By Tafi Mhaka
Seeing Jay-Z on stage with Hillary Clinton looked meticulously staged. But staging great performances is what Shawn Carter does for a living. His cheesy smile looked rather faked for some reason. Does he you always fake it, Beyoncé? You know what it is to fake the funk right? I cringed when he hugged Clinton and she affectionately called him “Jay” about half a million times in her speech to the crowd of 10 000 gathered at Wolstein Centre in Cleveland, Ohio.
Clinton flaunted her street credentials and praised Jay “for addressing in his music some of our biggest challenges in the country: poverty, racism, the urgent need for criminal justice reform.”
Oh yeah? What is her favorite single or album from Jay-Z? The love fest did not end there. Clinton said Beyoncé and Jay are the embodiment of the American dream.
“When I see them here, this passion and energy and intensity, I don’t even know where to begin because this is what America is, my friends,” she said.
I could hear the funk faking it right there. So could Donald Trump.
He said he has 99 problems with Jay-Z holding a concert for Hillary Clinton. So do I.
‘We don’t need Jay-Z to fill up arenas. We do it the old-fashioned way, folks,’ Trump said. ‘We fill it up because you love what we’re saying and you want to make America great again.’
I know Katy Perry, a staunch Clinton backer, has a held a number of shows around America in support of the former secretary of state and artists like Justin Timberlake, Big Sean, Justin Timberlake, and Chance the Rapper have staged performances in support of Clinton. But Katy Perry was not born in New York nor was she raised in the impoverished Macy Houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood in Brooklyn.
Jay-Z is a rich rapper who has made it in America from most humble beginnings. He is for many rap aficionados, myself included, the greatest rapper of all time and a great 21st century cultural icon. He is the man who founded Rocawear, an American clothing retailer based in New York. He is the man who founded Roc-A-Fella Records, an American record label along with Damon Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke. Roc-A-Fella Records boasted a roster that included Jay-Z, Memphis Bleek, Beanie Siegel, Freeway and Jadakiss.
Jay-Z is also the man credited with signing a then 17 year old Rihanna in 2005 when he ran Def Jam Records. In 2008, Jay-Z became the first major hip hop act to open the Glastonbury Festival in London. Jay-Z owns Tidal, a subscription-based music streaming service, which is taking on Spotify and Apple Music. The Life of Pablo, the latest offering from Kanye West, was released via Tidal. So Jay-Z is the man.
But is he a good man? This is the question you should ask yourself before you buy into the legend of Jay-Z. Should a man of his standing be regarded as a leading African-American? Indeed is he the man the next President of the United States of America should be hanging out with on stage a day or two before the Presidential Election? I know Clinton sorely needs the votes of African-Americans but pandering to pop culture in this way is so cold and calculated.
Jay-Z and Beyoncé held a concert in the battleground state of Cleveland, Ohio to drum support for the Democratic Presidential nominee. Clinton has a wafer-thin 1% lead over Trump. The polls have her leading with 48% while Trump is sitting on 47%. So it is no surprise Jay-Z threw a few jabs at Trump.
“That’s not an evolved soul for me, so he cannot be my president. He cannot be our president.”
“Once you divide us, you weaken us,” he added.
Trump is no angel, but neither is Jay-Z. The man has a shady past. His rap sheet includes dealing in drugs as a young man.
“I know about budgets. I was a drug dealer,” he said. “To be in a drug deal, you need to know what you can spend, what you need to re-up. Or if you want to start some sort of barbershop or car wash—those were the businesses back then. Things you can get in easily to get out of [that] life. At some point, you have to have an exit strategy, because your window is very small; you’re going to get locked up or you’re going to die.”
Jay-Z has been frank about his past dealings and the harm the drugs he pedalled did to the African-American community.
“Not until later, when I realised the effects on the community. I started looking at the community on the whole, but in the beginning, no. I was thinking about surviving. I was thinking about improving my situation. I was thinking about buying clothes.”
But this is the same man who stabbed record producer Lance “Un” Rivera in 1999 at the Kit Kat Club on West 43rd Street in Manhattan on 2 December at a listening party for Q-Tip’s solo album Amplified. Jay-Z received three years of probation after pleading guilty to this crime. Rivera had allegedly bootlegged copies of Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter, a record Jay Z released in 1999.
Yes, Jay-Z is a product of his times and the housing project he grew up in; but you must ask: did every man who grew up in the housing projects deal in drugs or stab people they had disagreement with? Surely, no; so are there men and women in the projects kids can aspire to copy? Look around and you will see that most African-American role models are rappers or athletes. Ballers in one sense or the other in life; real life hustlers.
Young Money honcho man Lil Wayne, who served 8 months in a New York jail in 2008, after being convicted of criminal possession of a weapon, has a rap sheet as long as that of Al Capone. Lil Wayne has also been detained for drug-possession charges in Atlanta, Arizona and Idaho in the past.
Snoop Dog, who has been arrested for possession of cocaine and marijuana on countless occasions, faced murder charges for the death of Phillip Woldermariam in 1993. The LA rapper was acquitted after a lengthy trial. Snoop has been banned from entering Britain and Australia on several occasions.
NFL Quarterback Michael Vick went to jail in the prime of his career for running an illegal interstate dog fighting ring on his property for five years. Vick lost his job with the Atlanta Falcons and all the product endorsement deal he had in the aftermath of widespread public antipathy and protests by fans and animal rights activists. Vick spent 21 months in prison and applied for bankruptcy after his release from jail.
