By Christian Harvey
In a past post I said that I believe that Hip Hop is the Modern Day Psalms. Over the next twelve weeks I will be making a Modern Day Psalms Mixtape. Every Monday I will add a new song to the mixtape with an explanation of why I find it powerful. This is track 2. Check out Track 1 here.
I have an uncomfortable relationship with Jay Z. I mean he is amazing, his style, his beats, his creativity, there is a reason he is repeatedly hailed as the best rapper in the world, and definitely the most successful. He is also obviously smart, and his songs portray the struggles of many working class African Americans in the U.S. But his songs can be both incredibly powerful, and incredibly sexist at the same time. His hit 99 Problems was incredible, the part in the middle where he is talking about being pulled over as a black man in the US, is both funny and poignant , but the constant referral to women as ‘bitches’, and then the final chorus where he says he has “99 problems but being a bitch ain’t one” portrays a very low view of women. So I find listening to his albums both great and offensive at the same time.
But one of the things that I think makes Jay Z one of the most interesting rappers is his ability to be both incredibly macho and proud, as well as incredibly self reflective and self critical on the same album, sometimes in the same song. Minority Report is just such a song. Here Jay reflects on the after affects of Hurricane Katrina. He starts with his reflection on the neglect of the Federal Government of the people of New Orleans. He puts himself in the shoes of the struggling, asking “wouldn’t you loot? If you didn’t have the loot? Baby needed food, stuck on the roof…” He questions why we have so many helicopters flying over and filming the people stuck on the roofs of their homes so that we can see what is going on, but they don’t actually pick the people up? But what makes the song so powerful is that he doesn’t stay there, because he then turns the blame on himself, yes the government has dropped the ball, and needs to be called out, but he recognizes his complacency in the whole thing “Sure I ponied up a mill, but I didn’t give my time, so in reality I didn’t give a dime, oh damn, I just put my monies in the hands of the same people that left my people stranded.”
I hear this song, and it makes me think of how often I get outraged at the companies, the governments, the people who oppress, who destroy, who neglect, and then forget about my own complacency, the role in which I play in the injustices that are happening around. The paradox that is Jay Z makes me uncomfortable, but maybe that is because he makes me acknowledge that the same paradox exists in me, he just admits it.