GOOD

How Jay-Z Inspired a Generation of Hustlers

Jay-Z is to black male millennials what Oprah is to... everyone else.

Hip-hop is (or, was) often referred to as the “voice of the voiceless.” It’s a bit of a misnomer, of course, but this Bronx-born culture made the rest of the world finally pay attention to people who had been all but forgotten. It’s not just a way for America’s black youth communicate ideas with the wider world, it’s a tool to connect us to one another. We took the experiences of kids in New York, Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles, Houston, Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, New Orleans, and celebrated their uniqueness while finding the universality. We created, through the lyrics of our favorite rappers, a language we could all understand and called it hip-hop.


There’s a Rakim lyric that goes, “I can take a phrase that’s rarely heard/flip it/now it’s a daily word.” You’d be hard pressed to find someone who quotes Rakim on a daily basis, but there is a code that mostly young black men have adopted to communicate with one another: Jay-phonics.

Get any group of black men under the age of 30 together and tell them they need more people, or that sensitive thugs need hugs, or that the Fat Boys broke up and now everyday you wake somebody has a problem, or that it’s so muthafuckin’ soulful and ask if they agree, there’s a good chance they’ll know exactly what you mean. I’d say 90 percent, to be on the safe side, but it’s probably closer to 95. Not everyone is fluent, but most are at least conversational.

Jay-Z is to black male millennials what Oprah is to... everyone else. He moves, we move. He endorses Cristal, we go broke buying it at the bar. He boycotts Cristal, we adjust our taste buds. He sports Rocawear, throwback jerseys, button-ups, or Che Guevara T-shirts, we’re in the store the next day searching for an affordable imitation. Jay hasn’t just given us music, he’s imparted an entire lifestyle.

Naturally, there are some holdouts. You could still be salty about that scuffle with Nas and genuinely think Jay lost (c’mon guys). Or you may be a staunch anti-capitalist who never glances the direction of platinum plaques. Maybe you’re a diehard Dipset fan still clutching memories of Cam’ron’s pink fur coat and nonsensical verses. But no matter where you stand, you’re aware of Jay-Z’s presence and somehow, some way, he’s had an impact on the way you consume hip-hop. Bet.

Jay-Z’s story isn’t the type we usually romanticize or turn into a Disney biopic. There is no come-to-Jesus moment. There isn’t a moment in his story where he realizes drug dealing is a deplorable profession and decides he needs to change his life around. He simply switches hustles. He never changes. He’s Jay everyday.

And that’s part of his appeal, particularly for young black men. What the detractors fail to understand when they ascribe Jay’s popularity to his materialism, gangsta posturing, and big pimpin’ persona is the emotional connection between artists and audience. It’s why his fans repeat that couplet from “Renegade” so often: “Do you fools listen to music/or do you just skim through it?” Jay wouldn’t have a 15-year career to look back on if he hadn’t tapped into something important. His music forges a bond among black men who have long been told that, politically and socially and economically, our very existence is illegitimate. Jay is legitimate. He wore our clothes, he spoke our language, he told our story, and now he’s worth half a billy.

For Jay-Z wealth is revolutionary, the manifestation of the black capitalist aspirations of Marcus Garvey and the Nation of Islam. “I do this for my culture/To let 'em know what a nigga look like...when a nigga in a Roadster,” he raps in the second verse of one of his biggest singles, “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” “Pay us like you owe us for all the years that you hoe’d us/We can talk, but money talks so talk mo' bucks.” He’s representing for the seat where Rosa Parks sat by standing next to Warren Buffet on the cover of Forbes. He’s Che Guevara with bling on, but he’s not rocking the iced-out Jesus piece just to floss. It’s bigger than Jay. When we see him, we see us. We’re all sitting at Mayor Bloomberg’s table.

Jay inspired an entire generation of hustlers. I don’t mean hustlers as in drug dealers, as some would have you believe. Millions of black men born after the Civil Rights and Black Power movements were told the doors were open and it was up to them to walk through them, but ultimately found those doors accessible to a few, Jay laid out the blueprint for doing it yourself. He worked goddamn hard, and we took notes. Jay produced an album a year, tours just as often, started a clothing line, got a sneaker deal, sold vodka, bought a basketball team, and got his own nightclub. En masse, we followed. We stay on the proverbial grind, diversifying our streams of incomes and devoting as much energy to the mini hustles as the larger ones. Sun up to sun down and beyond. We don’t sleep, we rest one eye up and we keep it on our money.

This ethos has its drawbacks. With so many claiming to be hustlers and not rappers, the art has diminished. The perpetual paper chase leaves little time for community building and political work. And a lack of sleep just isn’t healthy. But we keep the faith. Jay wouldn’t steer us wrong.

Now, at 41, he’s become something like an uncle or older brother for most of us, passing down lessons from a world we have heard so much about and can’t wait to get our hands on. As we learn more on our own, we start to question his wisdom and find the cracks in his logic, but even when we disagree we find time to listen because we believe in the power of what Jay-Z has to share. We’re focused, man. We will not lose.

Illustration (cc) by Evan Roth via Flickr user SOCIALisBETTER.

Articles
Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

Millions of people in over 150 countries across the globe marched for lawmakers and corporations to take action to help stop climate change on Friday, September 20.

The Climate Strikes were organized by children around the world as an extension of the of the "Fridays for Future" campaign. Students have been walking out of classrooms on Fridays to speak out about political inaction surrounding the climate crisis.

"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

There's no doubt the visual images from the marches send a powerful message to those on the ground but especially those watching from around the world. GOOD's own Gabriel Reilich was on the scene for the largest of the Climate Strikes. Here are 18 of the best signs from the Climate Strike march in New York City.

Keep Reading Show less

September 20th marks the beginning of a pivotal push for the future of our planet. The Global Climate Strike will set the stage for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, where more than 60 nations are expected to build upon their commitment to 2015's Paris Agreement for combating climate change.

Millions of people are expected to take part in an estimated 4,000 events across 130 countries.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Apple

When the iPhone 11 debuted on September 10, it was met with less enthusiasm than the usual iPhone release. A lot of techies are holding off purchasing the latest gadget until Apple releases a phone with 5G technology.

Major US phone carriers have yet to build out the infrastructure necessary to provide a consistent 5G experience, so Apple didn't feel it necessary to integrate the technology into its latest iPhone.

A dramatic new feature on the iPhone 11 Pro is its three camera lenses. The three lenses give users the the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto options.

Keep Reading Show less
Health
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less
Health