Jay-Z, Rich Righteous Teacher (Part I)

Jay-Z, Rich Righteous Teacher (Part I)

(I’ve) never read the Qur’an, or Islamic scriptures

The only Psalms I’ve read was on the arms of my n*****s

-Jay-Z, Intro off of the The Dynasty: Roc La Familia

If there were any track in the universe of Jay-Z’s catalogue, which I think represents the powerful puzzle of his personality and appeal it is the Intro to the 2000 Roc La Familia album. In terms of the deliberate amount of time he allows to pass before delivering his verse; the sound of the hot but haunting beat; the nonchalant flow, the penetrating wit; the jewels and gems of wisdom; and the provocative hints and nods (‘this is food for thought, you do the dishes’) that Jay-Z deliberately leaves, this one-verse track almost perfectly symbolizes the career and mind of an artist who I am convinced may be the most Selfaware artist that rap has ever seen.

When many of us use the phrase ‘Knowledge of Self,’ what exactly are we really talking about? The older I get and the more I hear it used, I’m convinced people really don’t understand what it fully represents. Sadly, one of the most important concepts and bodies of wisdom we could understand has been reduced to a cliché.

In a portion of a letter introducing his Study Guide # 10, “The God Within” Minister Louis Farrakhan gives one of the best descriptions of that powerful phrase that I have ever heard:

“The knowledge of Self is the greatest of all knowledge. It is akin to the knowledge of Allah (God). Both of these knowledges, which is really one, is the key to our return to God, Self and Power.

…We must know ourselves historically, biologically, genetically, but we must also go to the root of ourselves which is knowledge of the nature in which we are created, which is the Essence of Self-knowledge.”

For years I have considered Jay-Z to be a conscious artist, very. It has been a very controversial position to take in the eyes of some. I first unveiled it, in limited form, in an economic context in a piece I wrote at BlackElectorate.com called , “The Consciousness of Wu-Tang Clan, Suge Knight, and Jay-Z” (http://www.blackelectorate.com/articles.asp?ID=529).

I have never gone into the other side of the consciousness I had in mind as it as it relates to Jay-Z. It has to do with what he implies on the ‘Intro’ with the phrase ‘keen senses.’

The portion of the Minister’s statement that I’m building on, as it relates to consciousness is ‘the knowledge of the nature in which we are created.’ The only way that one comes into this understanding of self is by traveling – outwardly and inwardly – through the 5 paths by which we all learn: conversation, observation, reading, experience (which is always painful), and revelation/intuition. Getting to the heart of this, in a December 12, 1986 letter he wrote introducing his study guides, Minister Farrakhan writes:

“Each student, after studying the principle under analysis, must then analyze self and critique self. The study sessions, while leading the student to self-examination, first; self-analysis, second; self-correction, third; must simultaneously be therapeutic. Therefore, these sessions must be twofold, consisting of both theory and practice. The practice will refine the theory

After many years and travels in the world of entertainment, politics and business, I am growing to learn the difference between one having an ideology, a teaching or dogma, and one who understands the real-life struggle of trying to apply what you know and believe, in public.

In my view, what limits the appeal of what is categorized as ‘conscious’ rap is the usually narrow definition of that word, which seems to equate to only reading certain books. Many artists, for years, have gotten credit for being ‘conscious’ primarily by only memorizing and quoting things that they have read in the books of others. But are they really any more of an intellectual than someone like 50 Cent who co-authors a book -The 50th Law - based upon the insights of his own life experience in the light of the wisdom of the book, The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene?

In impressive fashion not only does he weave that knowledge into his lyrics but I’ve seen 50 represent his book on rap stations, local news outlets and respected financial media like CNBC, handling questions like a professor.

I intend to write on the decline of the conscious MC, soon. Part of their extinction is self-imposed.

In a sense their appeal is limited because their ‘story’ is limited to ‘theory.’ The practice that will refine the theory and the lessons that come from the attempt to apply that theory are not in their life experience, or perhaps, more importantly that particular artist is simply not able to explain their life experience as well as they are able to quote it as expressed by others.

