On the Esquire Profile of Jay-Z That Is Making the Rounds Right Now


First, like Sean said, no matter who you are–but perhaps especially if you look like this–even in 2010, do not write the following paragraph:

    But there is a deeper significance — a racial philanthropy — that perhaps neither man intended. Jay-Z is black black. He is old-school double-dark-chocolate-chunk black. He is black the way Labatt is blue. He is not white black, Barack black, like our president. Or the kind of black that doesn’t curse and deplores the n-word, the genteel black, like Oprah. He is, arguably, the first black-black guy to cross over into Oprah-land and Bill Clintonworld without making the Oprah-sized no-look-back forward flip that means you’re selling not necessarily your soul but perhaps something fleshier, a little more external.

Double the above if you’re gonna get lyrical with it. Your premise up there in the second sentence is arguable though maybe fair but you are not Greg Tate.

Second, don’t assume Jay-Z fans are embarrassed to listen to Jay-Z:

    But then ask any of Jay-Z’s fans what they like about him and the first thing they will tell you is that he didn’t sell out, because they feel a little uncool for liking someone who’s so huge. They don’t think Jay-Z sold out because he and Stoute have expertly eased his brand into Big Lot America, and even though he games with Don Shula in a Budweiser spot, here he also appears in his “Run This Town” video, thugged out in a black gladiator underworld of which he is patently the dark lord. But now remove these undone Timberlands and add a pair of Louis Vuitton yacht shoes and look again — the Jay-Z Transformer doll! — he just as easily morphs back into the boardroom cutout, the Cannes weekender.

Guessing people’s motivations for liking artists is a losing game. Assuming that there is an entire sector of people who somehow have access only to “Run This Town” videos and pictures of Jay-Z wearing Timberland boots–but somehow lack access to the Superbowl ads he cuts with Don Shula or the lyrics in his songs where he talks incessantly about “white Louis boat shoes” or, for that matter, his probably most famous lyric ever, “I dumb down for my audience and double my dollars”–is just wrong. People want Jay to be popular, just like everyone wanted Michael Jackson to be popular, etc. There is no embarrassment in any community about the Jay’s stature. The music he’s made lately, maybe. But no shame around Shawn Carter being “huge.”

Next, Steve Stoute, described here as “the swami of the crossover illusion — helping minority artists maintain their edge, their authenticity, while ensuring they appear unthreatening to the tennis-and-linen set.” Don’t use Steve Stoute–i.e. the guy you yourself characterize as “wily as hell, plus hyper-protective and defensive of his products, both intellectual and carbon-based”–as your primary source, as you appear to have done here. He has every motivation to take credit for a type of success Jay-Z achieved with Dame Dash long before Stoute was meaningfully in the picture. He is wily, remember?

Plus before lauding Stoute as the man who helps rappers “make it big in white corporate America without getting ripped for being a total sellout in the hood,” acknowledge that he is also the man who was beaten up by P. Diddy’s goons for allowing Puffy’s crucifixion scene in the “Hate Me Now” to be broadcast unedited on MTV, and that he has managed Nas– he of 2008’s untitled album, a/k/a Nigger–on-and-off since 1995. White corporate America surely loved both of those moments. (Or rather, they didn’t care about the Nas album much either way, since Nas’s career has been on a steady downhill spiral since, oh, about 1995.)

Plus if you listen to Steve Stoute, you’re gonna get things wrong:

    Back at the authenticity plant, Stoute is not only defending his and Jay-Z’s work but indeed celebrating its quiet upheaval.

“African-Americans were very rarely considered pop culture,” he says from behind one of his color-blind podiums. “When Whitney became pop, she did a lot of things that were not necessarily her. Look at her first album” — she looks like an African goddess — “versus her second” — a black Olivia Newton-John — “and you’ll see what she did. Michael Jackson, same thing. He put Jheri curls in his hair. Those were the things they had to do to be loved by the masses.”

But Jay-Z didn’t do anything but keep being himself, he says. “The masses came to him.”

Someone who was not trying so rabidly to enforce the law of authenticity might be more accurate in saying that those masses came to a side B of him.

Tell that to the masses who bought Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life (1998), still Jay-Z’s best-selling record, and certainly on the side A of the Dame/Steve, block/boardroom Jay divide this article works so hard to set up.

That Jay-Z is the greatest businessman and politician rap has ever produced is not news to rap fans, least of all his. Far from being deceptive about it, he’s been open since day one. But implying that he’s somehow tricked people by being all things to them–well, now that might be a little two-faced in and of itself, right?

Jay-Z: It Takes a Harmless, Hand-Built Gangster to Run this Town [Esquire]

Archive Highlights