Sean Carter has always let it be known that he is a ruthless cultural capitalist, a man who’s out for success for himself and his own. Now that he’s achieved that success, it’s worth thinking about what his single-minded pursuit of the American dream means to his native borough, where he just performed a string of eight sold-out concerts in the brand new sports arena that he was essential in bringing to the area.
Point: Jay-Z Sold Out Brooklyn
As much as any man can represent a place, Jay-Z is a living embodiment of Brooklyn. As his star has risen, so has his borough’s. But has Jay betrayed his native land? After all, he does live in Tribeca. In trying to make a statement by taking the subway to the Barclay’s Center for his show, he inadvertently let it slip that he’s never used a Metrocard before. Is Jay-Z, as some suggest, a traitor?
– Jay-Z Sold Out Brooklyn
– Hello Brooklyn: Jay-Z’s First Night at the Barclays Center
– Jay-Z – Barclays Center (Day 2)
– Jay’s First Concert at Barclays, a Movie Opposed to Barclays, And a People Not So Divided
No. An artist isn’t his endpoint, can’t be judged by where he stands today. He’s his work. And in his work, Jay-Z has always done two things. He has hustled, and he has represented.
It’s right there for anyone to see. It’s on all of Jay’s biggest albums and all of his most minor. It’s on American Gangster. It’s on The Black Album. It’s on the Blueprint. And it’s on his first album, the opening track, the sentence that has epitomized this man’s consistent mantra: “Can’t knock the hustle.” Right from the beginning.
But leading by example soon wasn’t enough and so, on one of the biggest hits of his career, Jay tried to point out his path even more clearly, explaining his motive: “I do this for my culture . . . industry shady, you need to be takin’ over.” And to those who accuse him of glorifying the drug game, he had a firm rebuttal: “Like I told you sell drugs? No. Hov did that so hopefully you won’t have to go through that.” You were supposed to understand the principles behind Jay’s actions, the ones which he had outlined time and time again. Don’t sell drugs. But hustle hard. Don’t do what I do, but see how I did it.
But the critics kept coming for him so, on The Black Album, he dispensed, once and for all, with the final word on why he did what he did.
“When your cents got that much in common/ And you been hustling since, your inception/ Fuck perception/ Go with what makes sense/ Since I know what I’m up against/ We as rappers must decide what’s most important/ And I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them/ So I got rich and gave back, to me that’s the win-win.”
It’s a quote that needs absolutely no additional analysis. The title of the song, after all, is “Moment of Clarity.” And clarity is something Jay-Z has always been a fan of.
Among the heavily left-leaning critics of rap music, corporate America has become a fearsome bogeyman, and it’s no wonder Jay-Z, as the most famous face in corporate rap, is a prime scapegoat. And as the Barclay’s Center goes up, there’s been a host of criticism, much of it focused on the ugly fight between developers and locals.
But we’re talking about the symbolic personality of Jay-Z here, and what that entity has done for Brooklyn. And what he’s done is what he’s said all along he’d do. He has succeeded, and he has given back, and in doing so has provided an example for over a million Brooklynites, young black kids prominent among them. That’s the kind of hustle, and the kind of effect, that it’s pretty hard to knock.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 8, 2012