Keeping those 5 ways in which we all learn in mind and are taught, I believe that while many others may have more overtly conscious or political content than Jay-Z none express it lyrically in more diverse, articulate, subtle, or penetrating ways.

Although Jay-Z certainly reads books, his ‘keen senses’ – enable him to learn in powerful ways from observation, experience, and intuition and communicate them in a conversational manner that no other rapper, in my view approaches. Therefore, he delivers something for teenagers, women, non-Blacks, the hood, the industry professional, and the politically inclined (if only they would listen).

It may be hard for some to realize (or accept) but on a sensory level Jay-Z is a more holistic learner and communicator – as an artist - than those that are labeled as ‘positive.’ It allows him to reach more with his personality and ‘message’ than they do.

His appeal is based on his ability to combine introspection (self-examination and self-analysis) with keen observations and an interesting life experience.

’Where do Blacks with crazy cash and knowledge of they self live at?

Teacher haven’t seen them,

Many sold their sold for cash.

- Wise Intelligent on the Poor Righteous track ‘Black Business.’

With those words, on ‘Black Business,’ Wise Intelligent, one of the most konscious and brilliant individuals I have come across and had the pleasure of building with, presents the challenge to all of us who pursue knowledge, wealth, and success.

In one of the best ‘public’ conversations I’ve ever had, here is what Wise said to me in 2005 when I asked him for his thoughts about Jay-Z:

“Wise Intelligent: I really want to say that Jay-Z is the best MC, lyrically, skill level, I have probably heard in the last ten years. Jay-Z is a phenomenon, lyrically, to me. He can take a rhyme where he wants. Jay-Z can tell a rhyme sit, and it sits. He says, ‘get up and go’, and the rhyme will get up and go. Jay-Z is definitely a talent. He can rhyme about anything he wants to rhyme about. He’s rhyming about what works for him right now. That’s it. He is more than just a rapper too, I see more than just a business man in him as well. There is something else there. I don’t know what, I ain’t trying to figure it out, but, hey, that’s Jay-Z to me.”

“There is something else there. I don’t know what…” is part of the secret to Jay-Z’s success. He has created a mystique and aura about him through the selective nature of his public appearance (note: the lack of movies, commercials, and advocacy and the rarity with which he grants in-depth interviews). As I have written in a previous column, “The Business of ‘Story’ (A Rapper’s Brand And Image) [http ://allhiphop.malt.maven.io/stories/editorial/archive/2010/01/12/22092307.aspx], the nexus point of his brand-reputation-image have had better alignment over a longer period of time than any other rapper in history. The result: he’s always interesting but not always easy to understand. That tension creates intrigue around him, his creative work and his career.

The only other person I have seen maneuver through the Hip-Hop culture and industry and maintain this kind of mystique, as I have said before, is Star of Star and Buc Wild (http://www.vladtv.com/videos/star-buc-wild/).

Is it any coincidence that Star’s philosophy Objective Hate is defined as, “The total belief in one’s self with the full understanding of man’s true nature.”

No form of consciousness - no matter how ‘political’ - that leaves out the self will be relevant in this new era we are entering.

“I had to lace up my boots even harder

Father is too far away to father Further-more all the kids either smoke reefer or either move white, there’s few writers in my cypher So they made light of, my type of dreams seem dumb, they said wise up How many guys-a, you see makin it from here The world don’t like us, is that not clear? Alright but.. I’m different, I can’t base what I’m gon’ be offa what everybody isn’t, they don’t listen Just whisperin behind my back

No vision, lack of ambition, so whack!”

Jay-Z, “So Ambitious,” Blueprint 3

But the something else that I have always seen in Jay-Z and equated it to a form of consciousness that most ‘conscious’ artists lack is his natural ability to teach in very profound and subtle ways – lyrically and in how he moves on the public stage.

There is a discipline and comfort with self that allows Jay to pass up what is not best for him, on a business level and permits him to handle being misunderstood (and criticized) while still saying and doing things with a positive impact (I don’t feel I have to list various things he has done of a charitable nature to support my point. The fact that so little of it is publicized is something to consider though.)

