Jay-Z might very well be the greatest rapper of all time, but he is also a lightning rod for controversy. Fans love his rhymes but often find fault with his business practices, questioning some of his moves and his “Black excellence” stance that they say doesn’t really help Black people. Whether or not that’s true, though, Jay’s own recent comments about their critiques suggest he doesn’t really understand why they’re so upset — or that they haven’t really been able to explain themselves as well as you’d hope.
During a live Twitter Spaces conversation hosted by Rob Markman (who has been all over the rollout for DJ Khaled’s God Did and the title track that has revitalized all this GOAT talk), Jay-Z addressed those critics, saying it feels like they’re just trying to undermine his accomplishments. “We not gone stop,” he said. “Hip-hop is young. It’s still growing. We not falling for that tricknology the public puts out there now. Before it was the American Dream: ‘Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. You can make it in America.’ All these lies that America told us our whole life and then when we start getting it, they try to lock us out of it. They start inventing words like ‘capitalist.’ We’ve been called ‘n****rs’ and ‘monkeys’ and sh*t. I don’t care what words y’all come up with. Y’all gotta come with stronger words.”
While he makes some salient points about the inherent unfairness of the American political and economic systems, his comparison of “capitalist” to racist slurs and suggestion that it was invented to criticize Black success stories specifically has rankled some chains on the timeline. To be fair, it sounds like he hasn’t quite figured out that he is one; Jay’s made far more money with ventures like Live Nation, Square, and Tidal than he ever could have from rap. It’s sort of inherent to the whole “I’m a business, man” philosophy that he’s espoused his entire life.
And for someone who name-checks Fred Hampton quite a lot, he seems not to realize that Hampton was a staunch anti-capitalist — something I’ve written about on Uproxx before. Their perspectives seem to be at odds, but Jay’s comments suggest he hasn’t actually engaged with the perspective of the activist he keeps invoking. Fans on Twitter were quick to point this out, further highlighting Jay’s status as a focal point of debate. From bringing up Noname’s semi-regular criticism of Jay’s aesthetic activism to quoting Hampton and Malcolm X, the disappointed-sounding responses offered a variety of rebuttals to his assertions — although there were a few defenders, as well. They even joked about the “lunch with Jay or $500K” meme.
To be fair, Jay very likely believes that his wealth is revolutionary. After all, if the system is designed to keep you poor, what better way to defy that system than to do the very thing it’s designed to keep you away from? I’m sure in Jay’s mind, the ultimate form of resistance to such as system is to succeed in spite of it. But that still doesn’t stop the system from functioning — which it certainly has been, as the past few years have made abundantly clear. Either way, he’s stoked a discussion that has been ongoing and will likely continue until there’s some real change in an American society that gets more unequal all the time. Check out some of those responses as well as the full discussion below.
These people will quote real Black revolutionaries in their music, only to be the very people they warned us about https://t.co/vfJcJpRQvF
— Tops (@SincerelyTops) September 1, 2022
Noname you will always be famous https://t.co/F4avIjz3VZ
— Hijab Jab Riddim (@SAMIAFIASCO) September 1, 2022
— HGIC (@HGIC_) September 1, 2022
Jay Z is the most self aware wolf. He wore a Che Guevara shirt on his Unplugged Album and thinks they JUST invented the word capitalist? Are you dumb @sc?
We are saying “Eat The Rich” because we are finally aware that the rich and capitalism are the problem.
Fuck billionaires. https://t.co/yVQHaKikS3
— Hoo Kairs (@LyfeIzWeerd) September 1, 2022
This is why I would take the $500K. Y’all can have the lunch. https://t.co/Hdy93mxMHS
— Ashley Mosley Dickens (@ashmosley) September 1, 2022
I Think What He’s Saying Is Absolutely Correct Here . He’s Not Telling YOU To Pull Yourself Up By The Bootstraps, He’s Saying When HE Did It Ppl Started Changing The Rules And Moving The Goalposts To Make His Success Nefarious. https://t.co/IRfHnHX4pD
— OG Bobby Johnson (@Bird_Up21) September 1, 2022
the level of cognitive dissonance it requires to at one point juxtapose yourself to the likes of malcolm x and fred hampton—who had historically rigorous critiques of the essence of neocolonialism and black capitalis(m/ts)—only to land at “capitalist = n!gger,” is impressive lmao https://t.co/wtZk4klFc0
— josh! (@queersocialism) September 1, 2022
— HANI GARABYARE (@haniyesaid) September 1, 2022
— DeeDee Megadoodoo (@king_paperman) September 1, 2022
Idc about the backlash and outrage y’all have over this cuz he is right to a certain extent. Y’all reserve this anti-capitalism campaigns for rich black people but you never serve the same energy cross-sectionally despite the rich white artists having it way easier smh https://t.co/8lCXOVjAjV
— Coco (@Beyzpepper) September 1, 2022
Chairman Fred Hampton was talking about you @sc
Black revolutionaries been talking about capitalism before you was born. Do yourself a favor and read up. This is an especially egregious thing to say given today is the last day of Black August https://t.co/6lYbwsgbA1 pic.twitter.com/B2LYicZmL8
— power doesn’t flow from the sleeve of a dashiki (@AxumSelassie) September 1, 2022