The Hip-Hop Mogul Extraordinaire and Trendsetter That is Jay-Z



Gemini Nazareno

The Hip-Hop Mogul Extraordinaire

and Trendsetter That is Jay-Z


About Jay-Z the Artist, Producer, and Entrepreneur:

Shawn Carter, whose stage name is Jay-Z, is an American rap artist, record producer, and entrepreneur. He is one of the most financially successful hip-hop artists and entrepreneurs in America. He is consistently ranked as one of the greatest rappers of all time. He is the founder of the urban clothing brand Rocawear, co-owner of the upscale sports bar chain called the 40/40 Club, part owner of the Brooklyn Nets NBA team, and the founder of the record label Roc Nation. He represents mainstream, commercialized, radio-friendly music culture, which can be compared to the underground rappers producing beats out of their basement refusing to sign to a major label. Jay-Z goes against the norms of traditional hip-hop culture, producing music for his own personal entertainment as his fortunes revolve around his widely distributed music and big business ventures making him one of the wealthiest moguls in hip-hop. He is an artist moving from being “wayward” to being repackaged for mainstream consumption and universal exposure. His music addresses many themes including how he has learned to come to terms with living in the projects in Brooklyn to living the lavish life of a multi-platinum selling rap artist, producer, and entrepreneur. The changes in his life from rags to riches have led to questions of “authenticity” being asked. Through the evolution of his career, the authenticity of the hip-hop world has developed to incorporate the need for artists to include accounts of “wayward” behavior and allow their music to connect to “urban” listeners as well as suburban consumers which has created a format for Jay-Z to successfully meet his ends as one of the greatest rappers to ever live.

What Makes Jay-Z Wayward in the Hip-Hop World?

Jay-Z epitomizes mainstream, commercialized, radio-friendly hip-hop culture as his music spans genres upon genres of mass appeal. His widely distributed music and big business ventures have catapulted him into the ranks of the wealthiest moguls in the game. He represents an artist diverting from labels of “wayward” to being repackaged for mainstream consumption and universal exposure. With his music addressing themes of how he has come to terms with living in the projects of Brooklyn, to living the lavish life of a multi-platinum selling rap artist, producer, and entrepreneur, the changes in his life from rags to riches has led to the questions of “authenticity” being asked. These questions have proven to be quite unimportant in American culture as long as the music being produced is commercially successful and the artist is profitable to the record label. Through his musical evolution beginning from his early childhood growing up in the Marcy Houses, a part of the Brooklyn projects, as a nine-year old in 1978, to the release of his debut album “Reasonable Doubt” in 1996, to his current iconic status as a hip-hop mogul extraordinaire, the authenticity of the hip-hop world has caused rappers to incorporate accounts of “wayward” behavior such as drug dealing, gang violence, the over-sexualization of women, etc., to play a prominent role in their lyrics and image as well as allowing their music to connect to “urban” listeners and suburban consumers who likely have had no firsthand experience with inner city life, growing up in the projects, and exposure to the criminal acts found in the crowded ghettos. In a way, it is almost unfair for consumers to demand such wayward authenticity from rappers as it has created a false stereotyped image for rappers to aspire to be in order to maintain their relevancy.

This gangster typecasting has pigeonholed rappers from expressing themselves creatively into the rappers they aspire to be as many record labels try to profit as much as possible from their artists accomplished via their assertion into a certain gangster style.

Though underground rappers refuse to conform to the norms of mainstream society and their major label counterparts are successfully coerced to alter their style to fit the highly commercialized façade of the rich and famous yet maintaining their hustler street credibility through their bogusly-forced gangster appearance, danger surrounds these expectations for rappers to “keep it real” as they have been constrained from freely creating music without being branded via the connoted labels “underground” or “mainstream”. The hip-hop culture, which formed during the 1970s in New York City with influences from funk and soul music, has come a long way to the commercialized and processed rap music of today’s mainstream culture.

