Jay-Z Shines Through Music in ‘The Great Gatsby’

Lilly Workneh, The Grio, May 10, 2013

Director Baz Luhrmann took on the task of re-inventing F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby and delivered it to the big screen. But he also had a big assist from one of the film’s executive producers: Jay-Z.

Luhrmann’s modern take delivers a piece of the 1920s to an audience far removed from an era filled with flapper fashion and jazz melodies.

But through his clear direction in re-creating the roaring 20s, Luhrmann’s film brought a 21st-century feel due in large part to his collaboration with the rapper and the use of modern-day music.

“Jazz in 1922 was being referred to as an African-American fad,” Luhrmann told The New York Times. “Why would Fitzgerald put such ephemeral stuff, actual song lyrics, in his book? Because it made it immediate and visceral and exciting for the reader.  And when you think of an African-American street music today that’s hip-hop.”

The duo worked together to replace the jazz-saturated era with hip-hop, an attempt that Luhrmann says was made for moviegoers to better experience what it would have been like to attend the lavish, old-school parties.

In doing so, Luhrmann and Jay-Z designed a soundtrack booming with the work of contemporary artists like Kanye West, Beyonce and Andre 3000.


At the movie’s press conference, Luhrmann described the challenge of capturing one of the film’s extravagant party takes.

With 20 minutes left before the crew wrapped up for the night, Luhrman says cameras rolled as party-goers pillow fought and paraded to jazz tunes around Gatsby’s mansion.

“We started with jazz music and only about a minute later, right in the middle of the jazz, I turned up very loudly a track called “N.I.P. (N****s in Paris),” which is a Jay-Z track which was mixed with jazz at the same time. And things took off,” Luhrman says.


The result of Luhrmann and Jay-Z’s collaboration include scenes that boast the Grammy award-winning rapper’s songs, including some of his most popular singles like “Izzo” from his 2009 Blueprint album and his more recent release “No Church in the Wild” featuring Kanye West.

Jay-Z also included another one of his original pieces ,“$100 bill,” where the rapper draws references and similarities between himself and the great Jay Gatsby.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Beyoncé is also featured on the soundtrack and teams up with Andre 3000 to sing a reprise of Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black,” a much mellower version that has drawn critique from many listeners, including Winehouse’s father.


The soundtrack includes a variety of artists and songs with a broad range of vocals, lyrical content and beats–all the while, it helped transform classic old-school settings into modern-day extravaganzas.

Luhrmann, whose other directing film credits include Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge!, is known for his elaborate touch when re-telling classic stories through a modern lens.


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