A Genius Leaves the Hood: Surprise Me With Something New
Moguldum studio’s unauthorized Jay Z documentary reels you in with the catch line “The documentary Jay Z doesn’t want you to see”, with the promise of new perspectives and information on the life and times of Shawn Carter. Word is that Jay Z even filed an injunction to stop the film from being released. After viewing the hour and fifteen minute doc the only thought I could muster is, “Why does he care?”
The collage of interviews (some objective, others not so much), old footage, and re-enactments doesn’t offer anything new about the mysterious hustler turned Mogul; in fact, Jay Z has been telling us these things about himself in his verses for years. While sitting on the couch at Killing The Breeze headquarters with KTB founder Kwaisi France listening to some old Drake, it all lit up for me, so to speak. On Drake’s Jay Z collaboration Light Up from his Thank Me Later album, Jay sums up for us what this documentary attempts to pass off as new info:
“And to these n***az I’m like Windows 7, you let em’ tell it they swear they invented you. And since no good deed go unpunished, I’m not as cool wit n***az as I once was, I once was, cool as the Fonz was, but these bright lights will turn you to a monster. Sorry Mama I promised it would’nt change me but I would’ve went insane if I remained the same me. F**k n**gaz, bi***es too. All I got is this money, this’ll do” – Light Up, Thank Me Later, 2010
The first third of the film, we relive the origin story of Jay Z: from his relationship with Jaz-O, how he got his name, labels like Def Jam rejecting him, his intro to Dame Dash, battling LL Cool J, the formation of Roc-a-fella and so on. Through it all we learn how the highly observant, street smart, business minded Shawn Carter took his unique skill set, which helped him thrive in the drug world and applied it to the business of Hip Hop and Pop Culture to become the half a billion dollar force we now know as the Jay Z / Roc Nation brand. The lesson learned here is that the path to 500 million dollars is paved with plenty of casualties in the form of lost relationships, friendships and partnerships. He took America’s fascination with the fast life and painted a masterpiece accessible to us all.
“Renegade you been afraid I penetrate pop culture bring em’ a lot closer to the block where they, pop toasters——–bring ya through the ghetto without riding round hiding down ducking strays from frustrated youth stuck in the ways, just read a magazine that f*cked up my day. How you rate music that thugs with nothing relate to it, I help them see they way through it not you, can’t step in my pants cant walk in my shoes, bet everything you’re worth you’ll lose your tie and your shirt” – Jay Z, The Blueprint, 2001
Hip Hop Is A Business
Jay Z the rapper is a master at observing and reporting. Jay Z the businessman is equally adept at observing and adapting. The latter is something that longtime partner Dame Dash never learned. The deterioration of their relationship offers some of the most intriguing material in the doc. During Roc-A-Fellas infancy, Dame’s brash and unrelenting business acumen was instrumental in growing the Roc from an indie label to a brand in the hip hop community on par with the likes of P. Diddy’s Bad Boy Records. Dame did the dirty work, while Jay observed from a distance.
Once Roc-a-fella had established itself as a force not only as a rap label, but a brand, it became time to switch gears. Corporate America was no longer the enemy; however, Dame never wanted that switch. Dame’s motto was f**k corporate America for they never really wanted us to begin with. Jay, on the other hand, saw an opportunity to expand and grow. Check out this clip of Dame at Def Jam offices barking on execs about why he wasn’t invited to a marketing meeting about Jay.
The video really sheds light on the reason why the separation from Dame was necessary for Jay to continue to thrive. Negotiations like that may have their place, but not at the highest levels of corporate America. Mostly white corporate entities normally don’t respond well to being treated like that by a black man.
Observe And Adapt
The two old friends and partners began to grow farther apart as conflict over the sale of Rocawear, and ownership of the Reasonable Doubt master recordings came to a head. Pride caused Dame to get the lesser end of both deals. The beginning of the end came when Dame appointed Cam’ron VP of Roc-A-Fella without Jay’s approval. The tension was palpable even to the distant onlooker. When we all saw Dame appear in a Cam’ron video where Jay Z is being played by Jimmy Walker in a button down shirt and chancletas, we knew it was all but over.
