Short Comparative Essay: $$$ in Music

In her recently posted short essay “When Money Meets the Eye,” fellow blogger Casey O’Neill compares the spiritual guide The Energy of Money by Maria Nemeth, Ph.D. to the critically acclaimed film The Pursuit of Happyness. She shows how these two seemingly unrelated works convey several similar ideas and messages about what many people believe is the root of all evil—money. But is money all that bad?

Perhaps what we can now do is look to other spheres in the media other than film that also address the concept of money and how it is treated today. Money as a focal point in music, for instance, has been popularized by a wide range of artists spanning over decades of music history. From songs like “Sixteen Tons” by Merle Travis (1947) to Madonna’s “Material Girl” (1985) to “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” by rapper Notorious B.I.G. (1997), we see how the idea of money played out in song can bring out feelings of angst, discontent, happiness, and pleasure.

Let’s take a look at the chorus to “Material Girl”. Madonna sings,

‘Cause the boy with the cold hard cash
Is always Mister Right, ’cause we are
[Chorus]
Living in a material world
And I am a material girl
You know that we are living in a material world
And I am a material girl

Michael Jackson aside, Madonna as perhaps the most iconic figure in pop culture and music encapsulates in this song what many people can agree with: we live in world where money is king and we do what we must to get it. Madonna, in a sense, hints that at the end of the day we are all material girls. So how can we possibly survive in a capitalistic world and still manage to accept money as something good? What do we have to do to be successful? “Successful people,” says Nemeth, “know how energy works. Successful people are conscious conduits of energy.”

With that in mind, we can now look at someone who loves to talk all day about his money. From his album The College Dropout (2004) to Graduation (2007), Kanye West’s dynamic relationship with money can be expressed in songs like “All Falls Down feat. Sylena Johnson,” “Spaceship feat. GLC and Consequence,” “Gold Digger,” and “Good Life.”

Let’s take a look at how Kanye first addresses money in “All Falls Down.” Here are some key verses from the song:

Man I promise, she’s so self conscious
She has no idea what she’s doing in college
That major that she majored in don’t make no money
But she won’t drop out, her parents will look at her funny

Now, tell me that ain’t insecure
The concept of school seems so secure
Sophmore three years ain’t picked a career
She like f*ck it, I’ll just stay down here and do hair
Cause that’s enough money to buy her a few pairs of new Airs

Just as there are anxieties about writing, Kanye reveals that there are anxieties about money as well. In The Energy of Money, Nemeth begins her book by discussing these anxieties and fears in a similar fashion. In both the literature and the song, the authors point out the idea that money makes us self-conscious and forces us to evaluate nearly every action and decision we make.

The concept of security, which West addresses in the above verses, becomes something so necessary to one’s well being that the pursuit of other things is abandoned. Usually those other things are not viewed as practical or reasonable in a money-driven world.

One of the more complex ideas Nemeth brings up in her book is the relationship between a person and his metaphysical and physical realities. She argues that reality is divided into two realms. In the domain of physical reality, she says that “energy is coalesced into objects that have form, density, and size” and that in order to see objects change in this realm we must focus energy on them. In metaphysical reality, on the other hand, that energy is not solidified. Daydreams, wishful thinking, and fantasies live in the metaphysical realm.

The college student that West talks about in “All Falls Down” is caught in the middle. She would be experiencing what Nemeth likes to call “Trouble at the Border.” Her intentions, her ideas are set aside because she cannot get across this border and make her passions materialized in the physical realm.

Over time, Kanye himself has overcome that trouble at the border. We can see this if we juxtapose his attitudes towards money in College Dropout and Graduation. His songs in earlier albums express feelings of angst and bitterness on the issue of money. In “Spaceship” West raps, “I’ve been workin’ this graveshift and I ain’t made sh*t / I wish I could buy me a spaceship and fly past the sky.”

Then Kanye’s attitude toward the pursuit of wealth and riches completely changes in Graduation. Let’s take a look at “Good Life”:

Yo, it’s got to be ’cause I’m seasoned
Haters give me them salty looks,
Lowry’s
50 told me go ‘head switch the style up
And if they hate then let ‘em hate
And watch the money pile up, the good life.

Many would argue that it was money that was the prime suspect in causing Kanye West’s downfall as a rapper. We can see that throughout Graduation, his songs contain suggestive themes about sex, glory, and fame, all which seem to stem from his growing (and still growing) ego. This ego has made us both hate and love Kanye West. It has also caused him to make a big ass of himself (HINT: 2009 VMA’s).

However, we still see that West’s success partly comes from his understanding of money. He has not abolished the monkey mind (see the post by Jesse Chiang) since according to Nemeth that is impossible, but West knows how to energize his goals so that they materialize in the physical realm.

In your opinion, do you think Kanye West understands the energy of money?

Take the time to watch his new music video/mini movie “Runaway.” I would love to read your thoughts and reactions to it.

Post submitted by Crystal Maranan

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2 thoughts on “Short Comparative Essay: $$$ in Music

  1. woooooooooooooow!! this is an EXCELLENT post crystal!! very insightful, thought-provoking and enjoyable!! i absolutely looove the pop culture references and the comparative analysis between nemeth and madonna/kanye. you exhibit a strong understanding of the text, while stirring new ideas and thoughts within the reader. you raise an interesting question–is money the reason for kanye’s creative downfall (lyrically wise)? i always thought his writing has gotten more dumb and less innovative, yet as an artist overall he is raising the bar. i have to think about that one. i can’t wait to share this post with all my friends! <3 sahra

  2. So beautifully written! I’ve been waiting for an article that discussed the topic of money in music. Excellent examples!! :)

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