Jay-Z’s newest album 4:44 may be a critical and commercial smash, but not everyone is pleased with it.
The Anti-Defamation League criticized the rapper for a couple of lyrics it considered anti-Semitic soon after its release last Friday.
In the song “The Story of O.J.,” he rapped, “You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a strip club? Credit/ You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America? This how they did it.”
A spokesperson from the ADL told Rolling Stone that while the organization doesn’t believe Jay-Z meant “to promote anti-Semitism,” the lyric is concerning:
“The lyric does seem to play into deep-seated anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews and money. The idea that Jews ‘own all the property’ in this country and have used credit to financially get ahead are odious and false. Yet, such notions have lingered in society for decades, and we are concerned that this lyric could feed into preconceived notions about Jews and alleged Jewish ‘control’ of the banks and finance.”
The statement comes after some fans reacted negatively to the lyrics on social media, as the album shot to platinum status.
“Jay-Z explains that the antisemitic theory of Jewish owning all the property in America is the result of smart business practices,” tweeted one user.
Though the rapper himself hasn’t commented on the controversy, several notable members of the music community rushed to Jay-Z’s defense.
Guy Oseary, the Jerusalem-born manager to acts like Madonna and U2, posted a photo of himself with Jay-Z to Instagram.
“If you read the lyrics out of context I can understand why people are jumping to that conclusion,” he wrote in the post’s caption. “But if you listen to the song in its entirety you will hear that the whole of the song is based on exaggerated stereotypes to make a point.”
In fact, Oseary said, the rapper was trying to”showcase a community of people that are thought to have made wise business decisions. . . . As an example of what is possible and achievable.”
“In my opinion, Jay is giving the Jewish community a compliment,” he concluded.
In a series of tweets, meanwhile, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons said, “First, let me state that mischief makers would like to take Jay’s statements about the culture and practices that exist within some parts of the Jewish community (notice I say some). The fact is this culture that promotes good business and financial well being is and has been a guiding light to the black and specifically the hip-hop community.”
Jay-Z’s lyrics being met with simultaneous praise and criticism is par for the course at this point.
Since his 1996 debut record Reasonable Doubt, there’s been a dichotomy to his work. On one hand, he’s long been praised for being one of the earliest (and loudest) voices in a liberating genre, one that gave black artists a mainstream voice in music. On the other hand, critics say, his lyrics have often been tinged with misogyny, homophobia and now anti-Semitism.
Given that Jay-Z has released albums now for more than two decades, the examples are plentiful.
In his early work, for example, Jay-Z used the word “faggot” with some regularity, always seemingly meant as an insult. (An example from “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)”: “Faggots hate when you gettin’ money like athletes.”) Years later, though, he came out in support of gay marriage. On his newest record, in fact, his mother Gloria Carter came out as a lesbian.
By Jay-Z’s own accounts, his life experiences have informed some of his lyrical changes. After he and wife Beyoncé had their daughter Blue Ivy Carter in 2012, the rapper said he would no longer use the word “bitch” in his songs. By that point, though, he had used the word in 109 out of his 217 songs, according to Time, which added, “That’s 50.2% of Jay-Z’s entire lyrical output.”
Jay-Z’s involvement with politics, though, arguably sparked the most criticism of his former lyrics. The rapper publicly supported both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, endorsements which launched a thousand opinion pieces focusing on his past lyrics.
“President Barack Obama celebrates Jay-Z and elicits his support, yet it is difficult to believe POTUS the parent would ever want his adolescent daughters exposed to Jay-Z’s serial characterization of women as ‘bitches’ and ‘hos,’” wrote columnist Norman Chad in 2013.
“Jay Z repeatedly drops n-word, f-bomb during concert for Hillary Clinton,” read a 2016 Business Insider headline.
Even Donald Trump, as a presidential candidate, brought up Jay-Z’s lyrics.
“I actually like Jay-Z, but you know the language last night,” Trump said during a 2016 campaign event. “I was just thinking maybe I should just try it, should I use that language for one event? Can you imagine if I said that? So he used every word in the book. I won’t even use the initials, because I’ll get in trouble, they’ll get me in trouble. He used every word in the book last night.”
On the other hand, though, Obama quoted Jay-Z in a speech on the 50th anniversary of Alabama state troopers attacking nonviolent, mostly black protesters marching from Selma to Montgomery. Recently, in fact, the former president helped induct Jay-Z into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, calling him “a true American original.”
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