Special Disco Mention #31: Jay Z


If you thought this was going to be a column about the Jay Z / Solange lift fight you thought wrong. There's no need to add any more guff to a story already struggling with the weight of zero facts and a thousand stupid opinions. What I want to say about Jay Z is this: it’s easy to forget, in the smoke, the mirrors, the flash and the circus, just what Shawn Carter is.

Jigga has become, through the most incredible feats of tenacity, skill and imagination, one of the richest entertainers alive. He’s the American Dream in cross section, an expose of the crooked path  – the only path – that you traverse if you want to get to the top. Most of America’s elite are the end product of many generations’ worth of back stabbing, manipulation, robbery and mendacity. The current gilded few claim, and are afforded, respectability- only by their distance from their forefather’s sins. Before Jay Z's ascent, the American veneration of the successful was made possible by a complete blindness to context. Wealthy families with fortunes squeezed from slavery, corruption, or, in the Bush family case, the exploitation of Auschwitz prisoners, are, and remain the pinnacle of High Society. They are the litmus test of good morals and good breeding, supine on a smooth conveyor belt: Ivy League college, judicial appointment, comfy senate seat. The violence and criminality that led to their power, quietly consigned to an unspoken past.  

Jay Z, on the other hand, has managed to condense all the badness required to win the extremely hard game of free market capitalism into half a lifetime. He started from the bottom, a school drop-out from a shitty Brooklyn project- that also happened to be an almost inconceivably rich pool of artistic genius- and pulled himself to the pinnacle of power, by any and all means necessary, all in broad daylight. He’s talked about shooting his brother, selling drugs and shanking a music industry rival. He's never repented. By the standards that American society purports to adhere to, he should be an outcast, an eternal villain.  

But instead the world loves Jay Z. The Daily Mail gushes over Jay Z. Fox News reports on Jay Z. It’s incredible – his mere presence utterly indicts American protestation that they follow some higher ethical framework. Jay Z is respectable, purely because he won at being rich. That’s all you need. Stab a man, sell drugs, pimp women, all of the things that are tagged ‘bad’ don’t matter one iota if you do em and get rich. It’s not like he downplays this shit. His current guest verse on Beyonce’s Drunk In Love notoriously found Jigga gleefully comparing himself to Ike Turner in full wife battering mode. And it topped the charts worldwide.

For all the States’ (and indeed the West in general) insistence on holding a moral compass, Jay Z knows, and proves every day, that the only moral that counts in a free market world is I OWN MORE THAN YOU. He’s totally honest about this. Whilst the world spins into a rabid tail biting frenzy over why his sister-in-law totally lost her shit and went for him in a lift, Jay Z is smiling his implacable smirk, fully aware that his brand is as strong as ever. Why did Solange go crazy? What does it matter, she’s not the story – Jay Z is the story.

And in the meantime, his lyrics are glorying in his take over, glorying in his status as a black man who’s exposed the system by beating it entirely on it’s own terms. In a world of hollow moralising, ridiculous media double standards, and constant greed, where the poor are castigated for crimes the wealthy are praised for, Jay Z might well be the only honest multi-millionaire alive. He may be hard to like, but at least he's told you time and again exactly how it is.  Time to raise a glass.


Ian McQuaid