Thursday, December 02, 2010

On Jay-Z: the unresolved "ethical pickle" regarding the drug game, the banality of "Brooklyn," and the curious notion of black capitalism

With Mikhail Prokhorov, as I wrote, money cleanses. With Jay-Z, it's not just money but profound talent.

That still doesn't mean the hustler should get a bye, and a couple of articles spurred by his memoir Decoded go part of the way there.

From the New York Observer's profile, He Shall Overcome: Jay-Z Is $450 M Beyond the Marcy Projects. Where Does He Go From Here?:
Jay-Z is vague about the numbers, but one gets the sense that he made heaps of money on the streets. It is unlikely that he would ever speak on the matter candidly. "No one is more paranoid than Jay," [co-author] Ms. [dream] hampton explained, not suggesting that he is crazy, but rather that his exploits are real, not rumor.
Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah cites Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's awkward allusion (my coverage) to Jay-Z making it from "bricks to billboards.":
Sure, it was an allusion to one of Jay-Z's lyrics, but bricks is one of the better-known slang terms for packages of cocaine. Jay-Z's very formidable face froze and then bulged with shock. One wonders if he will ever be able to leave the bricks behind. If anyone will ever let him.
The unresolved "ethical pickle"

Maybe they shouldn't, as Sam Anderson's surprising review in New York Magazine, American Hustlers (which twins Jay-Z and George Washington), suggests:
Jay-Z describes his childhood in Bed-Stuy explicitly as “life during wartime.” Late-twentieth-century America, in his view, was “almost genocidally hostile” toward black culture, waging an endless campaign of institutionalized racism, cutting inner-city social services, and launching a War on Drugs that punished an illness—addiction—as a crime. “We came out of the generation of black people,” he writes, “who finally got the point: No one’s going to help us … Success could only mean self-sufficiency, being a boss, not dependent.” This epiphany gave birth to a figure Jay-Z calls “the hustler”—an antihero who manages, by any means necessary, to convert extreme poverty into wealth. Which brings us to the ethical pickle at the core of the Jay-Z myth. He moves very quickly, in Decoded, from lamenting the tragedy of the crack epidemic to profiting from it as a dealer—and he never quite makes clear the moral steps that justify that transition. When pushed about his contradictory image, he falls back on “I’m complex.”
And the Nets

In the Observer, Kaadzi Ghansah writes:
JAY-Z'S PARTNERSHIP WITH Bruce Ratner has brought him into the big business of New York City development. Mr. Ratner sought out Jay-Z because he wanted to buy the New Jersey Nets, bring them over to Brooklyn and build them a stadium... The Nets on the court, however, have not been as illustrious as their owners, and in the six years since their purchase the team's worth has fallen 10 percent. This did not dissuade Russia's second-richest man, Mr. [Mikhail] Prokhorov, from buying a controlling stake in the team last year. Two hundred and fifty million dollars later, it was becoming an increasingly motley crew: the middle-aged developer, the rapper and the Russian, who together now own 22 acres of Brooklyn.
It didn't dissuade Prokhorov because he got a bargain, as well as a property that could get him on the covers of magazines.

The AY controversy

Kaadzi Ghansah writes:
Unlike the controversial Racino Aqueduct Casino project, where last month the New York inspector general's report revealed that Jay-Z was not actually an investor, only a potential performance fixture, Jay-Z has become a frontman in the Atlantic Yards-Barclays Center project, which has been hotly contested by local neighborhood activists all along. Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, a 7,000-person-strong coalition that "is formally aligned in opposition" to the project, has described Jay-Z as being little more than Mr. Ratner's "marketing device." This seems loaded, but there is some truth to it. At the groundbreaking in March, Jay-Z brought the crooked-arm language of the left to bear, saying the project is "so overwhelmingly in favor of the people: the job creation, the housing that's being built." It was time again for shout-outs, and this time he dedicated them to "Brooklyn—we did it again," and to Biggie Smalls. Jay-Z is a natural orator; he can say much or nothing, and it not only sounds good, it also sounds heartfelt.
However, as I wrote, it's total banality, along with other banal statements about "Brooklyn."

Che and bling

Kaadzi Ghansah queries Columbia professor of African-American studies Manning Marable about "the intended paradox behind Jay-Z recasting himself as a Ché Guevara dressed by Jacob the Jeweler."

Marable, who acknowledges he's not critical of Jay-Z or his social conscience, suggests there's nothing black about Jay's capitalism beyond the entrepreneur's race:
He explained that Jay-Z's becoming an NBA owner is a fine investment as a personal investment, and he has every right to do so, but "that doesn't mean that it is a strategy for a black capitalism. There the question is how to develop strategies that maximize the growth of capital and ownership within the black community." And then he said, chuckling, "Him buying up 1 percent of the Nets is not going to do that."
Remember, at the groundbreaking, the Rev. Al Sharpton claimed that Jay-Z's fractional ownership of the team--actually less than 1 percent--would inspire kids.

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