Jay-Z: the lessons from history

How did Jay-Z rise to the top?

I have always been mildly perplexed by Jay-Z’s pre-eminence in the rap game. He is not the best rapper, nor the most inventive or best produced. His monotone delivery is tedious when compared with Ghostface or Eminem. His lyrical content tends to shift between the contents of his bank balance and reminiscences about his youthful work experience.

I remember being given a white label of his Hard Knock Life album. I was getting nicely into Big Pun at the time, a rapper of astonishing wit and verbal dexterity. In comparison, Jay-Z seemed tame, and despite a somewhat amusing title track featuring the orphan Annie, Hard Knock Life was seriously below the late-90s average.

However, a decade or more on, there Jay-Z still is, still making that ridiculous ‘cheah’ sound before beginning yet another limp boast, on another pop hit.

So, the time has surely come to ask: how did Jay-Z rise to the top? And, more important, how does he stay there? Here I search through the history books to find some parallels to explain the phenomenon that is Jigga.

Joseph Stalin (1878-1953)

Casually ordering another execution: Joseph Stalin

Stalin rose to power in Russia after the death of the more brilliant Lenin. He then wiped out all of his enemies, including Zinoviev, Trotsky and a few million others. He cannily made great political capital of carrying on the flame of Lenin, much like Jay-Z does with Biggie.

Now, I would never suggest Jay-Z organised the deaths of the more talented Biggie, Tupac, Big L or Big Pun. But he certainly benefited from a lot of rappers dying just at the time he was starting out in rap. It was, I am sure, all just a terrible coincidence.

Lesson for Jay: Eliminate your enemies.

Duplicitous and money-grubbing: Richard Arkwright

Richard Arkwright (1732-1792)
Arkwright was as skullduggerous, money-hungry, thieving bastard as has existed in England, who Jay-Z would no doubt admire greatly. During the Industrial Revolution, he infamously nicked the idea for the spinning frame, patented it, got rich, consigning the actual inventor, Thomas Highs, to the margins of history. This is similar to Jay-Z’s appropriation of Ice-T’s 99 Problems, and nicking part of Nas’s The World is Yours on Dead Presidents, which began their little argument.
Lesson for Jay: Nick other people’s ideas.

Joe Kennedy: The US ambassador was orignally a bootlegger

Joe Kennedy Snr. (1888-1969)
JFK’s dad made his fortune selling bootleg liquor during the Prohibition era, before going legit. This echoes Jay’s youthful business enterprises. Joe also married Rose Fitzgerald, a beautiful woman who was from a powerful political family in Boston. They went on to form the greatest political dynasty in US history, which bears a striking similarity to Jay’s highly strategic marriage to Beyonce. The happy couple have no doubt already plotted a great future for their offspring.
Lesson for Jay: Stack your riches, then go straight. Marry into power.

Beyonce and Jay-Z: in love with the Kennedy-esque idea of the career enhancing marriage

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
The original Executive Producer. Did Shakespeare write all of Shakespeare’s plays? Of course not. Jay has learnt from the Shakespearean business model and is unconcerned about actually writing his own songs. As Ol’ Bill would no doubt tell Jigga, as long as most people think you wrote something, that’s all that matters. Legacy secured.
Lesson for Jay: Claim credit for everything.

Shakespeare: the original Executive Producer
Smaug
A dragon who nicked everyone’s money then sat on it.
Lesson for Jay: Nick everyone’s money, then sit on it.
Smaug: a massive influence on Jay-Z
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Scousers: the greatest people in the world, ever

A lorra lorra talent: Liverpool's very own Cilla Black

I recently went on a day trip to Liverpool, in order to go to the Tate. Following directions from the station, I ended up at dockside, where I was welcomed by a biting wind, mist and a deepset drizzle.

I couldn’t see the Tate. In fact I couldn’t see much of anything, but did manage to pick out a large, modern building off in the distance. Thinking this a likely candidate, I set off towards it.

Up close, the building was impressive. A massive, modern stone and glass affair with cantilevered wings which looked very sci-fi, in a civic building kind of way. However, it wasn’t the Tate. It was the Museum of Liverpool.

The inside was even more remarkable. The entry hall was jawdropping, with a huge, circular staircase winding up to the top of the building.

I was initially disappointed with the displays. I thought them simplistic, telling sugar-coated stories of the city’s past which could only be enjoyed by backward eight-year-olds and geriatrics. But then, on reflection, I realised the Museum of Liverpool told a valuable truth: the museum presents a picture of how Liverpool would like itself to be viewed.

Sadly, not everyone will be able to visit the museum and gain these insights, so I have taken the trouble to provide you with a handy summary.

The Museum of Liverpool’s History of Liverpool
As recorded by Richard Purnell

Liverpool is the best place ever, and always has been. Its people, fondly known as Scousers, are unrivalled across land and sea for their wit, pluck, friendliness, and ability to say ‘like’ at the end of sentences in a way that sounds as if they are coughing up phlegm.

Everything that comes out of Liverpool is brilliant, and better than anything Manchester has done. Liverpool started music, with the discovery of the Merseybeat sound in the 1960s. Out of this came the three best bands in the world, ever: the Beatles, Gerry & the Pacemakers, and Cilla Black.

Football was invented in Liverpool, as a pastime for dockers relaxing after a hard day’s strike. Liverpool and Everton football clubs have always shared the league championship between themselves, with homegrown players such as Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen and John Barnes proving that Scousers are easily the best footballers.

However, with the advent of the Premier League in 1992, Liverpool and Everton magnanimously decided they would not compete for the title for 20 years. This was done in order to give other clubs the chance to catch up. It is expected they will resume their domination of the league soon.

Homegrown talent: Barnes and Beardsley

Liverpool invented humour, famously known as Scouse wit. Scousers, needless to say, are the funniest people on earth – you just can’t put one over those plucky Liverpudlians! The funniest comedian ever is Ken Dodd, closely followed by Jimmy Tarbuck. This grand tradition has been carried on by John Bishop, with his oh-so canny observations on British life (and unnervingly large white teeth). Some people say that Tarby, Doddy and Bishopy are not funny. There is a name for those joyless people. They are called Mancunians.

Digested guide

Liverpool = good. Manchester = bad. London = who cares?

Ps: For an adult version of Liverpool’s history go to the Maritime Museum of Liverpool and International Museum of Slavery on Albert Dock. Both are fantastic.

As funny as he is good looking: Ken Dodd