JAY-Z Has Been A Billionaire Too Long A New Video Argues
On August 26, the most talked about Hip-Hop verse of the year released. JAY-Z appeared alongside Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, John Legend, and Fridayy on DJ Khaled’s “GOD DID.” Jay’s part, a four-minute verse, appears to be his most-discussed set of bars since 2017’s 4:44—especially after the artist personally revealed that every lyric is true. That has been amplified by Young Guru and others in Jay’s Roc Nation circles expounding on word choices that can have up to two, three, and sometimes four different meanings.
However, as JAY-Z recently detailed “GOD DID,” the Brooklyn, New York mogul also opined on other issues. On Twitter Spaces, speaking publicly with journalist and Genius executive Rob Markman, Jay spoke about leveling up mentally and financially. “We’re not gonna stop. Hip-Hop is young. We still growing. We’re not fallin’ for that tricknology—whatever the public puts out there,” The MC pointed to institutional racism and words that some critics use against him. “Before it was ‘The American Dream’: ‘pull yourself up by your boot-straps and you can make it in America’—all these lies that America told us our whole life. And then when we start gettin’ it, they try to lock us out of it. They start inventing words like ‘capitalist’ and things like that. We’ve been called ‘ni**er’ and ‘monkeys’ and sh*t; I don’t care—those words y’all come up with, y’all gotta come up with stronger words.” Jay asserted that even when he is labeled a capitalist or chided for his wealth, he refuses to change course—and others agree. “We’re not gonna stop. We’re not gonna be tricked out of our position. Y’all locked us out. Y’all created a system that doesn’t include us. We said fine. We went our alternate route and created this music; we did our thing. We hustled; we f*ckin’ killed ourself to get to this space, and now it’s like, ‘eat the rich.’ We’re not stopping.”
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In the same song, Jay points out that his Roc-A-Fella/Roc Nation movements have spawned four billionaires: himself, Kanye West, and Rihanna, as well as longtime affiliate Lebron James. In a new TBD video titled “JAY-Z Been A Billionaire Too Long,” Justin “The Company Man” Hunte celebrates Jay’s accomplishments and his artistry, while raising an eyebrow to some of the mogul’s comments made in that Twitter Spaces discussion, and at two other points during the last decade.
To start, Hunte insists that Jay’s section of “GOD DID” is “a four-minute masterclass” of lyricism. The Company Man applauds the triple and quadruple entendres within the verse. He points to a previously-referenced passage in Decoded, where Jay wrote, “It sometimes feels like complete disaster is always around the corner, waiting to trap us, so we have to live for the moment and f*ck the rest. That kind of fatalism – this game I play ain’t no way to fix it, it’s inevitable – feels like realism, but the truth is that you can step back and not play someone else’s game. I vowed to never allow myself to be in a situation like that again.” As moments of “GOD DID” call back to that mindset of Jay’s days hustling and traveling up and down the northeast corridor risking it all, it perhaps helps explain his attitude now.
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Then, Hunte looks at Jay’s point about words like “capitalist,” “eat the rich,” and “successful” being used as weapons against him. The TBD host references two times in the last decade where one of music (and Hip-Hop’s) most beloved voices has appeared distanced from some of his supporters.
In 2013, actor, singer, and Civil Rights activist Harry Belafonte singled out JAY-Z and Beyoncé and challenged them. “I think one of the great abuses of this modern time is that we should have had such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities. But they have turned their back on social responsibility. That goes for JAY-Z and Beyonce, for example,” the 85-year-old Belafonte said at that year’s Locarno Film Festival.
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At the time, Jay responded with frustration, and turned the criticism back on Harry when speaking with Elliott Wilson. “I’m offended by [what Harry Belafonte said] because first of all, and this is going to sound arrogant, but my presence is charity. Just who I am. Just like [Barack] Obama’s is. Obama provides hope. Whether he does anything, the hope that he provides for a nation, and outside of America is enough. Just being who he is. You’re the first Black President. If he speaks on any issue or anything he should be left alone. … I felt Belafonte … just went about it wrong. Like the way he did it in the media, and then he bigged up Bruce Springsteen or somebody. And it was like, ‘whoa,’ you just sent the wrong message all the way around. … Bruce Springsteen is a great guy. You’re this Civil Rights activist and you just bigged up the white guy against me in the white media. And I’m not saying that in a racial way. I’m just saying what it is. The fact of what it was. And that was just the wrong way to go about it.” Jay seemingly did not feel worthy of being challenged to do more. “I guess when you’re financially influential enough, you’re beyond reproach,” Justin Hunte says of Jay’s attitude towards such criticism.
