Tag: Jay-Z

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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.

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Black people must be twice as good for half the credit. I heard that as a child but evidently things have changed. 2017 was a yearlong celebration of black mediocrity, a collective demon I hope 2018 will exorcise us of. In 2017 Cardi B was a thing. We celebrated the fact that a woman with African blood will join England’s royal family (as if white acceptance affirms black value). Kevin Hart continued to pack out arenas even as his comedy and personal life progressively slid into mediocrity. We lost our minds when Beyonce gave birth to twins, as if women don’t do so daily. Eminem was anointed savior after his anti-Trump freestyle but black pundits like Van Jones were ignored before the election when they warned us that Trump could win. Mediocrity was consistently declared the big winner of 2017 and black people are no better for it.

Donald Trump is a monster but he’s not the first in politics. Politicians much more racist than Trump existed in the 1890’s in Louisiana and yet black political leaders figured out how to get funding for Southern University. That was a concrete win for black people, even in the face of great hostility. Adam Clayton Powell served in Congress when lynchings were still commonplace and few of his colleagues cared. During his career Powell not only pushed legislation that made lynching a federal crime but was also instrumental in expanding the minimum wage and abolishing the poll tax. Those were all tangible wins for black people. In 2017 the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) made their biggest mark simply by refusing to meet with Trump in June. Black America has any number of political concerns but there is no strategy to address them. Refusing to meet with the sitting POTUS and not securing any tangible wins for black people was the CBC’s signature, mediocre achievement.

Jay Z is closer to 50 than 45 years of age. Ironically he was applauded for his “maturity” this past year because he figured out that infidelity is wrong. No, seriously. Critics and fans across the board — including black folks — praised Mr. Carter for the deeply personal lyrics on his 4:44 album, which included apologies for infidelity. Why is that an accomplishment at 50? In what black mediocre fantasy do men at that age not get laughed to scorn when they announce to the world they’ve just figured that out? How is it that when his sexual abilities are certainly on the decline we praise his growth and evolution in that area? I look at Fred Hampton’s maturity at 21 and can’t help but notice the embarrassing disparity. When black men are allowed to parade their mediocrity the culture is diminished and we all suffer.

This past year we celebrated the most mediocre of accomplishments and elevated the most mundane of individuals. On one hand black mediocrity signals a weird racial progress — mediocre white men have been winning for centuries. It is refreshing that mediocre black people are winning in journalism, entertainment and even in the academy — I won’t name names. Indeed the true measure of how post-racial we are as a society is the degree to which black people are allowed to be mediocre and achieve similar results as our white counterparts. On the other hand the history of black progress is a history of black excellence and we should never forget it.

Black excellence is what kept black families together under the most challenging of circumstances, since before the Constitution was written. Black excellence is what built our HBCUs and banking institutions, well before any legislation existed to protect them. Black excellence gave America its seasoning — metaphorically and literally — and enriched the broader culture. Our history suggests that we cannot tolerate mediocrity, despite the apparent benign nature of its various manifestations in 2017. If we are to adopt a collective resolution in 2018 it must be to reclaim black excellence and shun mediocrity.

 

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You streamed 4:44 but need to listen much more. Stop rappin’ to Jay and just do what he say. Playtime is ova’, so says Hova. He spit one line to kill white supremacy. What line, fam? He said “I’ll be damned.” 

Jay Z may have given us his best work with 4:44. What we know for sure is he has our attention: Tidal jumped to number one in Apple’s App Store after 4:44 dropped, with more downloads on a single day than any other app over the past year, according to Apptopia data. I could say much about the album but only one line matters: “I’ll be damned if I drink some Belvedere while Puff got Ciroc.” If we truly grasped all that line conveys and lived by it, we would no longer wake up to headlines of police shooting black people. Black power would be the new norm.

Jay Z is a multimillionaire and should he choose to have a drink, his options are unlimited. He could import exotic vodkas or fly overseas to drink them. Still, the choice is simple for him: he’ll be damned if he picks up another bottle when his black brother has stake in Ciroc. You heard the lyric but did you get the weight of it? “I’ll be damned” is something like, “over my dead body.” When you say “I’ll be damned” you are drawing a line in the sand. “I’ll be damned” means there are no exceptions. “I’ll be damned” connotes a firm commitment that cannot be easily broken; even if honoring that commitment is inconvenient. If we shared that level of determination to build up black businesses, banks and other institutions, black people would live in true freedom, regardless of who the president happens to be.

Puffy does not own Ciroc but his deal with the vodka brand is quite awesome: he literally invests nothing but still reaps half the company’s profits, through the duration of their deal. Although it isn’t ownership, Jay Z still sees the value of creating wealth for his black brother and has decided that he will remain committed, no matter what. We must go beyond hearing the music and begin imitating the actions. We have to decide that we’ll be damned if we buy from company x, so long as there is a black owned company that can satisfy that need and create jobs for other black people. If we are tired of living in a world full of black oppression we have to finally say, “I’ll be damned if I deposit my money in bank x” when there are black owned institutions we could support, who in turn will support our community. We need an “I’ll be damned” revolution in black America. Buying, banking and building all things black must transition from a trendy ideal in our heads to an “I’ll be damned” lifestyle.

The challenges of blackness in America will not be overcome through a casual commitment to conquering them. “I’ll be damned” is the only way. We as black people can exist with some degree of freedom as Americans if we continue to live as we always have but we will never have true power — the freedom to be independent and choose our own fate in this country. This is black power and it requires a more solid and unwavering commitment to ourselves. Just as Jay Z has committed himself to supporting his brother — no matter what and I’ll be damned — we must also commit to our community. Jay said a lot on the album but one line holds the key to black freedom and power: I’ll be damned.

 

** No One Can Oppress You Unless You Give Them The Money To Do It**

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Jay Z purchased Tidal early in 2015. Since that time, he’s worked tirelessly to promote the company. Jay Z has also gone out of his way to point out the backlash to black ownership he’s experienced in the process. At his 2015 B-Sides Concert, he went so far as to call out his competitors and the inherent white privilege they receive, in contrast to himself.