Now this is going to get embarrassing fast, riding out to the defense of a multi-millionaire every time somebody writes something terrifically ill-informed and misguided about him. That said. There are some provocations that are just too much–are surely intended to be too much–and starting a paragraph in piece called “Enough With the Jay-Z Fetish” in following way is certainly one of them:
Don’t take it from me! I’m just one jerk. But I just got back from the Harvest of Hope Festival, a huge three-day music festival in Florida, where I got the chance to interview Dead Prez, the single most non-hypocritical rap group in America, the closest thing to a modern-day Public Enemy.
Now people who actually follow rap music will see a red flag here, beyond stale, decade- old “Jay-Z’s music is okay,” he’s-alright-but-he’s-not-real “efficient, gleaming; cool, soulless, endlessly self-absorbed” boilerplate. That red flag is the invocation of Dead Prez, or if not Dead Prez than any number of other “conscious” rap groups that rap about things that “matter,” as if we had a committee for this stuff, or like the concerns of itinerant laborers always trump those of people who live in East New York or the Ninth Ward or Greenwich, Connecticut, for that matter. The idea that “while Dead Prez was down in dirty, muddy-ass Elkton, FL, giving a free concert to benefit migrant farmworkers, Jay-Z was performing before a crowd of celebrities in Atlantic City before retiring to the high-limit blackjack room at the Borgata.” Where to even begin with this?
Now. Leaving aside the fact that in addition to performing at farm-worker rallies alongside This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb and the Mountain Goats, Dead Prez have also been known to play Harvard’s Sanders Theater when the student union can’t quite scrape together the money to get a guy like Jay-Z–or the fact that Jay-Z has actually released more than one album that other rappers actually care about–let’s just examine the whole, Dead Prez are for the people, Jay-Z is for himself myth that’s been around at least as long as “Ether.”
It’s a lie. For one thing, if you want to play the whole more radical and politically active than thou game, first acknowledge that Jay-Z was by far the most important musician of any stripe, genre, or color to help get Barack Obama elected in 2008. And if you want to scoff at that claim, here are some actual facts to back it up. Meanwhile Dead Prez were playing Nader rallies or calling Sony, asking whether or not they’re dropped, or whatever rap groups do when they no longer have the ear of anybody but dudes on the internet, writing for Gawker. Jay’s given entire sold-out MSG shows worth of money to charity. Has been doing it since 2001. Gave a million after Katrina. But if you care about rap all this stuff is secondary, and this is where this argument gets even more treacherous.
“Yes, Jay-Z is a cool black guy who has nice flows and a famous, pretty wife and knows CEOs and other fun things,” who “is not a hip hop hero,” huh? Well, to whom exactly? The people who bought more Jay albums than records by any other rapper, ever? Those millions of fans are just wrong about rap? “White internet people” may “have embraced him orgasmically,” but you are insane to think this man’s constituency ends at some rap blogger’s laptop. Though, come to think of it, one could easily say that about Dead Prez. Aspiring to be about money? Sure. So does Chuck D–even the vaunted Public Enemy passed the hat last year, since no rapper works for free, because why would an artist want to do that? (It didn’t work out with PE, by the way, which tells you something else about the group and their descendants’ relative place in the 2010 conversation, but that’s a subject for another time.)
So what is the big picture that we’re all missing by “crowning Jay-Z the King of New York for bragging about his fucking market share”? Is it the Black Album? Vol. 2? The Blueprint? We can disagree about whether or not Jay-Z made a good album last year while still acknowledging, as everybody from Jim Jones to Dame Dash to Prodigy would, that there aren’t a lot of rappers around better than Shawn Carter. Even in 2010, if he feels like it. And when he does, HOT97 et al will do what they always do, which is bring in Funkmaster Flex and Mister Cee and premiere the fucking thing over ten agonizing minutes while a good chunk of greater New York listens in–or are all those people wrong about rap, too?
Enough With the Jay-Z Fetish [Gawker]