Jay the Gentrifier?
Most of the vitriol towards Jay comes during the segment on the Barclays Center deal and his involvement in ushering in the gentrification of Brooklyn. Over the past ten years, the Barclays project had been met with public outcry. The documentary claims he was played on the deal, but I wonder if this was more of a sacrificial chess move on his part. Though he owns only a small percentage of the project (approximately one fifth on one percent), his involvement may have eased tensions with the community enough to get it off the ground.
Honestly I feel like the gentrification of Brooklyn was inevitable with or without Jay Z’s involvement as monied interests have been getting their way since the beginning of time. It’s happening all over the country. Look at parts of Harlem or even Baltimore if you don’t believe me.
It never mattered how much of the venue or the team he owns; the deal gave him access that he didn’t have before, and all a hustler like Jay needs is to get in the room and he’ll take care of the rest. He is now entrenched in the sports world with the launch of Roc Nation sports, signing the likes of Robinson Cano, Kevin Durant, CC Sabathia, Geno Smith, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. Think about the next crop of young black superstar athletes. Who understands what they go through and how to market them better than Jay Z? The dude is playing chess.
“Look what you made me do, look what I made for you, knew if I paid my dues, how will they pay you, when you first come in the game, they try to play you. Then you drop a couple of hits, look how they wave to you from Marcy to Madison Square, to the only thing that matters in just a matter of years, As fate would have it, Jay’s status appears to be at an all time high.” -Jay Z, Encore, The Black Album 2003
“They screaming from the peanut gallery, not till my salary’s like the real Mike Lowry, I kill shit till I catch Will Smith, then I’m running Spielberg down” –Jay Z, Bump Bump Bump freestyle, S. Carter collection Mixtape
“I’m not a businessman/I’m a business, man”- Jay Z, Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix) 2005
Mo Money, Mo Problems
Another interesting segment of the film explores the tiff between Jay Z and Harry Belafonte, which began with Belafonte criticizing Jay Z and Beyonce’s lack of social responsibility. One of the interviewees states, “There’s a point when you have to think of something greater than yourself and your own bank account.”
Although I strongly believe in the successful giving back to the less fortunate, especially to the struggling communities from which they came, I also believe it is not my job or anyone else’s to count another man’s coins. According to the Washington Post, since its inception in 2003, the Shawn Carter Foundation has given around $1.3 million in grants to help low income students further their education. This figure sounds paltry for a man worth half a billion dollars, specifically when stretched out over a ten year period. It seems as though he doesn’t contribute much of his personal wealth to charitable causes. Maybe he is conservative when it comes to these matters, a black Republican like he says in his song with Nas. However, he does hold benefit concerts like his the recent one at Carnegie Hall, which generated millions for charitable causes. Perhaps he is one of those figures who uses their celebrity to give back. Instead of giving from their own pocket, they use their name and talent to raise funds for the causes they are passionate about counting on their fan base to drive interest and donations. Let’s face it, not every wealthy person is going to emulate Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, or even Mark Zuckerberg when it comes to charitable contributions.
A Genius Leaves The Hood
Maybe Jay Z will change his approach when he reaches a billion. Who knows? I don’t know the man, but my point is none of this is new information. A Genius Leaves the Hood is a good watch for Jay Z fans like myself, but it simply reiterates what Jay himself has told us for years.
“Males shouldn’t be jealous that’s a female trait, what you mad ’cause you push dimes and he sell weight? Y’all don’t know my expenses, I gotta buy a bigger place Huh, and more baggies, why you all aggie? Ni**a respect the game, that should be it, what you eat don’t make me shit – where’s the love?” -Jay Z, Heart Of The City, The Blueprint, 2001