Why Do We Let Jay-Z Get Away With Being a Douchebag?
He's a master of sculpting his personal brand around lucrative business and marketing deals, but we shouldn't let him get away with it.
Image via NRK P3
Last week, “the only rapper to rewrite history without a pen”, tried to rewrite history with a mobile phone, by releasing his twelfth studio album, Magna Carter Holy Grail, via an app made for the Samsung Galaxy. It’s a record I’m not sure anyone actually likes, but one that everyone seems to want to talk about. So, let’s get into this.
It’s been a couple of years since Jay Z decided to become the first ever hip-hop artist in the world to appeal to middle class Richmond-based Mystery Jets fans, affording them the chance to drop the n-bomb without fear of liberal reprimand on “Niggas in Paris”. And while it’s okay that Jay has become a radio staple, it’s important to remember that he’s not a businessman. He’s a business, man. And I really want to let him handle his business, damn, but I’ve spent too long watching him pillage upon the rest of the world.
Jay Z once released a few good records and has probably worked really hard for his success, but for some reason he seems immune to fair judgement. American Gangster sounded like a mixtape made by someone with anger management issues in a high-security psychiatric hospital. The Blueprint III was basically a weak indie album trying to appeal to Waitrose Mum’s who would otherwise be listening to Scouting For Girls. And Magna Carta Holy Grail is... okay, I guess, but hardly a classic. He’s basically made A Weekend In The City three times in a row but everyone still talks about him like he just did another Silent Alarm.
The truth is that Jay stopped making music to make music a long time ago. Collision Course - his Black Album meets Linkin Park cunt-astrophe - didn’t happen because Jay bumped Hybrid Theory in the Range Rover. It happened because he’s a master of sculpting his personal brand around lucrative business and marketing deals that look commonplace to the average Rocawear fan, but are carefully calculated business decisions designed to promote him to a mass audience, filling his pockets, and furthering his position as the 1% of the 1%.
Because Jay is richer than a small country, and because the #NewRules of the rap world shouldn’t be controlled by the same corporate politics that were once rallied against, let’s take a look at the faux-branding of Shawn Carter, and his mission to suck our wallets dry.
HE TRIED TO TRADEMARK HIS BABY’S NAME
If I ever become a father, I’ll probably have a stress-induced hernia at the thought of having to care for someone other than myself. But, once I’ve got over my insecurities and The Greatest Thing To Happen To My Life is born, I’ll go home with a photo album to show my family, and a child to push toward the accomplishments that I couldn’t achieve. And I’ll probably get it one of those Flash Rider 360s because they look fucking cool.
If you’re part of the Carter family, though, then a baby isn’t just an accomplice in saving a marriage; it’s a marketing tool. I’m sure that Jay and Bey love their Bay, but they’ve also used her as an exponential device in ensuring that they both remain in the headlines until their next sponsor led marketing campaign. After Blue Ivy was born, the Carter family reportedly tried to trademark her name. This fell through, presumably because the courts thought it in bad taste to be for parents to be thinking about licensing rights for their newborn, so they went for the next best option of releasing a song featuring her baby gargles and a self-created Tumblr packed full of high-res press photos instead. The birth of Blue Ivy has been the biggest exercise in navel-gazing marketing since Beyonce discovered she could talk into a Macbook and call it a documentary. (Maybe it’s also worth noting here that we haven’t seen any pictures of media-proclaimed egotist Kanye West’s baby.)
