From Marcy To Manhattan: Are We Expecting Too Much From Shawn “Jay Z” Carter? [OPINION]

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A Split Screen of Jay Z In the 90s and now

 

As far as rap music is concerned, Jay Z is arguably one of the top five artists to ever do it. I would not have been able to predict this back when I heard him for the first time — on his mentor Jaz-O’s single “Hawaiian Sophie” — with his moderately mediocre rapid-fire staccato flow and gold tooth, but greatness doesn’t normally begin in one big bang. True greatness takes time to grow, undergoing the proper maturation, trials, and tribulations it needs to be pushed and stretched into its unforeseen destiny. It’s similar to why babies aren’t born as adults.

Nevertheless, Jay Z’s journey has taken him from alleged urban medicine man, gun-toting goon on wax to full-blown multimedia made man. Upon marrying Beyonce, he became virtually untouchable on several levels of existence (kudos, Mr. Carter) and anyone disputing that fact is surely observing life through a filter of jealousy and denial. He has outrightly transcended all but a few of his contemporaries on a business level and quite frankly, is still a better rapper than whoever you’re listening to while you read this.

Jay Z no longer represents the projects; he represents what you can do with your life even if you come from the projects, and for that positive imagery we should be grateful.

Shawn Carter d/b/a Jay Z has shifted the MC-to-mogul paradigm over the last 20 or so years, and in the process positioned himself to garner all the attention that naturally accompanies such accolades. For what it’s worth, today’s rappers are perceived as the new era politicians, modern-day civil rights gladiators, as well as the cultural taste makers and trail blazing innovators that certain societies look upon for direction and guidance, whether they accept such social responsibility or shun it. Most rappers prefer to shun it, but that’s neither here nor there.

Between being friends with both President Barack Obama AND Queen Mother Oprah Winfrey and his many fiscal adventures and investments, Jay Z also has a business relationship with Barneys clothing store. Per Jiggaman himself via lifeandtimes.com: “The Shawn Carter Foundation is the beneficiary and the foundation is receiving 25% of all sales from the collaboration, 10% of all sales generated in the store on November 20th and an additional donation from Barneys. This money is going to help individuals facing socio-economic hardships to help further their education at institutions of higher learning.”

Barneys is currently under fire for an incident that occurred early this year when an African-American woman named Kayla Phillips was “surrounded by police officers” after she left the store having purchased a $2,500 Celine handbag. Another Barneys-related incident this year involved 19 year-old Trayon Christian, who purchased a $350 Ferragamo belt with his debit card only to later be detained and questioned by the cops regarding the purchase. Racial profiling and civil harassment is nothing new to the minority diaspora covering America’s finicky soil, but these occurrences — and many others like them — have put a spotlight on the unwarranted racism and blatant disrespect that beams and radiates under the USA’s communal surface.

Jay adamantly states that the relationship between Barneys and his foundation is purely for the people, not the profit, yet many in the urban community demand he sever ties with Barneys after the nationwide outrage was sparked last week. In a press release publicized via lifeandtimes.com, Jay says he isn’t going to rush into a judgmental decision to split with the clothing store and is waiting on the “facts” regarding the situation. He then goes on to say that without the facts, he’s unable to make any official statements, and explained ever so eloquently that he doesn’t appreciate being “demonized, denounced and thrown on the cover of a newspaper for not speaking immediately.” The remainder of his press release points out that the only individuals who would be affected by break-up between Barneys and his foundation would be those underprivileged kids who wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to receive an upper echelon education. Sounds fair enough, especially when we eliminate the “should’s” and “could’s” from the equation and analyze the nucleus of facts involved.

Jay is a self-admitted ex-drug dealer who makes his lust for the finer things in life painfully clear on almost every song he records. Even if he does have the exposure and the power to be a voice of the people, he’s not one. And we shouldn’t expect him to be one, either. His only responsibility in this world is to his family and the Illuminati, and at the end of the day, it’s his prerogative who and what he fights for. Contrary to popular belief, rappers are entertainers, no different than magicians or athletes. Some become bigger than the culture itself, but unless it’s naturally the road they travel, it’s unfair to foist any extracurricular objectives upon them and expect them to do our bidding. It’s kind of like President Obama’s first two years in office, when people expected him to do amazing things for Black people because he is part Black. Color had nothing to do with his occupation of choice or his personal agenda, even though it would’ve been nice to get a little help from an inside man, so to speak. We expected certain things from “our” president, never got them, and begrudgingly held him accountable for our disappointments. The key word in all of this being “our.” In the same vein, we shouldn’t hold any rapper — much less an uber-rich, ultra famous one — accountable for what we feel is socially right or wrong, even if it is obviously wrong and demands the necessary attention. Ask yourself a question: would you deviate from your plans for success and personal gains just to appease the common man’s plights for conquest?

On another note, the same folks clamoring about how Jay should handle his personal/business affairs are the same ones who didn’t say anything whatsoever when he took Oprah to his old stomping grounds where he admittedly peddled drugs to people of color. No matter how you spin it, that was glorification on Jay’s behalf as well as Queen Winfrey’s. And if you breakdown the specifics into generalities, there is no socio-political difference between Jay Z selling dope to Black people and him staying in cahoots with a company who clearly doesn’t like Black people, is it?

If we truly want a voice to fight the power along side us — the civilians and pedestrians — then we need to look to more down-to-earth vessels that remember and possibly still experience the struggles of Joe Everybody, not one who has songs based on million dollar daydreams who actually lives the life he brags about. This is in no way a shot in Shawn Carter’s direction as much as it is a recognition of the disconnect between him and the village that was obvious to most of us long before that girl bought a $2,500 handbag. Jay Z no longer represents the projects; he represents what you can do with your life even if you come from the projects, and for that positive imagery we should be grateful.

Let’s not forget that Jay set up the Shawn Carter Foundation to help those young people who can’t help themselves, and whether he’s taking donations from Barneys or a star-studded $500-a-plate celebrity dinner, his original intentions were admirable. Unfortunately for him, though, it’s quickly escalating into a “no good deed goes unpunished” episode of “you can’t win for losing.”

Ultimately, Jay still hasn’t said whether he would cut ties with Barneys, and if he’s smart (which should be without question), he’ll just sit back and wait for the melee to melt over, like most things these days eventually do, no matter how terrible they are. Speaking of which, seeing as though he previously spoke in honor of Trayvon Martin’s tragic death, maybe he should drop a song dedicated to all these tasteless wastes of flesh and bone who are savagely dressing as Trayvon’s corpse for Halloween. Not only would it take the attention away from this fiasco, but it’s definitely a worthy cause, even if Halloween will be over on Friday.

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