Kill Jay-Z/Long Live Jaybo
KIll Jay-Z/ Long Live Jaybo
By Kerika Fields
The first track on Shawn Carter’s new album is “Kill Jay Z” and when I heard it I was like: Y’all late. I been wanted to kill Jay-Z. Especially back in 1999 when my daughter was four years old and we couldn’t leave the house without hearing “Gimme that stuff that sweet that gushy stuff ” from “I Just Wanna Love You (Give it to Me)” blaring out of every window and car stereo in Brooklyn.
Don’t get me wrong. I gets down with my gritty hip-hop. I mean, Wu-Tang, anyone? But in my home, as a young mother, knowing there were budding ears listening to everything they were exposed to, I made a point of playing Erykah, India, Maxwell, Sade. The Beatles were on constant rotation, too, along with Miles’ “Sketches of Spain” plus anything Marc Cary or McCoy Tyner.
But once we hit them streets it was all out of my control; it was on. There I would be holding my little daughter’s hand in the early morning on her way to school. She would have colorful barrettes in her hair and her little Elmo backpack on her back. We’d be about to cross the street when the light would turn red. We would have to stop and wait for the light to change and just then a car would inevitably pull up blasting that dayum song. There was no escaping it.
My daughter, who is smart as a whip and was reading at two years old, would look at the car then look at me and all I could think of was: This mofo right here!!! Yeah I was pissed at Jay-Z. But this was before his Baby Blue was born. That was the real beginning of the end of Jay-Z and the emergence of Shawn Carter, not this new album. The new album is a culmination of that evolution and I’m happy for his growth, I guess. I mean, people are supposed to mature, grow, change. When you go back home to visit, someone is supposed to be in a better job, a bigger house, a realer relationship, right? He doesn’t even say bish any more although my young daughter sure enough had to be subjected to that ish back in the day. So yeah. For a while there, I kinda hated his Big Pimpin’ ass. But then I met him one night at a party in Manhattan.
Although he was rocking a red jersey and gold jewelry and looking hella hood-ish (this was before Beyonce upgraded him) he was sweet, nice, mannerly, humble and generous: All the things a well raised Brooklyn boy should be, I suppose. So I was like: Aaight. Maybe there’s more to the man after all.
So when his new album dropped I wasn’t against having a listen. It was hard not to as it was Jay all day everywhere this July 4th holiday. I must say the album’s release date was pure genius; he knows how we do, how we play the hottest music at the barbeque. I have to confess, though. While everyone was analyzing his lyrics I was stuck on the video for the song “The Story of O.J.”
The imagery is everything. We are all familiar with it, unfortunately. The big red lips; the sexualized Black woman; the Jigaboo; the watermelon-eating coon; Sambo. The latter is personified by an animated version of Jay-Z — Jaybo — as he travels through NYC and the world spitting lyrics and revealing hypocrisies: “O.J. said I’m not Black I’m O.J. Umm …Ok.”
Jay-Z (who co-directed the piece with Mark Romanek) chose not use any stock footage clips (although they are abundantly available thanks to vintage Hollywood theatrical skits where white animators were able to present their racist and ignorant interpretations of black people and culture to the world thanks to studios like still-popular entities Disney, Warner Brothers and MGM) instead the video is an original. It was crafted scene by scene for the sole purpose of conveying the message behind the song, which, despite thoughts to the contrary (many people are scoffing at his abundant use of the n-word on this track, wondering when, if ever, it will stop being used by Them but especially by Us) is not about the proliferation of the word but the implications behind its implicit insidiousness.
The imagery made people uncomfortable. But me? Not so much. Maybe it’s because I have a picture of this kind of representation in my studio in Brooklyn, lest I ever forget (still nigger).
He takes these painful hurtful images of old and turns them around. Like, whatever. Like, you wanna see me like that? Portray me as a cartoon? Act like I’m a joke? Well, who’s laughing now?
And that is hip-hop. Flipping the script. Which is what Jay-Z is doing on 4:44 by speaking out seriously about making, spending, saving, and growing money. But that isn’t really anything new. Hip hop and finances (or lack thereof) go together since before Rakim was thinking of a master plan with nothing but sweat inside his hand.
In Shawn Carter’s world, money is everything. This is true in the real world too, where poverty and ignorance continue to perpetuate stereotypes that will keep the Jaybo alive until infinity, depending on how you look at it.