It's Okay To Criticize Jay-Z
Hov will be okay
So this week’s confusingly viral rap-debate is the quality of person that Jay-Z is. I grew up disliking Jay-Z’s music because of the particularly poppy work he was making between 1998 and 2002 when I was first hearing his work. I also thought his voice sounded like Tony Danza’s and didn’t appreciate being gaslit when people acted like they had no idea what I was talking about.
Enter the late 2000s and one crisp New Year’s Day at a Best Buy in Cucamonga when I finally bought Reasonable Doubt on sale and thought it to be another Illmatic both in quality and importance. I have since been a begrudging admitter of Jay’s indispensability. I still resent all those middle-school dances filed with middling Roc-la-Familia tracks but I cannot deny RD, Black Album, Grey Album, Blueprint, Kingdom Come (the Dre tracks) and more and have stopped trying to deny them for years now.
Now as far as his politics, it’s clear to me that were it not for his wife and her special position in pop culture Jay Z would be relatively apolitical but for the standard political stances rappers take: black people are oppressed by design in America (true) and keep my taxes low (right-wing but understandable). The way he talks about poor people is also pretty right-wing; the disdain he expresses for other people from poor areas who do not make it out. That Nas made the song “Black Republicans” with Jay doesn’t seem coincidental to me any more than his “Minority Report” song lining up with this views about how America treats black people: they see themselves as now above the normal political struggle non-rich people of color have to go through and embrace America’s capitalist ethos of lifting oneself up by their bootstraps and constantly express their example of it.
Enter the Obama-era and Beyonce has Jay showing up at all the right places and donating to all the right causes and he keeps his ideology of poor people deserving misery for not being smart, slick and cutthroat like him restrained. Occasionally his natural right-wingery pops up anyway (“presence is charity”) but he knows to support progressive causes and to start businesses with defensibly ethical practices.
I am not a person who thinks people doing good things should be crucified for not having the purest intentions but don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining: yes it’s possible that Jay Z will do all this progressive stuff with the NFL, no it’s not unreasonable for his critics to be skeptical of this.
The idea that the NFL is going to do a bunch of good stuff in the social justice arena is kind of far-fetched so maybe people are reasonable to say, “let’s wait to see these results before we pre-emptively praise Jay for this.” Skepticism that this partnership will result in socially progressive changes to the NFL isn't an attack on Jay but a totally normal expression of doubting the good of corporate power. One also could legitimately wonder about the spectrum of Jay's concerns: will he tackle NFL transparency about TBIs and the Washington Team's name? There's a lot to watch here before we come to conclusions but skepticism is okay in the meantime given the record of money and power in this world.
My thing is be consistent: if Jay gets a pass for being a capitalist working with amoral powers I want to see more people get that pass for trying to infiltrate not-good organizations to make them better. Rapper guys aren't the only ones doing missions like this but they seem to be the only one who don't get attacked for it. The late Nipsey Hussle and his pro-business pro-cop activism comes to mind.
As I said in the headline, it's okay to criticize Hov and a criticism does not equate to him being killed, fired, arrested etc. - I do not want this stuff even though I am critical. Not just because I'm a fan but because I'm human. He is a rich powerful well-platformed person, our criticisms will not tangibly harm him and regular working class people shouldn't feel particularly defensive of him in this or most instances in my opinion but maybe I'm missing something? To me he's constantly expressing a view indicating that poor people are lesser humans so it seems as if he gets an appropriate amount of deference and respect at the very least. The skepticism of his charitable ventures is commensurate with the world view he himself has explicitly espoused over decades - "as long as the villain win".
In other words, Jay over-all has told you exactly who he is: a capitalist- and that's okay! Just stop trying to make him out to be something he's not; it undermines the good he does do as a successful businessperson of color, setting an example to hungry diverse young fans.
Many of us will have to eat our words if great social progress in the NFL happens but if it results in real change that sounds worth it to me; in the meantime it's okay if not everyone assumes the moral righteousness of this pop culture figure that many people find cool to the point of being beyond reproach. Young Hov will endure.
Tristan "Tanjint Wiggy" Acker is a staff writer for Zus Entertainment, a Jooseboxx and Untapped Hip-Hop contributor, and member of the Inland Empire, California based nerdcore hip-hop group the West Coast Avengers.