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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2 thoughts on “Jay-Z: the lessons from history

  1. Great article. Like the bit about Smaug. Another fictional baddy who’s no doubt influenced Jay-Z: Cruella de Ville, the puppy-slaying, fur-wearing villain in 101 Dalmatians. Jay makes a clear nod to Cruella in ‘Crazy Right Now’: “Yessir, I’m cut from a different cloth/ My texture is the best fur – chinchilla”.

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