Thursday, September 06, 2012

Looking at "The House That Hova Hyped," the Times T Magazine supplement feature on Jay-Z

There's almost nothing about the Barclays Center in The House That Hova Built, novelist Zadie Smith's fawning interview/essay about Jay-Z in the New York Times's Sunday T Magazine ad-jammed supplement, but all the photos--the fashion spread, with their high-priced accoutrements--are set there.

And Jay-Z is declared Brooklyn's "once and future king."

Call it "The House That Hova Hyped" and consider it a win-win for arena promoters and Jay-Z, and another example of the Times's less-than-exacting coverage of Atlantic Yards. (There's no disclosure, of course, of developer Forest City Ratner's relationship with the Times.)

Oh, Smith writes, "The check comes. You will be unsurprised to hear the Jiggaman paid." That seems to clearly violate the Times's Ethics Policy ("paying our own way") as well as basic journalistic ethics.

Shouldn't the author recognize that a multimillionaire eating with her has every reason to be generous?

Positioning Jay-Z

He's "perfected the art of triangulation" among "hard-core hip-hop heads," the "pop-rap fan," and "the many people who feel rap is not music at all but rather a form of social problem." Smith writes:
He’s not late. He’s dressed like a kid, in cap and jeans, if he said he was 30 you wouldn’t doubt him. (He’s 42.) He’s overwhelmingly familiar, which is of course a function of his fame ­ — rap superstar, husband of BeyoncĂ©, minority owner of the Nets, whose new home, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, will open this month — but also of the fact he’s been speaking into our ears for so long. No one stares. The self-proclaimed “greatest rapper alive” is treated like a piece of the furniture. 
Smith, according to some commenters, is a little too accepting of the no-role models story line:
He didn’t have Obama growing up, only the local hustler. “No one came to our neighborhoods, with stand-up jobs, and showed us there’s a different way. Maybe had I seen different role models, maybe I’d’ve turned on to that.” Difficult to keep these two Americas in your mind. Imagine living it — within one lifetime!
But other commenters praise her for her immersion on Jay-Z's language and her understanding of the art form of rap.

Looking at AY

Smith writes:
Jay-Z likes clarity: “I think all those things need to really declare themselves a bit more clearly. Because when you just say that ‘the 1 percent is that,’ that’s not true. Yeah, the 1 percent that’s robbing people, and deceiving people, these fixed mortgages and all these things, and then taking their home away from them, that’s criminal, that’s bad. Not being an entrepreneur. This is free enterprise. This is what America is built on.”
Except that house that he "built," the Barclays Center at Atlantic Yards is far from free enterprises: a sports team in a cartel of a league, with a "done deal" announced from the start.

She writes:
Heavy responsibility lands on the shoulders of these unacknowledged legislators whose poetry is only, after all, four decades young. Jay-Z’s ready for it. He has his admirable Shawn Carter Scholarship Foundation, putting disadvantaged kids through college. He’s spoken in support of gay rights. He’s curating music festivals and investing in environmental technologies. This October, his beloved Nets take up residence in their new home — the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. 
His "beloved Nets" were not so beloved, the Times reported, when they were losing. He loves the deal.

At left, we're told in the caption that "having Brooklyn as part of the Nets' name was important to him." Ya think? Brooklyn was the marketing strategy all along.

On morality

Of his daughter, he tells Smith, “She doesn’t have to be tough. She has to love herself, she has to know who she is, she has to be respectful, and be a moral person.”

Surely Mr. Carter means have a personal morality and be decent. But is shilling for Budweiser a "moral" choice? Or mumbling misleading banalities about how many jobs the arena created?

Ah, it's all not so meaningful. In T Magazine, the pictures count most.

Two comments from the Times

Of the first 38 comments, these are the two that address Atlantic Yards:
  • Sadly, the celebrated Ms. Smith paints a celebratory portrait of Mr. Jay-Z complete with his properties and attributes, but leaves out the politics behind the "new home" for his Nets, the Barclays Center and the Atlantic Yards. A picture worthy of Thomas Gainsborough.
  • I liked Jay-Z until he got in bed with Bruce Ratner and the Barclays Arena horror show. King of Brooklyn? Sorry, not going to happen until he does something that actually benefits the community. Instead, thanks to Jay-Z, Brownstone Brooklyn is getting tacky, overpriced, late-night lounge bars offering bottle service to high-rolling basketball fans. (Gee, thanks.) This long-time Brooklynite wishes an act of God would tear down that hideous behemoth forced upon four communities that didn't want it. To the writer: please do your homework before you lionize the project's biggest cheerleader!

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