Ed. Note: Since returning to making albums in 2006, Jay Z has managed to, in the minds of some, take his legacy and just say "whateva! I do what I want." But has that approach sped up a possible self-destruction of Jay Z's legacy? Or was the Legacy of Hov built upon something more. Rem offers up his opinion. It's controversial. But, if it wasn't, it wouldn't be Rem.
I’m well aware that this article is going to ruffle feathers and quite frankly, I don’t give a fuck. There’s your introduction.
Now let’s get right into it. Have we not grown tired of Jay Z? Are we not bored with The Carters and The Conglomerate? Are we not tired of this Roc Nation shit and its start-stop momentum? Is Jay Z the “sports agent” as equally un-amusing as Jay Z, the CEO? And finally, have his personal endeavors not overshadowed the music itself at this point?
Luckily for you, if you provide opposition to any of the aforementioned questions, then allow me to provide some substance. No, this article is not to bash Jay Z or his wife (let’s address the Stans first, especially the BeyHive’s shenanigans). Rather, I want to shine a light on the legend that WAS Hov. Shawn Carter, born December 4, 19—whatever. At this point, he’s a fucking dinosaur in the game.
From the Hawaiian shirts, to the bad fronts, to the botched “Gumby” fade, I’d say Hov has come a long way. But that’s where it starts and stops. His IMAGE. We praise Jay Z for this business savvy more than the music he puts out…whilst forgetting the one fact that it’s that same music that got him here. We don’t care about the artist he broke, because they’ve individually ascended to their own respective levels of greatness that even marvel his. I recently had a convo with an acquaintance of mine and she was willing to argue me down to the ground that Jay’s relevance in music is just as influential today as the album from 13 years ago that should have been his last (one time for The Black Album).
Don’t let me confuse you. Jay’s early success musically, to a degree, is unmatched. That same hustle that took him from selling copies of his debut album (Reasonable Doubt) out of the trunk of his Lexus to the mogul we see today that has his hands in almost everything. EXCEPT MUSIC! I can’t recall in a time of “What have you done for me LATELY” that he has contributed in large part to the careers of any mainstream artist today. Yes, we’ll always tip our hats to his stint as Def Jam’s president along with the artists he furnished while he was there (Hi Rihanna, Ne-Yo, The-Dream, etc.) But, it has to raise an eyebrow that those same artists didn’t immediately follow when he jumped ship either. Shit, even Kanye went off and started his own label after the start that DAME provided.
(Sidebar: I don’t need anyone trying to correct me for saying that Jay DID NOT discover Kanye West nor did he put the Roc-a-Fella chain around Ye’s neck to begin with! It’s a known fact that Dame’s business mind was the engine that kept “The Roc” afloat while Jay went through his more prominent artist phase. All I’m eluding to in regards to Jay’s A&R eye is yes, those artists panned out in the grand scheme. BUT I question how much of that was due to his direct influence.)
Jay’s had quite the run, but like all good things, we know and knew it had to end. We, as fans, just don’t want to embrace how abruptly it came crashing down. The split of the label that saw Jay Z become this independent power house in business, is also what brought about his inevitable fall from glory. The attention span changed. The small intricacies. The feeling that I needed to “brush the dirt off my shoulder” transitioned into a profound confusion as I didn’t understand this newfound lust for expensive paintings. I’d just like to formally take the time to say that “Picasso Baby” was, is, and shall forever remain trash.
Which brings me to my next point, as I try to make a taste of what's left of this rum, another question that I was asked that kinda prompted this article. Do I think Jay's hotline isn't blinging because artists don't want to work with him or because he's really that irrelevant? Pretty shrewd question, if you ask me and I'd stand flatfooted in choosing the latter.
Honestly, how weird would it be to hear an "uhh" dragged over a Metro beat? Or would we enjoy Future just the same if Hov came and spit one of his vintage drug dealer verses followed by a codeine-induced coma on a Mike WILL beat? Maybe it's me but that's just not enjoyable. The cosign just isn't necessary at this point. Let me enjoy hearing Hendrix damn near die on tracks from emotional and drug-induced strife without having to personally hate Jay for knowing, in his day, he would've sold him the shit.
Oh, you need more reasons?