While the critics, ideologues, and guardians of ‘consciousness’ in rap have have expressed their view of him, Jay has been reaching and stimulating thought in people – young and older - that they could never reach in the way he does.

Here’s how one artist from Africa, Howee (http://www.howeemusic.com) who has also lived in the States recently described it to me:

“So as soon as I heard the 1st Blueprint album from Jay-Z I was going through it 4 real. Money and the motions that come with that life. I remember hearing ‘Izzo’ and I was like “hol’ on!! rewind that!”.

I never heard anyone speak on it like that. So I bought that CD, backdated and was like “mannnnn, he’s been saying this all these years??” I mean I had hard knock life in high school (my brother sent it for me from the states) but I didn’t know that world.

Reasonable Doubt changed my look on music and self expression with no boundaries. I was still been highly influenced by Tupac (who wasn’t?..till now too) so I payed attention to this double voice and back ups and what not. Jay-Z just made it more easier, more descriptive. I started writing poetry in between times. I never rapped until I got to Kenya.”

It may not be a popular thing to say but in different ways I’ve heard the same thing from others which Howee expresses ‘I was still been highly influenced by [you fill in the rapper’s name]. Jay-Z just made it more easier, more descriptive.’

The authority in my inner circle on Jay-Z’s lyrics, and maybe anywhere else for that matter, is a Hip-Hop Internet Marketer named Duane Lawton. Many people can say they’ve studied Jay’s lyrics or been inspired by them but he’s the only one I know who has actually written a book about them (BookofHov.com).

In 2007 when I read what he had done I just started using the phrase the ‘Book Of H.O.V.’ in reference to what I saw as his compilation and commentary on the teachings of Jay-Z. My friend E from Queens and I, to this day, speak to one another in code out of the ‘Book of 50,’ the ‘the ‘Book of Jeezy,’ the ‘Book of KRS,’ and just last week I quoted something from the ‘Book of N.W.A.’ which I’ll keep to myself (smile). I’m even dropping some lines from ‘The Book of Young Money.’

This goes on everyday with our culture. It’s real.

I asked Duane some questions about the teachings of Jay:

Cedric Muhammad: What made you start this kind of study?

Duane Lawton: I’ve been a big fan of Jay dating back to the beginning of his career. I embraced his debut, Reasonable Doubt, not because I lived that life but because I was ‘around’ it

and could relate. I was one year outta of high school and

to me that album was the voice of my era at the time.

Reasonable Doubt is a record that’s really just about ambition-

with swagger.

In Reasonable Doubt, Jay rhymed about hustling with a level

of wit and insight that I had never really heard before then and

that caught my attention. I was a cool and smart kid and when

I heard Reasonable Doubt I knew that his lyrics were conceived

from careful observations and enlightening experiences, which

shaped his profound perspectives. And Jay’s performances

on Reasonable Doubt were flawless; his rhymes were

driven by street cred delivered with the demeanor of “a college cat”.

And as a fan, I’ve been ‘riding wit him’ ever since.

Cedric Muhammad: How important are his lyrics to consciousness raising?

Duane Lawton: Jay-Z has his ear to the streets and he has the ear of the streets. But, as one of his famous sayings states, you gotta “get your mind right”. To be honest, sometimes I wish the consciousness in Jay’s lyrics weren’t so abstract. But at the same time I think listeners have to be hungry in order to partake in his food for thought.

The point I made in my ebook is that the listener has to be

able to deciper Jay’s lyrics. He rhymes alot (maybe a little

too much) about the drug trade. But his mindset as it relates

to hustling can be applied to any sort of ambition within the

context of family, business, education, politics, community, etc.

Cedric Muhammad: What can one learn from the Book of H.O.V.?

