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December 2, 2010

On Jay-Z: the unresolved "ethical pickle" regarding the drug game, the banality of "Brooklyn," and the curious notion of black capitalism

Atlantic Yards Report

With Mikhail Prokhorov, as I wrote, money cleanses. With Jay-Z, it's not just money but profound talent.

That still doesn't mean the hustler should get a bye, and a couple of articles spurred by his memoir Decoded go part of the way there.

From the New York Observer's profile, He Shall Overcome: Jay-Z Is $450 M Beyond the Marcy Projects. Where Does He Go From Here?:

Jay-Z is vague about the numbers, but one gets the sense that he made heaps of money on the streets. It is unlikely that he would ever speak on the matter candidly. "No one is more paranoid than Jay," [co-author] Ms. [dream] hampton explained, not suggesting that he is crazy, but rather that his exploits are real, not rumor.

Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah cites Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's awkward allusion (my coverage) to Jay-Z making it from "bricks to billboards.":

Sure, it was an allusion to one of Jay-Z's lyrics, but bricks is one of the better-known slang terms for packages of cocaine. Jay-Z's very formidable face froze and then bulged with shock. One wonders if he will ever be able to leave the bricks behind. If anyone will ever let him.

The unresolved "ethical pickle"

Maybe they shouldn't, as Sam Anderson's surprising review in New York Magazine, American Hustlers (which twins Jay-Z and George Washington), suggests:

Jay-Z describes his childhood in Bed-Stuy explicitly as “life during wartime.” Late-twentieth-century America, in his view, was “almost genocidally hostile” toward black culture, waging an endless campaign of institutionalized racism, cutting inner-city social services, and launching a War on Drugs that punished an illness—addiction—as a crime. “We came out of the generation of black people,” he writes, “who finally got the point: No one’s going to help us … Success could only mean self-sufficiency, being a boss, not dependent.” This epiphany gave birth to a figure Jay-Z calls “the hustler”—an antihero who manages, by any means necessary, to convert extreme poverty into wealth. Which brings us to the ethical pickle at the core of the Jay-Z myth. He moves very quickly, in 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.”

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Posted by eric at December 2, 2010 10:16 AM