Is Carta That Magna?: Critique of Jay-Z’s Consumerism


jay-z-magna-carter-holy-grail

When the Jay-Z “Magna Carta” Samsung commercials first aired during the NBA Playoffs, I was as ecstatic as everyone else to learn that the NYC rap kingpin would be gracing us with a new album on Independence Day. The superstar producers and banging beats played in the commercials increased my anticipation even more, though I chose not to read any of the lyrics he posted, wanting to hear them for myself before I engaged them literarily.

But what quickly turned my elation to aversion was my timeline flooded with retweets, all venerating Jay-Z with statements like “This is gonna be the best album ever!” or “HOV! THE GOD!” or “Hov is setting new rules! The rest of you rappers need to take notes!”

…..Huh?

In regards to Jay-Z selling a million records to Samsung, it was DEFINITELY a smooth, lucrative marketing move by him (make your money player!). But on the flip-side, I’m not exactly sure what it accomplishes, seeing as none of us (customers) bought the album. Isn’t that the same as getting a company to buy a bunch of your albums on the release date to bolster your sales numbers? ……hold on, that IS…..nevermind.

My biggest critique of Jay-Z (which may double as a critique of his fervently supportive fan base) is that his “I’m a hustler disguised as a rapper” motif holds true all too often, despite his art not always being on the echelon that he or other say it is. Jay-Z is a brilliant businessman, who markets his art as deep, illusive, exclusive, and esoteric. But as good as I think Jay is, I’m just not buying it to the 99th degree that some other fans want to lift him to.

The prime example of this swindle was the line that the Twittersphere has dubbed a quadruple entendre, which is featured on Complex:

“I just want a Picasso/No more casa/No more castle,” and about thirty seconds later, he repeats (with a lot of emphasis), “I JUST want a Picasso.”

This is not a quadruple entendre.

Multiple entendres are words or phrases that have multiple literal and coded meanings. What he is saying in these lines are merely homophones (words that sound the same), a slant rhyme technique that is shows his lyrical prowess, but is not a quadruple entendre.

Jay-Z has done this before with his line in Drake’s Light Up “”Owwwww / Hoes turn their heads like owls / I’m the man of the hour / Triple entendre don’t even ask me how“. The line is very clever as well, but is not a triple entendre.

There are two reason this irks me as much as it does (aside from the fact that I was once an English major before switching to African-American Studies). First off, Jay-Z has actually said real triple entendres before (my favorite example, “If they don’t give me heaven, I’ll raise hell, til it’s heaven” from Justify My Thug. Raise can mean lift up, build up or improve; often used in phrases like “raise a property”, or “raise hell”, an idiom for starting a riot/uproar), so he has to know that the aforementioned are not. It makes me feel he is trying to give us the okey doke. And though I didn’t fall for it, I resent that he thinks he could sell me wolf tickets in the first place.

Secondly, why are fans so willing to accept this spectacle as spectacular? I know I’m a nerd, but you’re telling me no one else was paying attention in their English Lit class in high school? And if you don’t know what a triple or quadruple entendre is, why not go look it up before you disseminated misinformation or perpetrate that you understand this figurative language when you don’t? Avid fans who do not call his bluffs (i.e., critically assess marketing strategies placed in song lyrics) serve as the best marketing team he could hope for. This is a moment in which Jay-Z is actually hustling you, even to the point where you are hustling others for him. U.O.E.N.O.

People will be quick to assume that I’m dissing Jay-Z or his fans through this article. I don’t have the energy to respond to that, because in a media world where any legit critique is interpreted as “you a hater!”, that battle is one that I will probably lose before even taking up arms. What I will say is that it is very problematic to offer prolific artists like Jay-Z our praise, but withhold our sincere quandaries.

I’m a strong believer that there are moments where good artists can fake deepness, just as bad ones can achieve depth unknowingly. As consumers, we have a choice to be objective about artists and the art we like. If you are a fanatic in which your favorite artist can do no wrong, and their every breath deserves a retweet, that’s fine I guess. But if you can call a spade a spade and take away pretense, that is fine as well. Ideally, we should be consumers that are keen to what we are actually buying, both figuratively and quite literarily (even though that seems to be a lot to ask).

Hopefully y’all don’t think I’m trying to say Jay-Z is good businessman but a bad rapper either, because that is far from the truth. But I do see a disconnect between how good his art is (in my opinion) and the how good he and others market his art to be. And I would like to feel that when I’m listening to his album (or any album for that matter) that I’m connecting and engaging in it as art, not that I’m being sold a product (though who knows? Maybe the music industry is one big hustle, and I’m just as gullible as the people I surmise are).

But for the Shawn Carter fanatics out there, bring on the torches and pitchforks. You’re gonna have to catch me first!

I’m excited about listening to his album, and will steer clear of outside opinion until I give it a good once-over in solitude. I hope you will do the same.

We Out Here,

Josh A

Follow me on IG & Twitter @iRockJoshA

For journalistic inquiries, contact me at adamsjc@usc.edu

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Categories: JoshArticles, Music, PoliticsTags: ,

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