Who Really Got the Keys? : An Anti-capitalist Approach to Hov’s Latest Single

We are millionaires, inventors, doctors, entrepreneurs. We constantly boast about how our Black president occupies one of the most powerful positions in the world. We’ve gone great lengths to announce like Jay-Z; “I got the keys”, but in 2016 we’re still locked out. Time and time again we go over Lil Kim’s famous proclamation of what it takes to get to the top; crossing off money, then power, but falling short of respect. In 2016 it all feels like an illusion.

In his new song Jay’s opening verse starts with his first major key: “til you own your own you can’t be free”, the rapper puts listeners on to one of America’s foundational laws. Ownership and freedom are synonymous in the land of the “free”, and Hov wants to remind his brothers and sisters that embracing ownership in the capitalistic sense, the millionaire sense, is what will emancipate us from the evils of prejudice. This theory doesn’t take into consideration freedom as something intrinsic. Naturally newborns are the freest beings on the planet. They are not mentally shackled to the constructs that govern our complex society. However, it does bring to light the reality that a baby born with brown skin in America is painted Black, and their freedom becomes a matter of ownership. Something that has to be bought. My grandfather was a brown baby born to a family that owned land in the South. This brown baby, would mature into a Black child who would run for his life north at fifteen. All because his keen understanding of math increased the profits of his family’s Black owned farm. Ownership did not grant my great-grandfather the security needed to protect his son from white supremacy. In 2016, ownership still ain’t protecting Black bodies.

So when HOV questions “How we still slaves in 2016?” It all begins to feel redundantly clear. This country was founded off the desire to build an everlasting constitution that beaconed freedom through ownership. Let us not forget that during the Constitutional Convention in 1787 Black bodies were considered entities that could be owned. The three-fifths compromise, which remains in the constitution til this day, not only pardoned enslavement, it rewarded states where slavery flourished. The more human-property a state’s residences owned, the more seats it held in the House of Representatives, the more “freedom” the state had to do whatever the hell officials saw fit. America developed a constitution and economy that thrived off slavery, in 2016 we continue to adhere to and protect the same constitution. And though it has been amended, the foundational ideology continues to linger. So to answer the question of Mr. Carter and so many other frustrated & confused Black Folk, we’re still slaves in 2016 because constitutionally, that’s all we ever were.

When I think about how racism is dealt with in the United States, I picture an O.G. capitalist saying; “We’ve granted you all the “liberty” you need to become millionaires, inventors, doctors, entrepreneurs, presidents, so we don’t want to hear you complain about injustice, because pickin’ cotton could be your only option.” In America, before we can achieve we have to be granted access by the gatekeepers. We’ve achieved, but only on their terms & conditions. HOV continues his single by discussing his ability to play the game, this being the “key” to his success. There’s no doubt, he’s made it to the top considering his net worth was reported at $550 million in 2015, but that capitalist validation cannot do a thing for the 1 million incarcerated men who share in his experience as a black man in America. Jay-Z is literally 1 in a million, he even owns up to his exceptionalism in Ni**as In Paris when he proclaims; “I’m supposed to be locked up too”. Jay and the men that stand beside him in suits and ties in the I Got the Keys music video act as outliers that package and sell a dream. A dream that says freedom can be attained if we all hustle like good capitalists. What we miss is that capitalism is dependent on the exploitation and oppression of people, and in America’s case, people of color. This leaves me to question; can Hov pick a side? Can we pick a side?

In his BET Humanitarian Award acceptance speech, Jesse Williams pinpoints this issue:

“Now the thing is though, all of us in here getting money, that alone isn’t gonna stop this. Alright? Now dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back for someone’s brand on our body when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies, and now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies.”

He examines the exact same morale, adding the history of branding in our country and our twisted devotion to that — like the dollar. Racism is what secures the power of constitution, and the functioning of our economy as we know it. It is the construct that holds it all together, our freedom is a threat to the top spot. It’s scary to think about, but the only way to defeat this beast is to kill it.

Freedom is not something that will be granted or exchanged, it cannot be bought or sold — freedom is something we will have to take. And when we do, we’ll officially be able to say; “we got the keys!”

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