Jay-Z’s larger-than-life influence has reached far beyond the realm of the hip-hop world. Being closely affiliated with some of mainstream music’s biggest superstars, including Chris Martin of Coldplay, rock band Linkin Park, and Bono of U2, Jay-Z elaborates on his relationship with the U2 frontman and his first impressions of the rock artist in his book Decoded. Relating the kind of pressure a group like U2 must be under just to meet their own standard and how anxious they are about their work at this point in their career connects to the overall semblance of Jay-Z as a rap artist and person. As Jay-Z states in his interview on Decoded with CNN, “the weight of who you are and the weight of what you’ve done is on you as well.” Speaking of his accomplishments, Jay-Z’s motivation to never stop delivering his definition of quality music has driven his current musical and business reverence. Though his current experiences as one of the most successful and wealthiest artists in the multimillion-dollar rap industry are a far cry from the underground themes of struggles of working class African-Americans living in destitute ghettos of major cities against the offensive and socially irresponsible music of today’s mainstream society, he still remains on top of his rap game gaining much-needed credibility through his musical forays, business ventures, and his ability to “keep it real” or as “real” as he is able to as he is close to twenty years removed from his original “hustle” trying to make it in the grueling record industry.

Through the ambitious scope of Dan Charnas’s The Big Payback: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, he relates hip-hop to America’s first treasurer, Alexander Hamilton. Outlining the songs being played on Harlem’s 125th Street on the eve of President Obama’s election, he recounts the historic background of rap music itself. Combining the commerce and art of poetry behind hip-hop music, he depicts the story of rap as a story of “hustlers” who have innovated and stylistically shaped the industry from its funk and soul roots into the progressively processed and radio-friendly music it is today. Comparatively, in Chang’s Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation the author outlines the social conditions that gave rise to it, the stories of the people and communities that first pioneered it and advanced it forward, its transformation from a culture of resistance to a primarily party-oriented movement, it’s consumerism, and a glimpse into its future. Artists like Jay-Z have been able to stay relevant through the constant changes in hip-hop culture through the innovation of his music from the rawness depicted in his debut album “Reasonable Doubt” to the eclecticism of his recent collaborative album “Watch the Throne” with his contemporary, Kanye West. Though the his lyrical direction has evolved from lower-class dealings to the materialistic ups and downs of the upper class, his ability to set trends instead of follow the crowd, has allowed him to stay ahead of the pack. As some critics may write off Jay-Z, born Shawn Carter, as a sell out, his natural progression from upstart to rap megastar has been a warranted evolution for such an established and successful rap genius.

Looking into His Lyrics:

“Brooklyn Go Hard” from Notorious by Jay-Z featuring Santigold:

The song is an ode to Jay-Z’s hometown of Brooklyn, a borough of New York City. It depicts his early childhood growing up in the borough and the struggles he went though that has made him into the man he is today. Though he depicts the drug dealing, criminal activity, his growing up without a father and a mother who was too busy, and the poverty in the borough, he arrogantly describes his experiences without regret as he is fortunate for his roots. The repetition of the work “Brooklyn” shows how proud he is to represent his home.

“Where I’m From” from In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 by Jay-Z:

The song explicitly describes Jay-Z’s hometown of Brooklyn and the destitution in the area. It deals with how badly things were that the government and its people gave up on trying to save it; however, he is still proud to have gone through what he went through because it made him into a better man experienced in the life who knows to look out for himself because no one else will. He is proud to be able to have become a success past Brooklyn and be able to tell the tale after rising from the ghetto and feeling accomplished in doing so.

“Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” by Jay-Z:

The song depicts the beginnings of Jay-Z’s rapping career where he claims he originally came up with rhymes during his times as a drug dealer involved in a plethora of criminal activity in Brooklyn. He has come a long way from then as he is now at the top of the game being more successful than he could ever imagine. This song represent his respect for those who do the grunt work and menial labor to make money for their futures because he did the same thing to get to where he is now.

Suggested Reading:

Carter, Shawn C., Mr. Decoded. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2011. Print.

Chang, Jeff. Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. New York: St. Martin’s, 2005. Print.

Charnas, Dan. The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop. New York, NY: New American Library, 2010. Print.

Kakutani, Michiko. “Jay-Z Deconstructs Himself.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 Nov. 2010. Web. 11 Nov. 2012. <;.

Sean Carter (Jay-Z) Talks Business with CNN (Decoded Interview). Perf. Jay-Z. YouTube. YouTube, 27 June 2012. Web. 11 Nov. 2012. <;.

Ogbar, Jeffery O. G. “Slouching toward Bork: The Culture Wars and Self-Criticism in Hip-Hop Music.” Journal of Black Studies. 2nd ed. Vol. 30. N.p.: Sage Publications, 1999. 163-83. JSTOR. Web. 15 Dec. 2012. <;.

This entry was posted by gemininazareno.

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