Duane LawtonI think listeners can learn that there is a ‘cost’ to ambition; physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally…

Success does not come without struggle, pain, jealousy &

envy, patience, solitude, unity, temptation, competition,

arrogance, humbleness…

Jay-Z is taking us to school. He’s like the most popular

guy in the school becoming the principal. If the most

popular guy in the school became the principal most of

the students would think it’s party time. But that cool

guy became the principal for a reason. There’s more

to him than his swag…

I’ll end by saying this: Jay-Z is featured

on “Light it Up” one of the songs off Drake’s upcoming

album. In the song Jay basically prophecies

on what Drake with go through as a result of his success

in the game and gives him advice on how to handle it.

It’s yet another hot verse by your boy Hov, but the verse

sort of sums up what Jay has been doing since back in

‘96: Showin’ us how to do this, son!


“Do you fools listen to music or do you just skim through it?

See I’m influenced by the ghetto you ruined That same dude you gave nothin, I made somethin doin what I do through and through and

I give you the news - with a twist it’s just his ghetto point-of-view…”

- Jay-Z; “Renegade”, The Blueprint

Last year at the American Music Awards, Jay-Z made a controversial statement recently that many people interpreted as directed at 50 Cent (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIwxIobtab4). Another moment where Jay-Z wanted to be puzzling and could care less about who misunderstood, because he was confident the right people would understand. And 50’s blunt reaction to the comment, if it were intended for him, I thought was good, too. Both of them were true to their respective brands-reputations-images (see the intro of my book to see what qualities 50 embodies better than anyone). It was another moment where the tension between competitors became an opportunity to teach where the goal is making a more powerful point than your ‘opponent,’ not manufacturing a phony scene for the consumption of the ignorant masses.

Unfortunately, the comment generated only the usual silly chatter that dominates so much of the culture and industry these days.

Lost in the usual superficial focus on manufactured ‘beef,’ was the lesser-noted reality that Jay was teaching once again. He knew people wanted him to say something disrespectful to 50 but rather than be aggressive, which is not his strength (and he learned that for certain in his ‘beef’ with Nas where he was the aggressor), he decided to just be himself, and allow people to be perplexed, offended or humored by his comment, ‘Men Lie, Women Lie, Numbers Don’t’ on the week that 50 Cent had disappointing sales for the release of his album, ‘Before I Self-Destruct.’

What was Jay teaching with the comment? An aspect of his business philosophy. About 5 years ago I learned from someone who did business with Jay-Z that he was reading and influenced by the book ‘Moneyball: The Art Of Winning An Unfair Game,’ by Michael Lewis. The publisher’s description of the book is:

Michael Lewis examines how in 2002 the Oakland Athletics achieved a spectacular winning record while having the smallest player payroll of any major league baseball team. Given the heavily publicized salaries of players for teams like the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees, baseball insiders and fans assume that the biggest talents deserve and get the biggest salaries. However, argues Lewis, little-known numbers and statistics matter more. Lewis discusses Bill James and his annual stats newsletter, Baseball Abstract, along with other mathematical analysis of the game. Surprisingly, though, most managers have not paid attention to this research, except for Billy Beane, general manager of the A’s and a former player; according to Lewis, “[B]y the beginning of the 2002 season, the Oakland A’s, by winning so much with so little, had become something of an embarrassment to Bud Selig and, by extension, Major League Baseball.” The team’s success is actually a shrewd combination of luck, careful player choices and Beane’s first-rate negotiating skills. Beane knows which players are likely to be traded by other teams, and he manages to involve himself even when the trade is unconnected to the A’s. ” `Trawling’ is what he called this activity,” writes Lewis. “His constant chatter was a way of keeping tabs on the body of information critical to his trading success.” Lewis chronicles Beane’s life, focusing on his uncanny ability to find and sign the right players. His descriptive writing allows Beane and the others in the lively cast of baseball characters to come alive.

Jay-Z was reading this book while serving as President of Def Jam Records. The book, Jay-Z told our mutual business associate reflected his (and my associate’s) way of doing business – relying upon numbers, statistics, and past history to judge performance and make decisions for the future.

