Music is a big part of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, with the 1922 novel showcasing the jazz-filled flapper parties Jay Gatsby throws at his house in the West Egg. The author coined the term the “Jazz Age” to talk about the renaissance of music and dance that was being ushered in during the ‘20s.
With the latest cinematic version of Fitzgerald’s classic—this one directed by Baz Luhrmann—hitting theaters today (May 10), Radio.com breaks down the Jay-Z-produced soundtrack through the eyes of Fitzgerald. Would the author have been a fan of the sound?
On the soundtrack, the rap mogul tries to combine the old and new, not unlike Luhrmann does in his films or even what Fitzgerald did with his writing. Jay-Z mixes Roaring Twenties-era horns with electronic beats, telling MTV he wanted the music to become another character in the film, just as it was in the book.
Jazz was dangerous, chaotic and exciting when it first hit the scene and the youth of America couldn’t get enough of it. Hip-hop had the same effect when the public heard it in the 1970s so it’s no coincidence the two styles have been melded together by Jay-Z in an effort to bring the Jazz Age into the 21st century.
The album starts off with Jay’s own contribution, “100$ Bills,” a straight-up hip-hop track that references Slick Rick, the 1929 Wall Street crash, 9/11 and Taylor Swift, sort of dissing her with the line, “Took that, Taylor Swift to a hundred f****** million, b****.” (Apparently, Team Kanye all the way.)
Beside the fact that poor Fitzgerald would have been confused about these future events Jay speaks of–not to mention the voice modulation going on (the talk box, the first voice changing equipment, wasn’t invented until the 1930s)–the song is straight from the 21st century. The closest thing they had to rap in the ’20s was the poetry of Langston Hughes, a studied poet who was still enrolled in New York’s Columbia University the year Fitzgerld’s book came out.
Other songs on the album do a better job of melding the two styles together like will.i.am on “Bang Bang.” Using Cecil Mack and James P. Johnson’s “Charleston” to keep the beat—a song, we’d like to point out, was actually released in 1923— will.i.am channels Louis Armstrong with his frog in the throat singing style to talk about making bootys drop. He would get Daisy and the rest of her friends dancing the Charleston, but would probably lose the flapper audience during the chorus- a little too EDM for the Roaring Twenties.