I could never put my finger on it, nail it down.
I only knew I never heard all the “genius” and his fanatics were young black men with hustler-to-riches fantasies and white boys who head nod to tales of black ghetto self annihilation.
What I saw in Carter’s ascendancy was lemmings swimming toward someone else’s manifestation of their own wet dreams of gaudy consumerism.
If hypertension, diabetes and heart disease won’t kill black folks, then grabbing for luxury items someone else convinces us we need will.
I once dated a woman who loved Carter and when I asked what it was she found so appealing — this was around the time his MTV Unplugged disc dropped — she could neither articulate herself nor tell me the significance of his nickname(s) Hov, Hova or J-Hova.
I later found out for myself what the names meant. So I just watched and listened, thinking the entire time there must be something I am missing or that perhaps I’m a Rap snob.
Always one up for an experience, I really listened because I didn’t want to be the only one on the outside of a cultural movement. Still, I came away empty.
In the end all I saw was black folks elevating a former crack dealer who wasn’t that far removed from the game, whose elementary word play — that’s right! I said it — included dropping names of luxury brands that, when I asked the young black folks in my orbit back then, they couldn’t even tell me what those things were. It seemed, though, that it was an unspoken tenet that if they had the money, they’d be rocking whatever it was he was rapping about, swigging whatever he was.
Handing down consumer edicts is a major responsibility, one black rappers do not even realize they have, consumed as they are by their own bloodlusts.
And sometimes it is hilarious, tellingly classist and mostly sad that the luxury brands they’re espousing do not even want to be associated with them or their “culture.”
In 2006 the makers of Cristal openly said perhaps Krug or Dom Perignon “would be delighted to have (rappers’) business” after being asked if rappers’ thirst for Cristal could hurt business.
Carter, like a kicked dog, called for a black Rap boycott of Cristal but it was really too late. He and a rented yacht full of other black male rappers had already ingrained in our brains that we were supposed to aspire to drink it.
I sold kilos of coke, I’m guessing I can sell CDs/I’m not a businessman/I’m a business, man!
I guess, stereotypical as it sounds, Carter’s only way up out those projects was bouncing, throwing or carrying a ball, slinging a pack, in the back of a cop car or a hearse or gripping a mic.
However, I am plagued now, as I have been since I first heard his name and was unimpressed by his music, by how out of balance he is and always has been. The other stereotype that comes packaged with an obnoxiously successful black man in America actually derives from scripture: For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.
What I expect of Carter now isn’t that he go out into the street and throw money at people or randomly hand stacks of cash to people who look poor, or even that he return to the Marcy Houses and buy every project apartment a flat screen.
I expect him to be less of an asshole than he was when he was thirsty because he now has less cause to be. I’d like this to be a simple write-off, to say that money alone is his problem but it isn’t.
Character is his problem.
Further, Carter’s now legacy-status wealth (the Basquiats, the Phantoms, the private jets, even the miniscule portion of ownership of an NBA team) has removed him so far from his original fan base that his stale repetition of his Marcy to Tribeca narrative sounds precisely like what it is: self-cannibalized self-plagiarism.
He has two, maybe three, things he can talk/rap about: how he flipped packs, how rich he is now (“I don’t pop Molly, I rock Tom Ford”) and what all he’s leaving to Blue Ivy, with some “BK” references thrown in to let us know he’s got “the hottest chick in the game wearing (his) chain.”
Funny thing is, you can pay for school but you can’t buy class.
We have all been duped by Shawn Carter and by Jay-Z, Carter’s Frankensteinian ID come in human form.
In April, on two separate occasions two young black folks were detained, questioned and one was jailed after purchasing luxury items — Trayon Christian, 19, bought a $350 belt and Kayla Phillips, 21, bought a $3,000 purse — from Barneys, the same luxury retailer Carter inked a deal with to sell a $34,000 Shawn Carter by Hublot watch, among other Carter-branded accessories. Barneys is throwing the New York Police Department under the bus because its undercover cops, busted for previously bogus “stop and frisk” tactics that targeted black and brown people in NYC, are the ones grabbing up young blacks shopping in the store.
Both Christian and Phillips had receipts and identification.
Meantime, Carter’s fans are waiting on a word from him.
Streets is watching.
He’s so far said he’s waiting for the outcome of meetings “between community leaders and Barneys” before making any snap decisions and that money from the collaboration will solely benefit his Shawn Carter Foundation.
First, he should be in that meeting asking Barneys hard questions.
Next, he should merely write a check through his foundation to send poor kids to college.
Finally, he should emerge from this humbled and newly black, remembering it’s not “a world away” from Marcy to anywhere, that he takes Marcy everywhere he goes.
Hova, let me upgrade you.
CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: firstname.lastname@example.org