|Posted by jessicamisener on August 10, 2011 at 9:30 AM||comments (18)|
Photo: Kanye West and Jay-Z allegedly doing the handshake of the Freemasons (Complex Magazine)
NB: It should be obvious, but the point of this article is to unpack and decode some of the references in this song that conspiracy theorists (a group I'm in no way a part of) are saying refer to the Illuminati. I am in no way endorsing this, or saying I believe that Kanye West and Jay-Z are Illuminati members, nor that I believe in the Illuminati. This isn't, like, evidence I'm presenting. This is a (lightly) academic study of this song.
The rich and famous are perpetually accused of being members of the Illuminati, a nebulous secret society with roots in the Enlightenment that's rumored to control all kinds of international activities. Recent alleged members, who are usually maligned on kooky watchdog websites, include Lady Gaga and Britney Spears.
Jay-Z, in particular, has had a prolific amount of Illuminati allegations thrown against him (here and here, for starters), which he's denied. Kanye West has also been the target of Illuminati rumors, which he's similarly denied, tweeting, for example: "I've got question about "the illuminati" ... what is it exactly ??? ... and why do people think pop stars have a membership???!!! LOL,"
And now that the pair have officially collaborated for an LP, Watch the Throne, conspiracy theorists' suspicions that both men have Illuminati stakes are bound to reach fever pitch. For starters, the album itself boasts cover art and liner notes strewn with pyramids, stars and other Illuminati-associated imagery, and has already served up a heaping dose of hypotheses.
The album's first track, "No Church in the Wild," which features Odd Future's Frank Ocean as well as The- Dream, is probably the weightiest fodder for secret-symbol combers. Musically, it's a dark, tribal battle cry that's arguably the record's standout.
Pondering morality, death, classism and theodicy, the song rejects what seems to be the traditional Abrahamic religions and then brings in some tantalizing mentions of wisdom and deification. It's more of a statement against church qua organized religion than an overt paean to alleged Illuminism, but still, for two musicians who have both been accused of Iluminati ties in the past, this track won't go ignored. Let's examine why.
Sandwiched in among the usual rap-trope braggadocio about drugs, cars and girls, the hook to the song will undoubtedly net the most scrutiny from Illuminati watchers:
Human being to the mob
What's a mob to a king? What's a king to a God?
What's a God to a non-believer who don't believe in anything?
Will he make it out alive, alright, alright, no church in the wild
In this hierarchy, a human is subject to a larger mob of people; a mob is theoretically subject to a king's higher authority; the king is theoretically subject to God. But to the non-believer (Illuminati member?), all of these power structures are nil.
According to the most widely spread narrative, the (Bavarian) Iluminati was founded in 1776 by Adam Weishaupt, a German professor and trained Jesuit. The group was an outgrowth of the Knights Templar, a medieval society believed to have worshiped Lucifer, although they claimed the group was a Christian one long enough to merely delay a papal smackdown. Conspiracy sniffers maintain that the group is still active and has infiltrated most outposts of international banking, politics and other circles of power.
WIth theorists positing that Illuminati members quietly control the global economy, the relationship between Illuminati and "kings" (political power) is a tenuous one. Given that Illuminati members' alleged goal is to become divine, the members can ergo become all of these power structures: a network of people who not only control everything a god would oversee, but who are the "gods" themselves. It's a level playing field for those in the "wild," those who have left the safety of traditional religion's confounds and branched into this new way of being.
Is Pius pious cause God loves pious?
Socrates asked whose bias do y'all seek?
All for Plato, screech
I’m out here balling, I know y'all hear my sneaks
I would bet money that this is the first time a rapper has cited Plato's Euthyphro. In this famous dialogue from the annals of Greek literature, Socrates and Euthyphro contemplate the nature of piety. Jay-Z's lyric here references the famous chicken-before-the-egg-type "Euthyphro Dilemma": "Are pious things loved by the gods because they are pious, or, are things pious because they are loved by the gods?"
This "dilemma," i.e. the notion of objective "goodness," has had numerous consequences on the development of religion and philosophy (the rise of divine command theory, naturalism and the idea of independent moral standards, for example, as attempts to reconcile it), and has consistently posed to philosophers one of the hurdles in developing a comprehensive moral system. Socrates was famous for asking questions instead of answering them, and of testifying to his own ignorance. By citing one of the more famous thorns traditional religion has contended with, the protagonist of the song further distances himself from the trappings of orthodox society.
