Who The Hell Am I? Has Jay-Z Outgrown Hip-Hop?
by Andres Hale
November 21st 2006 marked the day that Jay-Z returned from his proposed "retirement." The expectations were set ridiculously high for Young Hova but if anyone could exceed expectations, the Jiggaman could….right? Apparently not. Although "Show Me What You Got" became a burner in the clubs, some predicted that this Jay-Z album just wouldn't be up to snuff. Then the reviews began to surface. Definitely not up to Jay-Z standards. The marketing push that Jay put behind the album was unprecedented (from Monday Night Football ads to Budweiser commercials and, of course, the Jay-Z Hangar Tour) and resulted in first week sales reaching close to 700k but the critics and the streets began to speak.
"But what may cause the most arguments is that S. Carter seems to be representing Park Avenue more than the Marcy Projects on this album. True, false, or irrelevant?" – HipHopDX.com (rating 3.5 out of 5)
"The material shows a lack of direction from an MC whose age and position put him in uncharted waters." – Allhiphop.com (rating 3.5 out of 5)
"Not to abuse the tired cliche of "grown folks music", but this is it, defined." – Hiphopsite.com (rating 4 out of 5)
"…like athletes, we expect rappers to disappear when they turn 30. We have no use for them as they become older and more comfortable with themselves-- even if their minds are as sharp as ever…But that's Kingdom Come: Jay boringly rapping about boring stuff and being totally comfortable with it" – Pitchforkmedia.com (rating 5 out of 10)
"Jay-Z is hip-hop, yes, but the dirty little secret that he likes us to ignore is that hip-hop is not Jay-Z" – popmatters.com (rating 7 out of 10)
Wow…look at that last statement and then plant it alongside the other clips. Does anyone see a recurring theme here? While most of the reviews couldn't argue with how Jay-Z is the "kingpin of the ink pen/monster of the double entendre" the problems arise about Jay's subject matter. Gone are the days of "Sex murder and mayhem romance for the street" and instead we get riddles of "good credit and such." Sadly, in Hip Hop this has become blasphemy. But why has the dream materialized become so incredibly out of touch? Why does Hip Hop have to be hustlin', pimpin' and slangin'? Although Kingdom Come didn't deliver the goods as expected (according to the general consensus), it did tear open a gaping generation gap question that needs to be addressed. Has Jay-Z and artists like him outgrown his audience?
What Jay-Z has become is a dream materialized. Hip Hop has been deeply rooted in the struggle to come up and achieve a dream. But when that dream is achieved does that mean the struggle stops? Obviously so, according to many. See, there's a big difference in struggling for food as opposed to struggling to maintain wealth and health. Hip Hop has never really seen a dream materialize, rather many dreams have been halted abruptly. Just when Tupac and Biggie were hitting their collective strides their lives were ended by a hail of bullets.
The question has always been asked "What If…" and the answer is "Jay-Z."
Jay-Z has become the only artist that has allowed his growth to be caught on record. There were no voids where Jay grew and we didn't see it. Jay-Z has always been in the spotlight. So as he matured, so did his music. And now he's at a point where we have witnessed his growth into a successful black man with more money than you can shake a stick at.
There are two lines in "30 Something" that encompasses the "grown up" part of Jay-Z…
"I don't buy out the bar, I bought the nightspot"
"Young enough to know the right car to buy/Yet grown enough not to put rims on it…"
The former is about just being flat out rich. Nothing more, nothing less. Jay-Z has more money than you (or he) has ever thought of and can now do things that were out of Hip-Hop's collective reach. Instead of purchasing from someone, wouldn't it be better to own it? It's as simple as "why buy a drink for 'x' amount of dollars when I can own the club that has the bar that sells drinks for 'x' amount of dollars?" The math is so simple, yet so complex. Many of us love basketball, so why not own a team? Jay-Z did it, now you see how many others have followed in his footsteps. But wait…don't you need "good credit and such" to own a team?
