‘The Beautiful & Damned’ — from out-of-time to timeless

G-Eazy’s rebrand, recontextualization of pop-rap doesn’t disappoint

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G-Eazy's released "The Beautiful & Damned" earlier this month.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

G-Eazy has always been somewhat of a rap oddity. As the self-proclaimed “rap game James Dean,” G-Eazy first entered into the cultural spotlight in 2011 sporting slim white tees, varsity jackets and a greased pompadour cut. His out-of-time style — a throwback to the vintage culture of the late 1950s/early 1960s — aligned with his music at the time. One of his most popular songs pre-comeup, “Runaround Sue,” was a rip of Dion’s 1961 song of the same name. His other hits that year — “The Coolest Job” and “Mercedes Benz” — were also remixed throwbacks, respectively sampling “Chim Chim Cher-ee!” from “Mary Poppins” fame and Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz.” 

Over half a decade later, G-Eazy hasn’t changed much. He still maintains his anachronistic tendencies save minor alterations — his varsity jacket is now made of Saint Laurent leather, the crummy white tee shirts exchanged for some American Apparel. G-Eazy, at least stylistically, is a man stuck in the past. But his new music is trying to change that. 

“The Beautiful & Damned” seeks to take G-Eazy from out-of-time to timeless. But, this transition is often misunderstood or lost in the critical tendency to lean towards commercial cynicism in pop-rap. The album’s commercial backdrop is often unrightfully merged into many an analysis of the album’s lyricism and G-Eazy’s subsequent rebranding. 

Admittedly, a lot can be said of the piece’s metadata. The album’s pre-release promotion can only be described as somewhat pandering. Dropping September slapper “No Limit” with rap heavyweights like A$AP Rocky and Cardi B brought “Damned” to the attention of Harlemites, East Atlanta trappers and hip-hop audiences everywhere. While the subsequent release of “Him & I,” a Tumblr girl-esque love ballad featuring G-Eazy’s actual girlfriend Halsey, sought to bring more mainstream radio approval to the project. It is strikingly obvious that the album was designed to draw fans across genres and attract as many listeners as possible. 

The structuring of the actual tracks is vulnerable to the same critique. While the album brings in a huge number of guest vocalists, from teenage heartthrob Charlie Puth to Bay Area legend E-40 to dream-pop singer Anna of the North, the artists are almost always thrown in as part of a tried-and-tested formulaic pop hook. G-Eazy, who produced a number of the album’s beats, also has a tendency to generate instrumentation that undoubtedly slaps but leans on the generic. As a collective, the songs have a tendency to fly by in an unending loop of booming rap sporadically interrupted with catchy eight-bar choruses featuring increasingly repetitive guest singers. 

But, by separating the album from extraneous factors like its pandering and irritating desire to be a popular success, it's hard not to love the work content-wise.

As The Cavalier Daily described previously, the “The Beautiful & Damned” is based on and thematically similar to the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel of the same name. The novel revolves around the aristocratic courtship between Anthony Patch and Gloria Gilbert, their period of post-war partying in New York, their mutual decline and Patch’s turn to alcoholism. It's a “Gossip Girl”-esque novel of manners and — like most of Fitzgerald's work — has been more so remembered for the espoused lifestyle’s decadence rather than its depravity. 

“Damned” takes note of this obsession with upscale glamour and bad behavior, feigns condemnation and implicitly supports it. It attempts to fade into timelessness by tapping into the cultural phenomena of why another movie rendition of “The Great Gatsby” or “Wall Street” turns up every 30 years or so. It places itself among the long list of popular works that delight in their ability to show a glimpse of wealth’s pitfalls but still overpoweringly entice audiences with dark displays of glittering luxuries and vice. 

For every song warning that “the top is hella lonely,” he has two about “ignoring phone calls” or how “they follow [him] at the party, and [he] walk[s] around it.” For every time he bemoans “the toxic things that [he’s] using,” he has a throwaway line about how he “come[s] down and take[s] a xan.”

It is in Eazy’s indulgence of his rockstar rendition of first-world problems where he draws the most scrutiny from critics and where he attempts to immortalize his work. Admittedly, given the uptempo club-banger beats underscoring it all, it is annoying listening to Young Gerald question his bad choices seconds after he lauds them. But, it is a necessary flourish that launches “Damned” into asking the same age-old question that the canon’s predecessors in Fitzgerald, Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann — the directors of “Wolf of Wall Street” and the 2013 remake of “Gatsby” — asked. Which, according to G-Eazy, is — “Why do people do things that be bad for ‘em?” 

No song better explains and answers this question than “Sober.” Featuring Puth’s swooning voice over a ritzy piano, the chorus laments, “Oh I know that I’ll regret this when I’m sober / But every shot I'm getting closer, getting closer.” Puth’s sublime vocalization combined with his cheerful tone clearly betray the lyrics. After, G-Eazy helpfully ad libs “story of my whole life.” While Eazy clearly lists some of his indulgent lifestyle consequences — “slipped up with my ex,” or “spend my bank account tonight and have to borrow funds,”  — he largely seems unfazed. In verse, he provides a range of explanations from rap-star favorite “I can’t believe we made it, every night we celebrate it” to increasingly clichéd “life is short, enjoy it while you’re young.” 

But the explanation that stands out the most in this song and the album as a whole is a hark back to the traditional answers provided by the canon, specifically the album’s source material in Fitzgerald’s book. One of its most famous quotes, “there was a kindliness about intoxication — there was that indescribable gloss and glamour it gave, like the memories of ephemeral and faded evenings,” serves as G-Eazy’s most plausible answers. From “drunk nights are more fun than sober ones” to “no telling where an 80 proof gets us,” G-Eazy makes abundantly clear that he too believes the night’s wiles — the excitement, charm, sense that anything can happen — outweigh most any cost.

The piece is an elegant response towards many critics’ disdain for G-Eazy’s drive for airplay and “fake sadness of too many parties and drugs and groupies.” Commercial implications aside, the album beautifully taps into its source material and traces a line through the wider cultural movements that came before and sprung up from it. By aligning the album within this larger context, G-Eazy can easily dismiss claims of shallowness often associated with pop rock, as well as his own tendency toward waxing poetic about his rockstar problems at inappropriate times. After all, his whiny complaints are an homage to his predecessors. 

“The Beautiful & Damned” shifts G-Eazy’s image from wannabe 1950s movie star-turned-arrogant Soundcloud rapper to that of a real artist, who can place his work within a larger context and reasonably justify even the most crass or cringeworthy of lines. The album removes itself from being another run-of-the-mill 2017 slapper by channeling a group of works and a cultural mindset larger than itself. It embodies the “Straw-ber-ita dreams turn to champagne reality” mindset which has enthralled novelists, directors and artists for hundreds of years. And for that, it is timeless.

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