Here’s when I knew that Hov knew his time as rap royalty was over. No, I’m sure you’re all thinking Watch The Throne, as Kanye featured him on mostly every fucking song but even that’s off a bit. I’m talking about all the hoopla surrounding the release of MCHG (Magna Carta Holy Grail for the non-initiated) and Jay’s need to stack the deck by selling his album to Samsung making it the first platinum release before it had even been released.
Why such a strong contingency plan for the God MC? Great business move, bad for competition. But then again, who really gives a shit about competition in music right? I mean Beyoncé dropped “Formation” the day after Rihanna went platinum in a day (due to a similar deal as Jay had with MCHG). On top of that, she then PAID the NFL to headline the Super Bowl halftime show just to stir up a craze about the song’s “controversial” nature.
At least the women’s shade is more direct these days. They’re making us look bad fellas, unless you’re the idiotic Meek Mill type that errantly flies off the handle and expresses his deepest emotion through twitter fingers. But, I digress. Why did Jay intentionally throw off the balance of what we love about competitive rap by sabotaging his own album sales? What happened to “Takeover,” “Summer Jam,” and “Super Ugly” Jigga? We know he’s at least one of those things still.
Here’s another perspective for the still would be doubters: a little known Fayetteville, NC artist by the name of J. Cole.
Cole is a perfect example of how out of touch Shawn Carter really is with music and its with his OWN artist. How influential has he been in Cole’s career?
Yes, Cole was the first signed to Roc Nation, but how much more did Jay do to help shape his career? This is the same guy we’ve watched every other artist emulate since he came into the game but suddenly Hov seems like a mere mortal when the time comes to create or contribute to another him. J. Cole the rapper has reaped little to no harvest as he sown into Roc Nation wholeheartedly. Three platinum records and this man still has no hardware? Hmm…that’s one platinum album more than the newly-heralded God MC Kendrick Lamar, plus five less Grammys. Is anyone seeing a pattern here?
Why isn’t this “rapper” bigger than what he is based on his resume? While you think on that, I’ll tell you. He NEEDS to get away from all things Jay Z and create under his OWN umbrella. A mere “rapper” won’t see the ascendance of a Kanye West or a Rihanna under a guy who cares so little for the art itself. There’s no Roc Nation promo tour for Cole, no marketing plan to sell the music, or really any real interest at all. Cole has had to play the role of “starving artist” under rap’s most prestigious frontrunner, and WHY? Because Shawn Carter has no idea how to appeal to THIS generation! In an era where Activis and Xanax rule, Jay’s moniker as the “hustler” no longer resonates. It’s the users who run mainstream rap now and he doesn’t quite fit anymore.
It’s time we let nostalgia preserve our personal favorites in an effort to get them—and ourselves—to move on. We aren’t dinosaurs, people. I refuse to overlook the fact that other, newer artists have brought just as much to the fold. The same way we knew that Rakim was the microphone fiend or that LL was far superior to anyone of his time, maybe—just maybe—we can let Hov go now to bask in what he brought to the table when he WAS music’s centerpiece.
It’s been 13 years since The Black Album.
I, for one, am ready to crown a new king. We, as a people, want to praise Jay Z, for potentially losing something that he may've never had. Real skill. Often times, artist that can’t hide behind their image, can overshadow just that fact, by retreating to skill. We’ve seen it, but just in case you need an example, everyone's favorite Jewish Canadian boy struggled with this early as well. His image lacked, he had no presence, but the skill was undeniable.
How many times are we gonna bring up “Renegade?” We know what Em did. Or would it bother you that Em laid his verse first and Jay still couldn’t come harder? Or even to dig a little deeper, back in the Hot Boyz days, 98, 99, and the early 2000s. Juvenile may have been the hottest artist on the planet. Nothing proves that testament more than him putting Jay on the remix of an already hot song. We all know “Ha,” and we all somewhat loved Juvenile for it. But I couldn’t understand how he put this dude on this record that, for the first time in my life I had personally acknowledged that Jay Z wasn’t as great as people made him out to be. He didn’t fit on the record. Now that’s a first.
Let’s just let Jay be great and whatnot. But don’t let his past success hinder you into believing that a few of the younger guys right now wouldn’t give him, in his prime, one helluva run!