On Sunday, Phil Mushnick at the NY Post wrote a piece called “The Obamas have a Jay-Z problem”, which contends that Obama’s association with Jay-Z is unacceptable. It’s a form of reverse racism, you see, that allows us all to stand by silently as the leader of the Free World carries on with a gang banger.
Would we allow other presidents, Mushnick asks, like George W. Bush to pal around with “an ex-con entertainer who wrote and performed songs loaded with hate for gays, women and black men, while boasting of his allegiance to illegally owning and discharging assault rifles and automatic handguns as tools of lawlessness and murder?”
First of all, Jay-Z is not an “ex-con.” He pleaded guilty on a misdemeanor assault charge stemming from a melee at a record release party in 1999 and was issued probation, not prison. Stupid, yes, but like the most objectionable of Mr. Carter’s lyrics that Mushnick quotes in making his argument, it was a long time ago.
“I keep a banger in the ankle, one in the hip. Two in the stash, one come up when I shift. I keep one under the chair where I sit. I even got a gun in the hair in the bun of my bitch,” he quotes Jay as saying in one of his songs. How can a pro-women president arguing for gun control possibly justify embracing such a person as a friend and campaign donor?
The lyric, from “Come and Get Me”, is from the 90s, along with the other one Mushnick uses to drive his point home, the even earlier “Face Off”: “Put ya guns up in the air if ya feel me. Fuck ‘em all day, fuck ’em all night. We don’t love these hoes.”
Is it possible people change? Is it possible Mushnick miseed some of Jay-Z’s more contemporary work, like “Murder for Excellence” from “Watch the Throne“, an anti-violence tirade that calls the gun epidemic in Chicago a “genocide”? Jay-Z says in that tune, “And they say by 21 I was supposed to die. So I’m out here celebrating my post-demise. If you put crabs in a barrel to ensure your survival. You’re gon’ end up pulling down niggas that look just like you. What up, Blood? What up, cuz? It’s all black, I love us.”
Is it possible that George W. Bush could have had some associations who, twelve to sixteen years before he was president, were less than presidential? We know W. himself was an alcoholic and cocaine user earlier in his life.
But aside from both President Obama’s and Jay-Z’s transformations from upstarts to world class acts, Mushnick is painfully oblivious to a cultural relativism that does still require some sensitivity. Yes, we have made great progress by electing our first black president. But the socioeconomic realities that confront minorities in this country are still all too real. All kids don’t compete on a level playing field. Condemning Jay-Z for all eternity for having started life as a drug dealer and some-time proponent of violence isn’t any more productive than it would be to condemn George W. Bush for having been a drunk and a drug abuser.
While we can hem and haw over the finer points in the lyrics of Jay-Z’s discography, broadly speaking Jay’s narrative is one of leaving behind street violence and finding success as a musician, businessman, father, and yes, contributor to the political process.
Not allowing for that transformation and expecting that all Obama’s associations will come with the pristine comportment of a Bush legacy is the only real racism I can see here. (Yes, Mushnick, I just called your article racist.)