I wrote that tweet a few months ago after Jay Z’s original Barneys press release went out, when Jay Z decided to carry on with his campaign at the clothing store despite the chain’s scandals involving profiling African-Americans at the store. The tweet wasn’t a direct reaction to the Barneys incident, per se, as much as it was a general feeling after watching Jay’s most recent moves. I’d just grown to feel that everything he did was about the dollar amount more than any organic connection with his fans. I was seeing myself through Jay’s eyes as just $9.99 to add to his account.
It appears that I’m not the only person who feels this way. According to Business Insider, Jay Z is losing his grasp on millennials based on an idea that he’s focused on dollar figures above anything, including his fans:
In fact, the 1,000 millennials surveyed said the rapper himself was among the people least influential to their purchase decisions among the 80 celebrities Sehdev asked about, a group that included a range of personalities spanning from Tom Brady to Hillary Clinton.
Sehdev said that while Jay Z remains popular with Americans of all ages, his brand is missing one crucial piece needed to persuade them to spend hard-earned money on the products he touts: authenticity.
The article (which you should definitely read in its entirety), gives examples of Jay seemingly putting advertisement dollars and endorsements above fan connection and his own previous statements.
2013 was a pivotal year for Jay and he seemed to have more missteps than he has since he decided to take his frustrations about his album leaking out on Un Rivera in a New York nightclub. The Samsung deal for Magna Carta Holy Grail came off as a total money grab (the Business Insider article cites it as the second-most unpopular endorsement of the year), especially since Jay had been talking about dropping an album with no promotion for the past ten years. Then, when asked about criticism from Harry Belafonte, Jay mentioned that his “presence is charity” as if his success is all he needs to affect change.
This isn’t to say that Jay Z has “sold out” necessarily. He’s always been about money first. Jay Z rapped about consumerism and capitalism whether it be earning money in the streets or through his aspirations to spend Japan yen and attend major events. But almost 20 years after Reasonable Doubt dropped, Jay Z doesn’t need my money any more. He doesn’t need to squeeze every penny out of all of his business endeavors. Jay can afford to take risks, which he hasn’t really taken in tangible ways that connect with consumers*. I don’t feel like Jay Z wants me as much as he wants my money, and that’s where the disconnect occurs.
When I listen to MCHG, I feel like I’m listening to someone rapping with something to prove in the same way he rapped on The Blueprint: as a guy with a legitimate desire to assert his dominance over New York. I also feel like I’m getting force-fed whatever brand he’s pushing at the time: from Armandale to Cristal to Ace of Spade and now D’usse.
The album lacked heart and was a by-the-numbers Jay album that he even admits falls in with the rest of the pack of Jigga albums, as he just kept dropping his luxury brand names and dollar figures.
Jay Z’s continued hocking of whatever unaffordable brand will foot his next album is made only more off-putting by the fact he’s just not a trendsetter anymore, especially to millennials. Jay Z is in his mid-40s. I’m 27. What the f*ck am I doing listening to a 44-year-old telling me what to wear? I don’t want to wear Tom Ford (another point: Millennials came of age during the Recession, so the 90s-era excess Jay continues to promote just doesn’t fly). Jay Z just doesn’t have a place telling people decades younger than him what’s cool anymore. Even Michael Jordan had to take a backseat as a trendsetter to the brand that has his own name on it once he got too old to define cool. So when Jay tries to assert himself as still having that hold on my generation, it comes off as arrogant and misguided. Just like the idea he can make a commercial and my money is his.
All of this has only been magnified by Beyonce’s approach with her new album. She dropped an album out of nowhere without any promotion much like Jay wanted to do with the Black Album a decade ago, but wouldn’t because the endorsement dollars were calling his name. Beyonce connected with her fans in ways maybe no other artist of her stature has been able to. Granted, a lot of this is probably due to her marketing team as much as her own inclinations, but Bey pulled off a campaign that feels organic and personal to her fans…something Jay Z hasn’t been able to pull off since his first retirement.
Of course, when I tell people I don’t feel the need to give Jay any of my money, they respond with, “well, he’s just a great businessman. What he’s doing is good for business.”
I understand that, but since when has being a good businessman been the zenith of our aspirations? When have capitalistic endeavors ever been the true barometer for manhood? Jay Z can and will come up with ways to continue to make millions, but what will those millions do for his legacy?
I respect Jay Z’s business acumen, his money-making skill and his rise to stardom. Jay will always be our guy–rap’s golden child who showed us how to move in a room full of vultures.
But what happens when Shawn Carter grows feathers and only looks at our wallets like they’re fresh road kill? That’s when Jay stops being one of us. He’s not a businessman, he’s a business, man. Whether we like it or not.
* – I think that his decision to go into sports agency is a risk – one I’ve supported – but that doesn’t affect or relate to a consumer in any direct way.