OK, so Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's epic, Fidel-like final State of the Borough address dominated my attention yesterday, so I'm coming late to the media firestorm lit by what seemed to be a rather casual, if quite pointed, track issued by Jay-Z two days ago. Apparently anything Mr. Carter says can be huge news.
(See update at bottom: Jay-Z must not only sell his stake in the team but also the arena.)
The Daily News reported, in Jay-Z releases 'Open Letter': Rapper fires back at critics of his Cuba trip with Beyonce, sports business ventures in new song
In a new track recorded and released in 24 hours, Jay-Z insists he’s cashing out of the Brooklyn Nets — but not abandoning the borough or its arena.Pointed at the Nets?
“Would’ve brought the Nets to Brooklyn for free/Except I made millions off it, you f---in’ dweeb,” he rhymes in his new track, “Open Letter,” directed at critics from Havana to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
The message comes on the heels of Jay’s announcement he will sell his 1/15 of 1% share in the Nets so his new sports rep agency, Roc Nation Sports, can pursue NBA clients. League rules bar sports agents from owning NBA teams.
The rapper has already signed Giants receiver Victor Cruz and Yankee star Robinson Cano. But as Jay-Z raps in the track, he remains invested in the arena itself.
“I still own the building, I’m still keeping my seat/Y’all buy that bulls--t/you’d better keep your receipt.”
...A source in Jay-Z’s camp said the “dweebs” he referenced were not Brooklynites buying into the new team.
Likewise, a source with the Nets said the team doesn’t believe the lyrics were aimed at them, but rather at critics who’ve poked fun at Jay-Z’s tiny stake in the franchise.Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said rap lyrics mean little to him. “I came to Jay-Z’s concert here for his first show, and my wife and I looked at each other and we barely understood a word,” he noted at Barclays on Thursday night after giving his state of the borough speech.
Is there suddenly bad blood brewing between soon-to-be former minority owner Jay-Z and the Nets? In a recently released song, "Open Letter", the hip-hop mogul, the 17-time Grammy winner and Brooklyn icon took a not-so-veiled shot at the organization, or at least one of the Nets' higher-ups.
There are a variety of opinions of what Jay-Z means there, but I think rapgenius.com has it right:An empty complaint and a slide toward Trump
The “dweeb” in the lyric likely is the New York Times reporter who last August pegged the value of Jay-Z’s stake in the Nets at 1/15th of one percent (FAR less than had been speculated previously).
Jay-Z ripped that report last fall during his Barclays Center-opening concert series in Brooklyn.
So this lyric would be in keeping with that; I don’t see it as any more mysterious than that. Jay-Z no doubt enjoyed the perception of many that he was a major investor in the team, as it enhanced his reputation as a major player on that scene.
The Brooklyn Game had a critical take that strikes me as quite reasonable but pretty much everyone else ignored, Is Jay-Z Sliding Toward Donald Trumpiness?:
Some heard it as made millions off "it" instead of "of." Either way, at the risk of over-interpreting a bunch of rap lyrics, it sounds like Jay-Z thinks:
a) He single-handedly brought the Nets to Brooklyn. I guess Bruce Ratner, Mikhail Prokhorov, Marty Markowitz and the many other people who have been agitating for a Brooklyn team for years, were irrelevant. The Nets came to Brooklyn because Jay-Z decided it should be so. And, "I still own the building." He was no doubt very important in creating the brand but even accounting for normal celebrity trash talk, this sounds a bit too much like The Donald.
b) Nets are suckers. Whether he's mocking a particular Nets executive or the entire deal, he's saying the Nets could have gotten his help for free but they paid him! Ha ha ha ha. (By the way, the Nets did just fine in this relationship: whatever they paid, they probably got their money's worth in terms of brand-buffing and publicity.)
It's quite possible that Jay-Z was mostly intending to push back at those who made fun of him for having a small stake in the team. That seems to have really gotten under his skin, which is a weird thing to care about. So he's saying, "you think I had a small stake! Well then how come I made millions! Still think I was used??"
But whatever his motivation, the combination of him selling his shares to go off and make some more money as an agent and this Nets-whack makes it slightly harder to think of him as the Nets Number One Fan in quite the same way. He was supposed to be our Spike Lee. This week, at least, he's sounding more like our Donald Trump.
The New York Post summarized it as Jay-Z’s Barc has bite, subtitled "Radio rap rant blasts critics of puny Nets stake":
Jay-Z’s got 99 problems — and he rapped about every one of them yesterday in a rambling, mysterious radio rant that blasted an unidentified “dweeb” who failed to show him enough respect.From the Onion's AV Club:
“Would’ve brought the Nets to Brooklyn for free/Except I made millions off it, you f--kin’ dweeb,” the 17-time Grammy winner snarled about the Barclays Center in the middle of the hastily produced song, “Open Letter,” which was released on Hot 97.
Similarly chill about proper segues, he then transitions abruptly to the Nets controversy, saying, “Would’ve brought the Nets to Brooklyn for free / Except I made millions off of you fuckin’ dweebs.” And indeed, what’s more American than profiting from while simultaneously openly despising the nation’s dweebs?
Update: Jay-Z must sell arena stake, too
Forbes's Mike Ozanian wrote 4/13/13:
The song’s lyrics–”I still own the building, I’m still keeping my seat”–don’t jive with league rules. Not only will Jay-Z have to sell his tiny piece of the Brooklyn Nets, but he will have to divest his stake in the arena too due to his entry into athlete representation, according to sources familiar with the NBA’s regulations.
This isn’t to say that Jay-Z didn’t make the right move. He can now get a nice percentage on any deals his athletes get with the only significant capital being his time. And he gets out of owning a team and arena that are worth a lot, but will likely not be posting a net profit any time soon because of their high debt and the $500 million worth of bonds sold to finance the arena project.
In short, Jay-Z has shifted to a fat net margin business from very low margin assets. And yes, he can keep his seat at the arena.