We have praised the evolution of Jay Z from drug dealer to conscious businessman, without holding him accountable for his blatant hypocrisy. While commendable, his evolution is glaringly incomplete at best and fraudulent, at worst. Jay Z has spoken forcefully about group economics and supporting black entrepreneurs in recent years but his practice would lead one to believe that those convictions only extend to one black entrepreneur — Jay Z.
Jay Z invited the elite of the elite to his Shawn Carter Foundation Gala, which raised $6 million last month. How he invited his guests perfectly illustrates Jay’s loose commitment to group economics. Invitees received packages containing a bottle of Ace of Spades champagne and a rose-gold Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. Ace of Spades is a common moniker for Armand de Brignac, Jay Z’s champagne brand. The Rolex Daytona is one of the most expensive wristwatches in the world. Jay Z gave both brands his midas touch by including them in his invitation but only one of the brands is black owned and Jay Z happens to be the black owner.
The album 4:44 was widely revered as a product of Jay Z’s full maturation as an artist, father and husband. Part of the album’s allure was Jay Z’s unapologetic stance on black business and seemingly, group economics. But listen closely and the commitment to group economics is little more than a call to support one black entrepreneur — Shawn Carter.
“Nah, we did that, Black-owned things
Hundred percent Black-owned champagne (Jay Z owns a champagne company)
And we merrily merrily eatin’ off these streams (Jay Z owns a streaming company, Tidal)
Y’all still drinkin’ Perrier-Jouët, hah (Back to his champagne brand)
But we ain’t get through to you yet, uh” (Start practicing group economics, i.e. support me)
Yes, Jay Z did have that one cool line in that song, Family Feud, in which he says he’d “be damned” if he drank another vodka brand, so long as Diddy had Ciroc. In the first place Diddy doesn’t own Ciroc. Further, the shout out of a white company is part of a larger trend in which Jay Z is more than happy to use his platform for people who don’t look like him; at the same time, black people and black entrepreneurs never seem to merit his favor.
Among the favored, of course, is Tom Ford. You likely know of the fashion designer because in 2013 Jay Z dedicated an entire song to him, which went on to sell over a million copies. Tom Ford immediately experienced an enormous spike in online searches and interest. Jay Z leveraged his platform to help an entrepreneur in a big way, using the most powerful tool available to him — his music. It’s the type of career-making endorsement any Black entrepreneur would die for but simply can’t get from Jay Z. On the other hand, perhaps Jay Z is completely consistent in his methodology and not hypocritical. It could be that he simply feels his platform should only be dedicated to brands and entrepreneurs who’ve “arrived.” In that case, Jay Z is simply doing what rappers do, flaunting their wealth and bragging about the luxuries they can afford. The problem with that position is Jay Z has a platform — to his credit — that could produce a new black millionaire each day but rather than using it for those ends, consistent with the idea of group economics, it’s used to further shine light on white guys who’ve already made it.
Jay Z knows the value of his endorsement and in the past he has been reluctant to extend it to other black entrepreneurs. In the same year he composed an anthem for Tom Ford, Jay Z did a Breakfast Club interview in which he was asked to simply acknowledge some up-and-coming hip hop artists and he quickly declined. Those black entrepreneurs hadn’t done enough to even earn a simple acknowledgement as artists having potential, in an interview. Charlamagne tha God asked him about the state of New York hip hop and the grievances struggling artists had, at that time. Rather than talk about elevating the collective, Jay Z simply punched down, saying, “complaining does nothing…it’s almost like a loser’s mentality. It’s like everyone is so spoiled..that’s a loser’s mentality.”
At his B Sides concert (held for Tidal subscribers) in 2015, however, Jay Z did plenty of complaining, mostly about those who wouldn’t support him. Jay Z chided them, rather than cite a “loser’s mentality” for Tidal’s struggles, at that time; this reveals yet another problematic consistency with Jay Z. If the black entrepreneur happens to be Jay Z, not only is there an endorsement but all who don’t support, he fiercely rebukes. In his song Family Feud, Jay Z chided those who would dare buy another champagne brand other than his — under the guise of supporting black owned businesses, of course. In his song Smile he rebuked those who pirated music, rather than paying for Tidal. Tidal faced serious issues in its early days, maintaining loyal subscribers being prominent among them. Many pointed out flaws in Tidal’s business model and some even suggested that Jay Z was out of his league. Jay Z defended Tidal and fired back at competitors, alleging that they were trying to smear him and fight his progress. Jay Z fought vigorously for Tidal and he should be commended for the company’s progress (along with his wife for dropping her content exclusively on the platform). In the next chapter of his life the hope is that Jay Z will fight as vigorously, for other black entrepreneurs.
Jay Z is his own man, an American success story for sure. The question is, however, how hard will he fully embrace group economics and go hard for black entrepreneurs not named Shawn Carter. We’ve seen the plugs for Tom Ford, Rolex and even Cristal (before they diplomatically rejected Jay Z). In this next chapter, who else will he support? Jay Z has been spotted at times rocking black designers and that is a good thing. Still, can they get the same love Tom Ford got or that his brand, Rocawear, has received? Jay Z saw value in the white founders of Ace of Spades and Tidal and chose to buy their companies outright. Will he begin to see the value in Black entrepreneurs, beyond a venture investment here or there, which he stands to benefit from? Group economics requires us all to go hard for the group, not just number one. More than anything, it requires us to give our loyalty first and foremost to the group.
Oh, happy birthday, Mr. Carter.