I remember the first time I heard "Monster," driving along 280 in late September, listening to Hot 97, taking pleasure in my proximity to NYC. The infectious yet low-fi hook gave the track an aura of legitimacy and disaffectedness (a trait growing in popularity), and Nicki Minaj's verse was some sort of schizophrenic female version of a more-violent Busta Rhymes. I liked it.
Then while I visited my family in Louisiana for Christmas, I sought out the leaked video. It starts out with a shot of a hanging model. As in from the neck hanging. And then Kanye, it his rationalface, poses a few corpses of more dead ladies, giving Cee-Lo Green's Ladykiller moniker an outright challenge for the title. Jay-Z shows up next like Aleister Crowley on Wall Street, but black, and rhymes "conscience" with "monster." It seems that Mr. Carter has done a few things to be ashamed of, such as vampirism and potentially necromancy. Finally, Nick Minaj re-enacts at least two or so Freudian case studies, dressed as both a little girl with pink hair and a dominatrix, and then tortures herself, while keeping the loud persona with the dominatrix and the sweet persona with the little girl. If nothing else, we might revisit this video when we get to the Buffy section of the course (which will be under the heading "transgression"). Somewhere between all of that, Kanye reappears with a severed lady-head and an "aw shucks" attitude. Everybody knows he's a motherfucking monster, indeed.
So Kanye and Jay-Z and Nicki seem to imply that they're fairly monstrous due to their success and influence and power (vis Kanye's album). It's a fun fantasy, sure. The megalomaniacal businessman cum artist who... does what exactly? Stores dead models? Eats entrails? All while making dope beats?
This video seems to also throw the "rap-is-misogynistic" criticism back to pundits. Not only do the rappers call women bitches, but they also murder them and use their corpses to decorate their overpriced apartments in Tribeca. So should we take Kanye and posse's video as a satire via exaggeration? Wouldn't that just cloud the fact that rap, no matter how much we like it, still has a great deal of woman-hating to go around.
However we "read" the video, one thing is evident: it's much more fun to believe that the bad guys are lovable rapper millionaires like Jay-Z and Kanye and Nicki Minaj than the people with the real power of violence. They're creating an imaginary world to make their lyrics matter because no matter how clever and shocking their words seem to be, the braggadoccio of "I'm rich and a libertine to boot" became a cliché of hip-hop about twenty years ago and, in an America of social media and financial depression, is becoming less and less relevant.