Jay-Z and the Rap Superhero

“Infect the apple, a cancer in its heart…How you supposed to be handsome and harsh?”

Manhattan-born rapper, Wiki goes one lamenting the dichotomies of his home city: “How you supposed to be standing for New York/Dismantling New York?/The apple is rot, the grapple is caught.” Wiki, a member of the Lower-East Side rap group Ratking, bemoans the expectations that come with being a New York rapper and the contradictions of the male rap ego in a few bars. He along with the newest generation of artists (some even too wary to call themselves rappers in fear of limiting their art) have shown anguish over a corroded stereotype that has roots in the golden-age of Hip-Hop, from Mc’s like Rakim to LL Cool J and then further solidified through NY giants of the early aught’s like Cam’ron and Jay-z. The latter having seen his success in luxury-rap propel his career to heights that few black men in any line of work have ever seen. This success has come with the usual peaks and valleys in which Jay-Z has been forced to reinvent himself, yet maintain the gangster cool that got him to the top in the first place. In the face of increasingly ambiguous standards of masculinity these rap tropes leaves Wiki’s verses to serve as microcosm for the issues in Jay’s cooling rap career as he delves further into corporate ventures. But Jay-Z, as I’m sure he knows, still stands in a unique position of relevancy and influence after all these years, possessing a privilege better exercised. And who but the oft referenced “King of Rap” himself could be more effective in dismantling the restrictive stereotype of the rap superhero while still benefiting from its destruction.

Jay-Z’s last major release came in the summer of 2013. His album Magna Carta Holy Grail was being promoted in between NBA Final’s games with cameos of fellow hip-hop legends and was released in the first week of July. The album was instantly certified platinum due to Samsung buying up a million copies of the album in a savvy business deal with RocNation in order to distribute MCHG to loyal Samsung Galaxy owners before it was available for general consumption. Like many things related to Sean Carter as of late: the commercial success was evident but the critical reception was lukewarm with one critic, Ian Cohen from Pitchfork declaring “Jay also manifests a worst case scenario for ‘dad-rap.” Commenting on the persistent use of fading idols in American culture like Sinatra and the three Michael’s to express his endurance in rap as a credit to doing it his way without compromise. This unwavering masculinity, the all about his business Hov has left fans missing the artist in Jay, so much so that his little brother Yay could be seen shouting to the world the constraints of Mr. Sean Carter’s business commitments interfering with Jay-Z, King of Rap’s commitments.

jay-russ-rick

(From the right: Rick Rubin, Jay-Z, Russell Simmons)

This is not to say that Jay-Z’s reclusiveness from the public is unwarranted. One could easily explain it as a natural reaction to the media’s obsession with all things Jay and Bey and lack of privacy that comes with that. Or that his continued success in the business world restricts him from being the Jay-Z of old, which is equally fair since 45-year-old men shouldn’t act the same they did in their 20’s anyway. But if the rumors about Jay-Z releasing his own version of LEMONADE are true then rap community’s big brother could give fans (many of them young men entering the canals of adulthood) something they’ve never had. A project presenting the wisdom of an old but vulnerable Jay Z. With the rap superhero facade put to the side, it’s possible we see the family-vacay-Jay, the take-a-cute-selfie-with-my-boo-Jay, so Hov can show day one fans that on the other side of life, you can lose your cool and still win.

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