NB: There have been a bunch of horrendous popes named Pius, so it's not clear to whom Jay-Z refers.
Jesus was a carpenter, Yeezy laid beats
Hova flow the Holy Ghost, get the hell up out your seats, preach
Jay-Z famously goes by Hov, short for Jehovah, a Hebrew term for God. If you're on the hunt for deification imagery, here you go.
Your love is my scripture
Let me into your encryption
Equation of encryption as holy text suggests the enigmatic symbolism of the Illuminati, and how, for members, mystery itself is the very thing being revered.
Tears on the mausoleum floor
Blood stains the Colosseum doors
Lies on the lips of priests
Thanksgiving disguised as a feast
Jay-Z here brings up theodicy, the problem of reconciling the existence of God with the visceral evils and suffering in the world. In the song, kings' deaths are met with tears; gladiators' deaths are mere entertainment. Thanksgiving is a "celebration" of the genocide of the American Indian.
Interestingly, the freemason temple in D.C., close to the White House, is modeled after the famous Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. Some also say George Washington's mausoleum in Mt. Vernon was constructed with Illuminati symbolism in mind.
We formed a new religion
No sins as long as there’s permission
And deception is the only felony
So never fuck nobody without telling me
The alleged goal of the Illuminati is to create a New World Order, a one-world government completely controlled by its members. It'd be embarrassingly blatant if Kanye here refers to the works of the Illuminati, and while he does thrive on transparency, these lines could also be read as some type of secular humanism. West champions a sort of "open relationship" approach to morality.
At its core, then, this track promotes some kind of existential rejection of God, in tandem with curious references that will inevitably be read alongside Jay-Z and Kanye's rumored involvement in the Illuminati.
Does that mean Kanye and Jay-Z are outing themselves as Illuminati members? I think only the most fervent of watchdogs who are jonesing to make their case would come to that conclusion. But regardless of what you believe about the existence of secret societies, the crypto-religious pastiche of "No Church in the Wild" will, at the very least, be one more weapon in the conspiracy theorists' arsenal.
|Posted by jessicamisener on July 28, 2011 at 10:20 PM||comments (0)|
I have my first smattering of print reviews out in Under the Radar's summer issue, hot off the California printing presses! You can check them out here. *Bonus! They're all really short.
|Posted by jessicamisener on July 28, 2011 at 10:14 PM||comments (0)|
This is a wee bit overdue, but I had the chance to meet and interview the wonderful and talented duo The Civil Wars for Relevant's July/August cover. Not only are Joy Williams and John Paul White enviously talented, they're also some of the warmest people I've ever gotten to interview. I also had the pleasure of chatting with esteemed producer Charlie Peacock and writer Matthew Paul Turner.
You can read my cover story here (PDF form)! I'm thrilled with how it turned out.
|Posted by jessicamisener on May 2, 2011 at 12:34 PM||comments (0)|
The Kills' show on Friday night at Terminal 5 started off with a few hiccups: spoken word poet BP Fallon sandwiched himself in as a bizarre opening act following Cold Cave; the drum machine launched into the backbeats of "Sour Cherry" a tad too early; at one point Jamie Hince had to reprimand a fellow in the audience for shoving a girl in his attempt to push closer to the stage. But throughout the rest of the tightly coiled, blistering set, Alison Mosshart and Hince demonstrated a newfound polish to their typically brash stage melee. Their usual sexual tension seemed pared down--perhaps due to Kate Moss peering down from the VIP balcony?--as Mosshart, who's recently eschewed her onstage chain smoking, settled for prowling about her own side of the stage, ripping through tracks like "Future Starts Slow" and "No Wow" as Hince's vintage guitars wailed away with their signature gritty fury. The presence of a 3-person gospel choir singing backup on "Satellite" still seems a disjointed foil for Mosshart and Hince's minimalist garage bravado, but when Mosshart took the stage solo for an aching performance of the new ballad "The Last Goodbye," we were reminded how far the Kills have come in spiraling their raw blues-rock into something fuller, heavier and more graceful. - jm
|Posted by jessicamisener on April 26, 2011 at 9:17 AM||comments (0)|
My interview with the lovely band The Kills is on the cover of the new May/June issue of Relevant magazine. Click here to read it! (PDF) Or at least glance at it before you flip to the Rob Bell story.
|Posted by jessicamisener on March 29, 2011 at 2:11 PM||comments (0)|
I will be leading a workshop next week at the Festival of Faith & Music at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Yay, Michigan! I've never been beyond Detroit, but still, yay!