HE CREATED HIS OWN COLOUR
Apparently, you can be rich, own several businesses and have a beautiful wife, but, to truly make it in America, you have to create your own colour. Back in 2007, clearly unsatisfied with his $83 million payout that year, Jay registered and created a brand new colour with Pantone. It’s called Jay Z Blue. Which means that it looks exactly the same as the regular colour, but because it’s co-signed, probably cost more money to trademark than Milton Glaser ever made from selling the I <3 ny="" t-shirts.="" what="" is="" it="" with="" jay="" and="" trying="" to="" trademark="" things="" that="" already="" exist?="" he’s="" just="" the="" same="" as="" those="" suckers="" who="" spend="" a="" grand="" naming="" star="" after="" themselves,="" then="" proudly="" display="" certificate="" made="" on="" microsoft="" publisher="" in="" their="" front="" room.="" hey="" look="" jay,="" we’re="" using="" your="" colour,="" come="" sue="" us. <="" p="">
HIS FEIGNED INTEREST IN SOCIAL MOVEMENTS
In 2010, Jay Z reportedly earned over $63 million dollars. Which could probably buy him the remainder of the primary colour wheel. However, he didn’t and instead, in the year after Jay earned 158,000 times more than the average American, his Rocawear company, profited off the #Occupy movement. When asked about it, Jay said “This is free enterprise. This is what America is built on”. Which is essentially business speak for, “I’ve just made a lot of money off a movement that I don’t support. Thanks!” Not only that, but Jay’s version of the slogan “Occupy All Streets” is meaningless. Do you know what occupying all streets looks like? It looks like the world. By diluting the message of Occupy with his bumper sticker t-shirt, Jay was not only profiting from the Occupy campaign but undermining it - distracting people who might have been convinced by the anti-capitalist messages of the biggest US protest movement in a generation with a $22 t-shirt that would go on to fund the rich.
HE IS A POLITICAL SHEEP
Early last year Obama said that gay marriage was okay. Which it is. Then after Obama said it, Jay suddenly decided that he also thought if we could cut other people open like cantaloupes, then there’s no reason that a man and another man can’t elope. I’m glad that Jay supports freedom beyond being able to profit off political movements, but if Obama hadn’t said anything, then Jay wouldn’t have, either. Because, especially in hip-hop, it takes commendable guts to stand up for yourself and for what’s right (s/o Frank Ocean). But apparently, if you’re the biggest star in hip-hop, you don’t need guts. You just need the most powerful man in the world supporting your back.
HE RUINED "SUIT AND TIE"
When "Suit and Tie" was first released, it felt like Christmas. Justin's verse sounded like Prince riding through the sky on a purple cadillac, blowing bubbles from one of those champagne bubble things they only have at weddings. It was all great and perfect. Until Jay Z turned up to ruin the party, pulling the track out early, before it was able to reach orgasmic levels of brilliance. It's understandable that a pop song can't come out in 2013 without a nondescript rapper spitting bars. But, these are meant to be two of the biggest pop stars in the world. So, was the addition of Jigga really necessary? If you're a marketing executive, the answer is yes. If you're a music fan, no. Because, the calibre of Jay’s lyrics, coupled with the disparately stitched on nature of his feature makes it seem like the only necessity it had was the thousands of extra dollars, promo and cross audience appeal that it would bring to both artists.
HE HAS A BULLSHIT PR CAMPAIGN
Almost a year ago, when Jay Z was pictured on a real life subway talking to a real life old woman, many people applauded him for being a real life person. “Oh, look! There’s Jay Z doing normal things. He’s just like me, but has a net worth of $500 million!” they said. Except, the whole thing was pre-meditated as part of a 24 minute documentary on his residency at the Brooklyn Barclay Center. Sure, the old woman wasn’t part of the act. But I’m pretty sure that each time Keanu Reeves rides to work, he doesn’t need to bring a film crew with him just to prove it. This isn’t the only occasion that S Carter has molded basic social interaction to his benefit, though. The Magna Carta Holy Grail trailer, with its archetypal protagonists – Jay Z, the intellectual leader, Timbaland, the laidback composer, Pharrell, the pretty face and Rick Rubin, the wizard – felt like a theatre production I’d watched in secondary school, shot and scripted by someone whose other job involves making the adverts for Sky+. It didn’t matter that Rick Rubin wasn’t on the album, or that Jay Z couldn’t create an on-the-spot video, though, as the Samsung app was pulled from the Google Play store amidst concerns that it was “positively PRISM-like in its requests for information”. Which, if you’re still toting the Illuminati game like you’ve just discovered watching YouTube and smoking weed, is the best fodder you’re ever going to get.
HE DOESN’T EVEN MAKE GOOD MUSIC ANY MORE
If you don’t believe this statement, then I’m going to assume you’re living in a Groundhog Day scenario which restarts every time the clock hits November 14, 2003. The simple fact is, Jay Z isn’t as good as he used to be. And buying into him is like buying a black and white television just because they were once the pinnacle of cinematic performance.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @RyanBassil
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