s 2011 Watch the Throne is a self-avowed “luxury rap” album centered on Eurocentric conceptions of nobility, artistry, and haute coutureCritical Excess performs a close reading of the sonic and social commentary on this album, examining how the album alternately imagines and critiques the mutually reinforcing ideas of Europe, nobility, old money, art, and their standard bearer, whiteness. Reading the album alongside Black critical theory and work on the prophetic nature of music, Rollefson argues that through their performance of black excellence, opulence, and decadence, Jay-Z and Kanye West poured gas on the white resentment of the Obama presidency—a resentment that would ultimately spill over into public life, make audible the dog whistling of the Far Right, and embolden white supremacists to come out from under their rocks.  Ultimately, Rollefson argues, Jay-Z and Kanye West’s performance of what Rollefson calls “critical excess” on this album exceeds the limits of conspicuous consumption and heralds the final stage of late capitalism—“the New Gilded Age.” 


J. Griffith Rollefson is professor of music at University College Cork, National University of Ireland.  Rollefson is author of Flip the Script: European Hip Hop and the Politics of Postcoloniality.

Praise / Awards

  • “This is an excellent book with a highly original thesis and thorough theoretical analyses of the album and its related themes. Rollefson has a flair for prose that is at once academic and performative.”
    —Justin A. Williams, University of Bristol
  • “Rollefson does a solid job of establishing that Watch the Throne was mostly received as a tasteless flaunting of wealth, then presses that reception and offers something far more compelling and rooted in deep histories of double—and triple—meanings in Black arts and cultures. The argument becomes particularly timely in the way Rollefson ties the album’s performance to the contemporary political moment on both sides of the English-speaking Atlantic.”
    —Justin D. Burton, Rider University

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 234pp.
  • 8 illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

Due to the current global health event, shipping of print books may be delayed. Actual status will show in the shopping cart.

  • Hardcover
  • 2021
  • Forthcoming
  • 978-0-472-07487-7

  • $75.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2021
  • Forthcoming
  • 978-0-472-05487-9

  • $24.95 U.S.

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  • Kanye West, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, hip hop, popular music, bling, luxury rap, occupy wall street, black lives matter, me too, decolonization, strategic essentialism, racism, capitalism, sexism, conspicuous consumption