Six years later, in 2019, Jay’s social activism came into question again. After supporting Colin Kaepernick and wearing the athlete’s jersey during a 2017 SNL appearance, JAY-Z and Roc Nation struck a partnership with the NFL. Hov met with league commissioner Roger Goodell and positioned Roc Nation to have a hand in the Superbowl Halftime Show and other music intersections. With the news, Jay said, “I think we’ve moved past kneeling and I think it’s time to go into actionable items.” The comments appeared to downplay Colin Kaepernick’s work and protests from the previous three years. Months later, sources credited Jay with getting Kaep’ an NFL workout—one which ultimately did not lead a return to the NFL playing field. While Jay won the NCAAP President’s Award that same in 2019, Justin Hunte points out, the kneelings and acts of protest were not over. In 2020, following the killing of George Floyd, the streets of America showed the power of demonstration—a message that still continues. That same year, before the protests, Jay reportedly got the NFL to commit $100 to criminal justice reform. The artist had been working on the cause, having produced an award-winning film on the life and death of Kalief Browder in 2016, bailing out incarcerated men on Father’s Day in 2017, partnering with Meek Mill on REForm Alliance in 2019, and other initiatives.
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Hunte argues that following Jay’s public push-back in 2019, he strategically allied with Roc Nation artist Jay Electronica for 2020’s Grammy-nominated A Written Testimony. “What do Black men in America do when they need protection? They run to Islam,” argues Hunte, alluding to Hov aligning with Jay Electronica’s messaging.
However, Justin Hunte makes his overall position clear: “I’m personally not upset at JAY-Z, nor do I think JAY-Z is void of social responsibility. To say the artist born Shawn Carter has done nothing for communities that directly support him is categorically false. He’s given millions of dollars to social justice issues. He’s raised awareness through all the levers of media in which he controls. He’s brought other billionaires to the table to support causes that are close to his heart. And he’s helped create more Black billionaires than Oprah. Facts are facts. But JAY-Z’s assertion that they made up words like ‘capitalist’ and ‘eat the rich’ and most egregiously ‘make us feel ashamed to be successful’ screams of an odd, snowflake-minded victim mentality that seems to permeate the high-profile billionaire class.”
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Hunte then compares Jay’s recent remarks with seeming similar comments made by Elon Musk, who polled Twitter followers to vote on whether they trust billionaires or politicians—perhaps ignoring the impact of lobbies. Hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman, another billionaire, cried on television, at the prospects of Presidential candidate and Senator Elizabeth Warren hiking taxes on his class.
In “GOD DID,” Jay raps: “Hov is a real ni**a’s dream / My only goal, to make a real ni**a feel seen / Sometimes, it make a fake ni**a hate life / Never my intention, the consequences of my way of life / The way we used to play with life.” In using terms like “real” and “fake,” Jay may be addressing the same critics who label him a capitalist, or argue to “eat the rich.”
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“Those bars sound like a taunt,” states Hunte. He also reminds that they arrive at a curious time in the United States. “When wealth inequality is the highest its been for 50 years and the wealthiest among us barely pay any taxes, and the affluent are the only ones that truly get bailed out, and Jackson, Mississippi doesn’t have clean water—whether it’s Elon Musk or Leon Cooperman or JAY-Z, no one cares about the plight of the billionaire!”
Hunte takes it a step further: “Does Hov really believe, really believe, that a strong society is best when based on the selective altruism of a wealthy few? Did he simply misspeak? I don’t have the answer to these questions.”
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The video has denouement that praises “GOD DID” and the impetus for this timely video essay.
#BonusBeat: An AFH original video (narrated by Justin Hunte), which examines the what-if impacts had JAY-Z stuck to his plan of retiring after Reasonable Doubt: