What would you rather be – underpaid or overrated?
When Jay Z uttered this bar on Kanye West’s track off of his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album, it was said in context of his career up until that point. He has always struggled with the perception of selling out for more money instead of being a real “artist” and has said so lyrically many times including the infamous “dumbed down my lyrics to double my dollars” rhyme. A lot has happened since then for Jay in more areas of his life that led to his new 4:44 album being one of the more anticipated albums in all of music.
Watching a multi-millionaire megastar’s life unravel in front of the world was food to a world that feasts on controversy. Watching the impenetrable rapper than survived the New York drug game, weathered the exploding 90s rap scene, outlived Tupac and The Notorious BIG and lived after Ether come down to Earth in an elevator with his wife and sister-in-law was probably cathartic to his peers. Those peers include rappers and the executives that sign them plus the big businessmen that he is listed with in Forbes (not in the rapper section). His wife, Beyonce, released the show-stopping album Lemonade which fueled rumors of infidelity within the most powerful couple in the American entertainment industry and birthed several popular sayings that ensured that the notoriously private Jay Z would have to publicly suffer through this humiliation.
Hov’s features on I Got The Keys (w/Future on DJ Khaled’s Major Key album) and Drug Dealers Anonymous (Pusha T single) were business as usual and he didn’t tip his hand to making a statement to Lemonade. It was improbable that Jay would be able to ignore this one though so when Roc Nation started promotion for an unknown 4:44 project of some kind – the world started stirring. It started with “Adnis”, which was a bonus track after all, and ended with the outright release of the album on June 30, 2017. I was in Jamaica at the time of the release and listened to it as much as I could on Tidal while on vacation (because I don’t stop working – SMH). From the opening track, “Kill Jay-Z”, I knew this was not the typical Jay album. In fact, this was the album Jay promised to deliver twice and didn’t – The Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse and The Black Album. This album was vulnerable, true, raw and human. I remember the interviews for those albums and his keyword “introspective”. Yeah, that didn’t go far. We won’t get into Blueprint 2 (which should’ve been a single disc) and The Black Album (an album I don’t have in my top 3 Jay albums – DON’T STOP READING YET) which both teased Hov opening up more but left a lot to be desired, if comparing to 4:44 especially.
By opening up himself so much on this album, Jay Z opened up a Pandora’s Box specially made for himself. The “I Got The Keys” song and video with Future seems weird now since Future took exception to the “In the future, other niggas playing football with your son” line on Kill Jay-Z. Being from the South, I know firsthand how a lot of people feel about Jay Z so the slight about money to the ear hit a lot of people pretty deep and they reacted quick and sharply. Jay has always used clever subliminals and played with words in his music but never has the backlash been so… overwhelming. What’s understood doesn’t have to be explained but I’m going to do it anyway: Jay Z is the at the top of the rap food chain. All the arguments about Drake and Kendrick Lamar and J.Cole…yeah, I hear you…but let’s keep it really real for a minute. No other rapper has the money, power, respect, legacy, bars, empire and queen like Shawn Carter does and on 4:44 he accepts this position and tries to give back jewels and advice to those coming behind him and that’s precisely where we see the trouble.
Jay Z was never supposed to be here. He outlasted EVERYONE who was supposed to rule hip-hop: Tupac, Notorious BIG, DMX, Eminem, Lil Wayne, 50 Cent, etc. in terms of just staying alive, staying relevant or staying active. The death of Roc-A-Fella and the split from Biggs and Dame would’ve been death for anybody else but that turned into Roc Nation and Live Nation contracts and the J.Cole monster. All albums after The Black Album have been mixed media promoted projects with partners ranging from GM and ESPN to Samsung and Tidal. His domestic dispute in the elevator turned into two culture-shocking albums from him and his wife (wanna throw in a dope album by Solange in there too). And with all this and more to say – it’s clear to see that Jay Z is different from most of these rappers and they can’t relate to his life and as such, anything said to them is an offense as if he’s talking down. Having spent a career shitting on everybody else, what else could be truer for Jay Z than what he has told us?
“Niggas’ll love you but hate you cause they can’t be you.”
“Everybody wanna be the king til shots ring. You laying in the balcony with holes in your dreams. Or you’re Malcolm, scratched out, getting distracted by screams. Everybody get ya hands out my jeans!”
Or we can just throw the whole “So Appalled” verse out there.
How should I begin this? I’m just so offended
How am I even mentioned by all these fucking beginners?
I’m so appalled, I might buy the mall
Just to show niggas how much more I have in store
I’m fresher than you all, so I don’t have to pause
All of y’all can suck my balls through my drawers
Dark Knight feeling, die and be a hero
Or live long enough to see yourself become a villain
I went from the favorite to the most hated
But would you rather be underpaid or overrated?
Moral victories is for minor league coaches
And ‘Ye already told you we major, you cockroaches
Show me where the boats is, Ferrari Testarossas
And Hammer went broke so you know I’m more focused
I lost thirty mil, so I spent another thirty
‘Cause unlike Hammer, thirty million can’t hurt me
Fucking insane, the fuck am I saying?
Not only am I fly, I’m fucking not playing
All these little bitches too big for they britches
Burning they little bridges, fucking ridiculous
I wrote a lot…sorry…
“This was meant to be a haiku/ But my story’s too wide to fit inside a line or two”.