There have been quite a few interpretations of Jay-Z, Rihanna & Kanye West's music video 'Run this Town - including an illuminati angle on it and a spoof. Tansy Hoskins offers her take.
The Run This Town video shows crowds of people marching with flaming torches, Molotov cocktails being thrown, upturned burning cars and images of Chairman Mao. People are preparing for a riot, their faces covered by bandanas and hoods. There are what look like WTO protesters from across the globe, Mujahideen fighters, anarchists and demonstrators. This could be the G20 riots in Seattle or Genoa or an uprising of landless peasants in Brazil. Instead it’s a Jay Z, Rihanna and Kanye West track.
This song about power with its images of revolution has been released at a timely moment. In this period of massive inequality, economic meltdown and poverty Rihanna echoes the thoughts of many when she sings: “Only thing that's on my mind Is who's gonna run this town tonight...” The question of who runs our streets needs to be asked.
However hopefully people will pay more attention to the images than the words because what comes back from the video is not revolution but a hyped up shopping list of things the people can’t afford, plus a bunch of sexist and homophobic lyrics thrown in for good measure. Symbols of resistance have once again been co-opted, warped and sold back to us to make money for the very people that were being resisted in the first place.
Even though his stylist has dressed him as Subcomandante Marcos, with a personal fortune of a $547million, Jay Z is the richest person in hip hop. Though he spends most of the song rapping about money he is not talking about the redistribution of wealth amongst the poor or the inequality in society but how he wants and is going to get more money. He asks people to “Pledge your allegiance Get y'all fatigues on” but the allegiance is to him - ‘You can call me Cesar’ - and the cause is expanding his bank balance even more.
Rihanna, who made $10million last year, takes centre stage in the video, dressed up in a series of faux revolutionary outfits including a sexist parody of a Black Panther. However the lyrics of the song corner women into being objectified and mere accessories for the men that are going to run the town. Kanye West with his fortune of $32million is the third artist in this track. Squandering his chance to rap about something as meaningful as the imagery of the video Kayne instead tells us about his shoe collection and buying cars. He is a revolutionary that brags about having a police escort and berates people for wearing trainers. Whilst the imagery is inspiring, it’s completely mismatched with the lyrics rather like if Bush and Blair did karaoke to Lowkey’s ‘Long Live Palestine’ track.
Clearly the musical establishment sees demonstrations, riots and resistance as things that will sell their products. Or maybe this is Jay Z’s answer to the growing Revolutionary But Gangsta movement in hip hop. Whichever, this video is a step up from speedboats and bikinis and just because the stars in this video are vacuous doesn’t mean that the people watching it won’t be influenced by the subversive message that the only way to get power is to band together and take it, by force if necessary. Anything that teaches people not to be humble and popularises the idea of collective action can only be a step in the right direction.
Hopefully one day the crowds in the video will Run This Town and we’ll get to watch Kayne West’s shoe collection being redistributed amongst the homeless to be worn or burnt as fuel as people saw fit.
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