The Real Jay-Z

In the article “I’m From Rags to Riches: the Death of Jay-Z,” by Cynthia Fuchs, the author seeks to portray Jay-Z as a series of fictional personas. Fuchs recounts many of Jay-Z’s famous songs and videos, and demonstrates how he purposefully represents himself. Many of his songs and videos portray a young man struggling in the “hood,” and how he deals with such a lifestyle. What must me called into question is whether this and many other rap personas are real, and if so, to what extent? The first red flag in the “hood” persona of Jay-Z is the frequent flashes of opulence alongside the ghetto imagery in his music. While it is clear that the artist is attempting to depict a “rags to riches” story, it leaves the audience wondering which of these dichotomous lifestyles is the real Jay-Z? Fuchs main focus is on Jay-Z as somewhat of an enigma, a manikin able to put on whatever costume suits him at the right time. While this may be an acceptable way for a star to conduct oneself in other aspects of the music industry, a rapper is granted far less leeway. This is due in part to the nature of the rap industry. Rappers are expected to tell their story through thoughts and feelings, manifested in rhyming patterns. This is why it seems surprising to the author that Jay-Z now can be seen wearing professional attire such as suits with bowties. It is clear that Jay-Z is attempting an image change, but the change is so radical, and so antithetical to the image that made him famous in the first place, that it can potentially call into question the authenticity of his previous work. Fuchs notes however, that if one analyzes Jay-Z’s lyrics, they would understand that this was his goal all along, and he makes it quite clear. When asked about violent imagery in his music Jay-Z responded that he is “Just like Denzel in Training Day, I was acting out a part.” Furthermore on his “Black Album” he admits, “I dumbed down for my audience to double my dollars, they criticized me for it, yet they all yell holla!” Jay-Z continuously alludes to the many roles he plays, and the article focuses much of its attention of his latest role as a classy entrepreneur. The most interesting aspect of the article however is the debate whether Jay-Z has the “right” to be a mere actor. While it is true that Shawn Carter is a boy from the Brooklyn Marcy projects, is he granted the leeway to morph in and out of personas? Rap is an industry in which the artists are expected to come as close as possible to authenticity. If Jay-Z is indeed just playing roles he seems to be violating one of the cardinal sins of rap music. But a closer look reveals that he is as clear as day in what he represents. Jay-Z is a self-proclaimed hustler, who will win over fans and make money in whichever way he can, sporting any persona in order to make it to he top.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email