The latter is about knowledge of wealth. As simple as the line is perceived to be, it speaks in volumes about Hip Hop culture today. Excess, materialism, etc. Jay-Z understands that rims look nice but have no added value for a vehicle and thus can be disposable. But how many of us understand that? I mean seriously…how many of us understand that owning a house is far more important than having a Dodge Magnum on 24's? Rather ironic that we are entrenched in a culture so obsess with money yet has no idea what to do once we have it.
But in a consumer driven economy, the truth is that we are supposed to like rims and spend our hard earned dollars on bullshit. We've all been through it one way or another. So when someone like Jay-Z flips the script and talks about "good credit" do you think that this is what the economy wants to hear? Better yet, do the old owners of rims, jewelry and other excess want you to consider saving your money and your credit so you can one day own a business or a team or a corporation or even them? Hell no!
Mass Media has done a helluva job convincing us that the glass ceiling is closer to our heads than we originally thought. By using Hip Hop as a tool to promote hamburgers, GAP clothing and cars instead of fighting against sexism, racism and other numerous forms of oppression, they powers that be have beaten us at our own game.
So back to this statement…
"Jay-Z is hip-hop, yes, but the dirty little secret that he likes us to ignore is that hip-hop is not Jay-Z"
So who dictates what is Hip Hop and what isn't? Why is Hip Hop not Jay-Z? Is that saying that good credit and financial responsibility are not Hip Hop? It has to obviously be scary to concede to the fact that it isn't Jay-Z and people that look like Jay-Z who make Hip Hop, rather it be the old white CEOs who sit atop their thrones while throwing to us what they think is hip hop. But we are no better because we believe what they tell us.
As much as we would like to believe that we are trendsetters and "exclusive", we are mere followers to the bigger machine. A machine that feeds us these vices and fills our little heads with pipe dreams and such to the point that achieving them isn't even important anymore.
The name of the game today is to go out there and try while looking good without actually achieving. Because if you do in fact "make it", you'll be labeled a sell-out. There's nothing flashy about a jump shot…except that its worth two points (and last time I checked the team with the most points wins). Instead we would rather dribble off of your head, do a cartwheel, and try a 360 layup with nobody defending us. We'd rather bask in the glory of oohs and ahhs and miss the fuckin' rim completely rather than sink a boring ol' jump shot. We love the journey but don't want to see the ending. Because when the proposed "end" comes…what is left? Winning the game is not an option. And this is what they feed to us thru Hip Hop. Scary isn't it?
"I came into a little bit of a revelation recently. I turned 31 and I'm starting to realize that a lot of this Hip Hop/rap thing is for kids. It's a young people's movement. And I know we as adults try to hang onto our youth as long as possible but my point is you gotta know when to let go because when you're 36 and you dress like you're 15 you look fuckin' stupid!" – Aries Spears
While that line is laugh out loud funny, it does make you rethink where you are as a hip hop fan. If you are young then I guess this may not apply to you (yet). But if you are an 80's baby you have to wonder how true this statement is. While Hip Hop may be rooted in the kids and the young people, it is the old man sitting up there getting his belly fat off of our work. You don't have to "look" rich to "be" rich. Rock & Roll used to be considered a "kids" movement but now you have artists like Aerosmith and U2 still making incredible and timeless music. Do they look like every other rock star?
Just because we grow up does that mean we have to leave hip hop alone and look for the nearest Celine Dion or Earth Wind & Fire album? Or can Hip Hop grow and mature with us instead of without us? Can Hip Hop become rich and successful while taking the struggle to new heights (Sudan Crisis, Water Shortage, AIDS, Electoral Politics, Racism, etc)? I think we can…I can't just leave my culture behind and look for a new one. I'd rather use it for a tool to educate and elevate.
But because of our mere willingness to settle for a dollar and a dream (and a plethora of other reasons) it is enough reason for me to suggest a ban on hip hop. Oh you don't know what I mean by "destroy and rebuild"? Well I guess you won't until the next editorial…and I'm just a critic…Who The Hell Am I? But the better question is…Who The Hell Are You?
"If the prophecy's correct, then the child should have to pay/ For the sins of the father/ So I bartered my tomorrow's against my yesterdays…/ I'm both saint and sinner…/ I'm on permanent vacay/ Life is but a beach chair/ This song's like a Hallmark card until you reach here." – Jay-Z