The Story of O.J. (Jay-Z and Mark Romanek, 2017)

MMC! readers will know by now my soft spot for classic East Coast animation pastiche, so needless to say I’m currently awestruck by Jay-Z and Mark Romanek’s stunning video for “The Story of O.J.” Sampling Nina Simone’s “Four Women,” “The Story of O.J.” unpacks the unavoidable consequences of blackness’s various shades and the place of capital as a potential countermeasure. It’s a cool and canny track whose video takes as its reference point the racist stereotypes of early animation such as the Censored Eleven. Blogs like Cartoon Brew, Birth. Movies. Death., and Dazed have provided excellent accounts of the works referenced in “The Story of O.J.” and of the transtextual subversions being made by Jay-Z in this retrofitted homage, but I’m particularly struck with how the artistry and creativity of those problematic cartoons are merged with hip hop music video conventions and the issues addressed in conscious rap – the way an MC in direct address is situated with Fleischer-style backgrounds and vanishing points, how chipmunk soul vocals are fittingly located in a cartoon cabaret or how wacky surrealism is used to draw a shortcut connection between historical exploitation and its consequential products, and the way Jaybo’s matter-of-fact, unruffled skepticism reflects on the three-fingered cool of Bugs Bunny. A welcome companion to Beyoncé’s stunning Lemonade from last year, “The Story of O.J.” is a daring and ambitious work, sure to be one of the best of 2017.

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