Sunday, May 06, 2012

Jay-Z and the Mushnick controversy

New York Post media columnist Phil Mushnick has stirred up a huge backlash with an item in his column slamming Jay-Z (who also was pictured "riding" a bulldozer by a camera-wielding construction worker with a line to TMZ):
As long as the Nets are allowing Jay-Z to call their marketing shots — what a shock that he chose black and white as the new team colors to stress, as the Nets explained, their new “urban” home — why not have him apply the full Jay-Z treatment?
Why the Brooklyn Nets when they can be the New York N------s? The cheerleaders could be the Brooklyn B----hes or Hoes. Team logo? A 9 mm with hollow-tip shell casings strewn beneath. Wanna be Jay-Z hip? Then go all the way!
Yes, this is dumb and offensive on several levels. (Does a black-and-white color scheme have a racial angle?) It's provoked a roundup of critical responses (as collected by NetsDaily).

The pushback

But Mushnick's not-quite-connected pushback--"Jay-Z profits from the worst and most sustaining self-enslaving stereotypes of black-American culture and I'M the racist?"--provoked another round of an unresolved debate on The Grio, a site aimed at African-Americans. 

Some emphatically said it makes a difference who says the N-word and how, while others were not unsympathetic to Mushnick, disagreeing with Jay-Z, who, as one commenter put it, "told Oprah that hip-hop has changed the meaning and tone of the word."

Also see responses in the tabloid rival Daily News, which quoted a couple of tweets:
“Just curious if this Mushnick character would say the same if Francis Ford Coppola owned part of a team,” tweeted ESPN “Around the Horn” regular Bomani Jones.
Former Post reporter Paula Froelich, via Twitter, referenced a previous racial furor at the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid: “Sigh. Monkey cartoon, anyone?”
Lingering uneasiness

Surely Jay-Z's approval of a design scheme is not the embodiment of hip-hop, but Mushnick strains toward a lingering uneasiness. Jay-Z's celebrity is based in part on his messages from the gangsta/drug culture in which he was once immersed.

And, like the Kennedys and the Bronfmans and, heck, even Mikhail Prokhorov, Jay-Z has found that money (and in his case, talent/celebrity) cleanses.

While Jay-Z (the character) continues to profit from that gangsta/drug culture as an entertainer, Jay-Z (the person) also must keep his distance as a businessman. The line between character and person is not always so clear: he can use "Empire State of Mind" to crow that he had a "stash spot" at 560 State Street but code-switch to call it a "place" in a TV interview about the Nets. 

As Sam Anderson wrote in New York Magazine, American Hustlers:
Which brings us to the ethical pickle at the core of the Jay-Z myth. He moves very quickly, in [his book] Decoded, from lamenting the tragedy of the crack epidemic to profiting from it as a dealer—and he never quite makes clear the moral steps that justify that transition. When pushed about his contradictory image, he falls back on “I’m complex.”
The Chris Rock reference

Mushnick may not have known it, but he was actually touching on another issue, the offensiveness of some existing team names. As one commenter on NBCSports pointed out:
Chris Rock used the New York N_____s line a long time ago but he was talking about football. He pointed out that calling washington the redskins was really no different than having a team called the new york n_____s. it was really funny when he said it though.
"Luxury rap" and where they're from

In American Mozart, a May 2012 Atlantic article about Kanye West and his tour with Jay-Z, David Samuels writes:
UPON MY RETURN back east, I pay a visit to Rakim, the humble, soft-spoken introvert with a uniquely dark and mesmerizing voice who is generally regarded as the most influential rapper alive...
Rakim admires Kanye as an artist who can create new beats and rub them up against samples scavenged from 50 years of American popular music...
Yet Rakim is also bothered by the “luxury rap” that Kanye and Jay-Z are promoting. He grew up in a working-class suburban town on Long Island, he tells me, where the first generation of New York rappers, including the likes of Melle Mel and the Cold Crush 4, seemed like impossibly distant and heroic figures. At the same time, he continues, the fantasies they created in their rhymes were shared with their audience, not alienating... Rakim worries that the enormous rift between the rap audience and millionaire rappers who rhyme about Gulfstream jets is robbing the music of inventiveness and joy. “It’s more like, ‘Look what I got’ or ‘You ain’t got what I got’ or ‘You got to get what I got,’” he says. “It’s making the listener a little envious of what’s going on, and it’s almost demeaning.”
Then again, as Jay-Z would say, "If you escaped what I've escaped, you'd be in Paris getting fucked up too." That's a (Kanye & Jay-Z) song with the N-word too. Surely Jay will deliver it when he opens the Barclays Center on September 28. 

But will they play it during Nets games? 

1 comment:

  1. Seriously. Remind me. What are we trying to solve here? It's like this. Person A: sees rap and says damn "how are they getting away with saying that?" Person B: listens to rap, dances, bops their head while seeing an untold story unfold in there mind.

    Most rappers tell stories. Jay-Z is the story.

    It's like Picasso explaining every stroke while painting a masterpiece.

    Jay-Z's explanation of how he achieved success is so vivid and relate-able that any one who stops at the N word would be considered shallow.

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