That is what was at the root of his statement at the American Music Awards that he allowed others to misinterpret, for better or worse. Perhaps this is the gift and the curse with Jay-Z’s teaching and what Duane means when he says he wishes Jay-Z’s words weren’t so ‘abstract.’

“Ving ain’t lie

I done came through the block in everything that’s fly I’m like, Che Guevara with bling on, I’m complex I never claimed to have wings on Ni**a I get mine - by any means on whenever there’s a drought Get your umbrellas out because, that’s when I brainstorm You can blame Shawn, but I ain’t invent the game I just rolled the dice, tryin to get some change And I do it twice, ain’t no sense in me lyin as if, I am a different man And I could blame my environment but there ain’t no reason why I be buyin expensive chains Hope you don’t think users are the only abusers Ni***z, gettin high within the game If you do then, how would you explain? I’m ten years removed, still the vibe is in my veins I got a hustler spirit, ni**a period Check out my hat yo, peep the way I wear it Check out my swag’ yo, I walk like a ballplayer No matter where you go, you are what you are player And you can try to change but that’s just the top layer Man, you was who you was ‘fore you got here Only God can judge me, so I’m gone

Either love me, or leave me alone”

-Jay-Z; “Public Service Announcement (Interlude)”; The Black Album

So what’s next for rap’s least appreciated teacher?

Here are excerpts of quotes Jay-Z gave to a Canadian newspaper late last year:

“The challenge with rap music is, you know, the place where it’s white hot is with 16- and 15-year-olds. You have a lot of people who are 30-something, 30-plus, still recording music like they were 15 because that’s where the most urgent buyer is…There’s been this reluctance to mature in hip hop and when you do that, you leave the audience very narrow. My whole thing is to expand the audience and the genre of music in any way, because music is music…If I’m 35 years old and I’m talking like I’m 15 — the kids at 15, they change slang every week. They know that’s not being authentic. I live in Teaneck, New Jersey, somewhere, I’m not on the streets…I felt like that was my calling and that was my direction in life, to show artists in a different light, that we could ascend to executive positions of record companies….In the beginning, it was at its purest form because everyone was struggling. All great music and all great art, I believe, comes from pain. As hip hop started to get successful, and really successful — you had these guys coming from these neighbourhoods that were now millionaires — it’s tough to draw back to that place [of creativity]…. Now people are having those types of feelings: ‘You’re sounding lazy, you’re sounding formulaic, you’re sounding like the same subject matter. So what are you going to do?’ Now we’re facing that challenge to make great music like every other genre.”

There have been many who have expressed suspicion that Jay-Z’s success is partly due to his membership in some form of secret society. There is something very legitimate about this curiosity and fascination over his ability to reach mass popularity and access to very high social circles, while remaining revered on a street level. A very powerful elite does exist and they search for brilliant and popular ones among the poor through whom they can control the masses. And yes, there are secret societies which elite Blacks are part of and which have been manipulated toward this end.

Yet, there is something very harmful and dangerous about this suspicion as well, if such discussions do not take into account the nature of business and the fact that the people from whom Jay-Z comes were systematically denied the education of it.

Could it be that certain people have a hard time accepting Jay-Z’s rise and continued success not because of anything he or others are doing but because they lack a grasp of the science of business?

How deeply do those who detract from Jay-Z and attribute his rise primarily to the work of this powerful elite understand the 5%, 10%, and 85% concept as authored by Master Fard Muhammad?

So, the homework for next week is: careful study and review of Brand Nubian’s classic, ‘Meaning Of The 5%?’ at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLAmKnCfAnw

Things are about to get real interesting in this classroom…

Next week (Part II): What We Can All Learn From Jay-Z’s Business Model

Cedric Muhammad is a business consultant, political strategist, and monetary economist. He is a former GM of Wu-Tang Management and currently a Member of the African Union’s First Congress of African Economist. He’s the Founder of the economic information service Africa PreBrief (http://africaprebrief.com/) and author of ‘The Entrepreneurial Secret’ (http://theEsecret.com/). Cedric can be contacted via e-mail at: cedric(at)cmcap.com