American football legend Ray Lewis escaped a murder charge after accepting a plea deal and agreeing to testify against his accused in a murder trial. Lewis had taken part in a brawl at a pub that resulted in the deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar in 2000.
Dr Dre, the CEO of Aftermath Entertainment, a rap label that is home to hip-hop artists Kendrick Lamar and Eminem, was fined $2,500 and given two years’ probation and 240 hours of community service, as well as a spot on an anti-violence public service announcement on television for the physical assault of Dee Barnes, a Fox Television presenter, at iPo Na Na Souk club in Hollywood in 1991. Barnes accused Dre of punching her and “slamming her face and the right side of her body repeatedly against a wall”.
Dr Dre had this to say about the incident in 1991.
“People talk all this shit, but you know, somebody fucks with me, I’m gonna fuck with them. I just did it, you know. Ain’t nothing you can do now by talking about it. Besides, it ain’t no big thing – I just threw her through a door.”
He had this to say about his violent ways after Apple had paid $US3 billion for Beats Electronics: “Twenty-five years ago I was a young man drinking too much and in over my head with no real structure in my life. However, none of this is an excuse for what I did. I’ve been married for 19 years and every day I’m working to be a better man for my family, seeking guidance along the way. I’m doing everything I can so I never resemble that man again.”
He added: “I apologise to the women I’ve hurt. I deeply regret what I did and know that it has forever impacted all of our lives.”
Apple felt moved to issue a statement in support of Dre Dre as well.
“Dre has apologised for the mistakes he’s made in the past and he’s said that he’s not the same person that he was 25 years ago. We believe his sincerity and after working with him for a year and a half, we have every reason to believe that he has changed.”
Like the case of Jay-Z and Clinton, Apple and Dr Dre are strange bedfellows. When Apple bought Beats Electronics Dr Dre became the self-proclaimed “first billionaire in hip-hop” ahead of, you guessed it, Jay-Z and Sean “P-diddy” Combs.
P-diddy made headlines after being arrested on gun possession and bribery charges for a shooting incident Club New York in Manhattan, New York night club in 1999. Although P Diddy was acquitted after a protracted trial, Shyne, a Bad Boy hip-hop artist who was with P Diddy at the time of the incident, received a ten-year jail sentence for his part in the shooting. Many say Shyne took the fall for his boss.
P-diddy also made an unwelcome return to the headlines following his arrest for assault with a deadly weapon by the Los Angeles Police department in 2015. He reportedly assaulted a football coach for yelling at his Sean who plays for UCLA.
Then there is OJ Simpson; and Earvin “Magic”Johnson.
Magic Johnson, the retired professional basketball player who played point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers and won five NBA championships playing alongside legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy, held a fundraiser for Clinton that raised a record US$18 million in three days. Johnson co-hosted the event with his friends Hollywood couples Denzel Washington and Pauletta Washington and Samuel L Jackson and LaTanya Jackson.
Johnson, who retired from playing basketball after he tested HIV Positive in 1991, has become a hugely successful businessman with a net worth of $US700 million estimates say.
He is a highly regarded philanthropist and chairman of the The Magic Johnson Foundation, which he founded in 1991. The foundation “works to develop programs and support community-based organisations that address the educational, health and social needs of ethnically diverse, urban communities”.
The Magic Johnson Foundation promotes HIV/AIDS awareness & prevention, college access and digital literacy.
“The Magic Johnson Foundation’s (MJF) HIV/AIDS Community Grants Program is committed to helping non-profit organisations by awarding grants to support the development of high quality, innovative programs that provide HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention, and treatment services to urban communities. In addition to funding support, MJF partners with such organisations to help them gain exposure and raise public awareness about the services they offer.”
The programme has raised more than $28 million for various charities and provided free HIV testing and counselling to over 40 000 people.The Magic Johnson Foundation runs The Taylor Michaels Scholarship Programme, a facility which provides funding to “underserved, socioeconomically challenged minority students from the Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Detroit/Lansing, Chicago, Cleveland and Atlanta metro areas. Historically, TMSP Scholars are 81% African American, 14% Latino, and 5% Asian / Middle Eastern / Indian.”
It has been 25 years since Magic Johnson stopped playing for the Showtime Lakers – one of the greatest teams ever assembled in the NBA and indeed sports. The Showtime Lakers played an electrifying brand of basketball that featured “no-look passes off the fastbreak, pin-point alley-oops from half-court, spinning feeds and overhand bullets under the basket through triple teams”.
It has been 25 years since Magic Johnson told the world he was HIV-Positive. At that time many people believed Magic Johnson would not be with us for much longer.
“I thought a friend of mine was about to die,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said.
The former Michigan State University point guard is the greatest player of all time for some fans. To others: he is a role model for minorities in America and the real personification of the American dream. His mother worked as a janitor and raised six children at the same time. She had an amazing work ethic. And so did Earvin Johnson Snr. He worked at General Motors. He also worked as a janitor at a car wash and collected garbage in the neighbourhood. Magic Johnson helped his father collect garbage in their neighbourhood and earned the nickname “garbage man”.
That garbage man is the man now. A family man kids and adults alike of any race can look up to. A man of great mettle who has fought his mortal demons in laudable fashion while lesser men have resorted to violence.
“I tell people to look at me and understand that everybody first told me that I couldn’t be a 6-foot, 9-inch point guard, and I proved them wrong. Then they told me I couldn’t be a businessman and make money in urban America, and I proved them wrong. And they thought I couldn’t win all these championships, and I proved them wrong there as well.”