The festival runs from April 7-9, and my workshop --which I'm calling "How to Critique an Album Without Sounding Like a Jerk"-- will be on Friday afternoon. But the real reason you might want to come will be the concerts, including The Civil Wars and Matisyahu.
For more info, visit the conference website here.
|Posted by jessicamisener on February 19, 2011 at 4:18 PM||comments (0)|
The Civil Wars are currently riding a publicity crescendo as mighty as their acclaimed blues-tinged folk, and the sold-out crowd at Rockwood Music Hall welcomed Joy Williams and John Paul White enthusiastically. Williams sipped from a glass of red wine as she wrapped each song in her velvet blanket of a voice, and White's dobro guitar rang out sharper than southern whiskey as the pair soaked tracks like "C'est La Mort" with their penetrating chemistry. Williams and White traded glances and intertwined their strong yet rueful harmonies as the stomping, stormy twang of "Barton Hollow" flooded through the cozy venue, and at once, it became clear that The Civil Wars' devoted fans would soon be surrendering this well-deserving duo to the clutches of mainstream record-selling fame. - jm
|Posted by jessicamisener on January 23, 2011 at 2:11 PM||comments (0)|
A sold-out crowd of Brooklynites still loved their old-time rock 'n' roll enough to pack the Music Hall of Williamsburg for the inimitable Wanda Jackson on Friday night. Backed by Jack White on guitar and the Third Man Records studio band on everything else, the pint-sized queen of rockabilly shimmied in a white fringed jacket as she turned the venue into a rollicking house of good, old-fashioned rock frenzy. Self-effacingly using a lyrics sheet as she plowed through some of the tracks off her new, White-produced album The Party Ain't Over, Jackson, 73, also performed a rousing version of "Riot in Cell Block #9" and a cover of the Amy Winehouse song "I'm No Good" while White seemed giddy just squealing away by her side during his standard manic guitar solos. Even with a pair of sashaying backup singers, the retro energy never turned twee, leaving the crowd despondent after the final flush of "Shakin' All Over," when Jackson and co. whisked off the stage without an encore. - jm
|Posted by jessicamisener on November 6, 2010 at 12:02 PM||comments (0)|
Cloaked in an ethereal ivory costume and her trademark red hair, Florence Welch flitted onstage Tuesday night for the second of her 2 sold-out shows at Terminal 5. Thanks to a recent performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, the British singer and her band have leapt into the mainstream stratosphere, mostly thanks to Julia Roberts eating gelato to the tune of "Dog Days are Over" in Eat Pray Love. Wielding a single drumstick like a fairy nymph gone mad, Welch bounded and skipped across the stage, imparting her energy to the crowd on anthemic, gospel-tinged songs like "Raise It Up (Rabbit Heart)" and "Drumming Song." Her performance of the new-ish "Heavy in Your Arms" from the Twilight soundtrack reminded, via its delicate anguish, that a new Florence album is tenderly overdue. - jm
|Posted by jessicamisener on October 19, 2010 at 10:38 AM||comments (0)|
When a tall, redheaded supermodel opens her mouth, people pay attention. Last night, the sold-out crowd at Rockwood Music Hall looked on in reverential silence as the lovely Karen Elson beguiled them with the plaintive sounds from her debut album, The Ghost Who Walks. Backed by a band that included Jackson Smith, son of Patti Smith and husband of Meg White, on guitar and singer-songwriter Rachelle Garniez on a wistful accordion, Elson interspersed her charmingly spare love ballads with guest appearances and cover songs. Though flustered by a missing capo and misbehaving microphones, she demurely enchanted the crowd in between sips of white wine, including one lucky gentleman whom, when he appeared with a surrogate capo, Elson dubbed her "knight in shining armor." - jm