Jay Z: Hip Hop's "Hustle Man"
TRUTH Minista Paul Scott
"Well, it might be sad. Or might sound funny but that's what people do for money."
There is one in every 'hood, a "hustle man." Like the dude from the old "Martin" show, "Hustle Man" is the type that would sell vitamin water to his grandma on her deathbed. The type of guy who hawks R.I.P. hoodies outside of funeral homes. The type of person who would use one of the most revolutionary events in modern history to sell T-shirts.
Last week, Shawn "Jay Z" Carter made headlines when he vandalized the Occupy Wall Street movement by creating "Occupy All Streets" T-shirts that are to be sold by his Rocawear Company. Although, it is still being debated whether Jay will go through with it, the fact that he had the cahoonas to attempt it in the first place says a lot about the character of the man.
If you ask the folks from "The Roc" and supporters like Russell Simmons, they will tell you that Jay is just trying to spread the message by launching an Occupy All Streets Movement. If you ask others, he is either trying to make a quick buck ,or worst, trying to dilute the movement by diverting attention away from the economic center of the planet.
What Jay Z is trying to pull off is a textbook example of the Hip Hop Hegelian Dialectic .(thesis, antitheses, syntheses) In this case, create the "problem", front like your solving the "problem" and then sell the "solution" for $22.
Ask any true Hip Hop head what is the major problem with the art form, today and he will say, without hesitation, "commercial exploitation" However, this is not limited to Hip Hop alone, as commercialism has invaded every aspect of society. What makes Hip Hop different is that it started as a movement to give a vehicle of expression to poor and oppressed communities. So, when you co-opt Hip Hop you are co-opting the voice of the people.
It must be noted that commercialism did not start with Shawn Carter, as the practice has plagued Hip Hop every since Adidas found out that they could make a dollar using RunDMC to promote their sneakers in the 80's. One can also remember that infamous Nike commercial from the 90's where KRS proudly proclaimed that the "revolution" was not about fighting for human rights but the revolution was merely, "basketball."
In a capitalist society, nothing is sacred, not even social movements.
In his book "There's a Riot Going On," Peter Doggett traces the genesis of corporations jackin' social movements back to a 1968 meeting of advertising agents and entertainment company bigwigs , "Selling the American Youth Market." According to Doggett, attendees paid $300 dollars a head to find out ways to make money by exploiting the Civil Rights and Anti-War Movements of the 60's.
It must be noted that commercial exploitation is not just limited to music. Remember, Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech" has been used to sell cell phones and Malcolm X's entire ideology has been reduced to the price of a postage stamp.
What is interesting about the Jigga scandal is the straw man argument where a conversation about the exploitation of a movement was quickly flipped into a debate over who he was gonna break off with some Benjamins.
Although entertainers have been known to give donations to social causes (Marlon Brando and other celebrities supported the Black Panther Party), for the most part, it's strickly business.
As Herbert Haines wrote in "Black Radicals and the Civil Rights Mainstream 1954-1970," "business support for pro-civil rights changes was brought about not by moral enlightenment but by recognition that racial trouble damaged business interests." Historically, social unrest has been bad for business. And a business owner is more than happy to throw a couple of dollars at "radicals" if it means not having to worry about about a brick being thrown through his store window.
(Just look at how many hood dudes got sneaker franchises after the '92 LA rebellions.)
So, when millionaire missionaries such as Shawn Carter and Russell Simmons support projects, it is more so to calm the restless natives then to aid the revolution. The reason why Simmons is given a hood pass is because he holds the golden microphone. Over the last decade Hip Hop activists such as Rev. Conrad Tillard (formerly Minister Conrad Muhammad), Rosa Clemente and Dr. Jared Ball have all pointed out how Simmons has used his star power to, allegedly, undermine legitimate grassroots movements.
The problem is that in the past we have placed symbol over substance.
In his book "An African Answer" Edgar Ridley, argues that "those who are victims of symbolism are, invariably, the ultimate losers in any dialogue or conflict." So, we have to realize that the symbolic act of showing up at a protest or wearing a bootleg version of a movement's slogan on a shirt does not mean that your favorite celebrity is getting ready to toss a Molotov cocktail.
However, the outrage generated by the Occupy All Streets T-shirts does signify a change in the collective consciousness of the people who are beginning to realize that everything is not for sell. Especially the economic future of our children. Finally, Hip Hop fans are beginning to demand accountability from those who exploit the art form.
But Jay Z is not the first person to exploit Hip Hop and he won't be the last.
Unfortunately, there will always be those who are willing to sell their souls to the highest bidder.
And the culture.
Paul Scottcan be reached at (919) 451-8283 Twitter @truthminista