by Yvette Carnell
Talk about out of touch. I guess since the chief ingredient of Jay-Z’s success formula has always been dumbing it down for black youth, then commoditizing on a largely fictitious hood life, I shouldn’t be surprised at his attempt to co-opt Occupy Wall Street’s momentum. After all, this is what hip hop has become hasn’t it? A genre where artists with less than stellar lyrical skills spout outlandish nonsense and then capitalize on it? If you whip black kids into a frenzy about 24/7 alcohol and weed laced celebrations, instant gratification, or over the top materialism, you’re sure to get offered a clothing or liquor line, right?
Anyway, I’m sure Russell Simmons thought himself a marketing genius when he tweeted a picture of himself standing beside Jay-Z, who was wearing an “Occupy All Streets” (how clever) t-shirt. Simmons, who has been providing “spiritual” support (he dragged Kanye to OWS and did yoga in Zuccotti Park) for the movement has, I’m sure, been chomping at the bit for a way to merchandise the movement. And if Jay-Z had agreed to throw a little cash in OWS’s direction, the little stupid shirts probably would’ve been a big hit. The problem, though, is that those at the pinnacle of hip hop eminence are no different than those at the pinnacle of most other capitalistic industries: They’re greedy.
After Russell Simmons tweeted the photo of Jay-Z in the t-shirt, Rocawear issued a statement saying that the company had not made a commitment to monetarily support the Occupy Wall Street movement. So wait, Jay-Z’s clothing company Rocawear was selling t-shirts for $22 that were based off the OWS movement, a movement which has at its core the idea that the one percent are hoarding wealth from the 99 percent, but Rocawear didn’t plan on giving any of the money made from the t-shirts back to the movement from which it stole the t-shirt idea?
Considering the fact that both Jay-Z and Russell Simmons are unhinged from the plight of the people who still live hip hop, I’m not surprised at their rush to commoditize the OWS movement. They may look like hip hop and sound like hip hop, but that’s because they’re master branders, not because they live hip hop or embrace the primordial spirit of the genre.
However, I’m sure both Jay and Russell are surprised that their hustle didn’t take this time. What they don’t get is the same thing that the Tea Party doesn’t get and the same that Wall Street doesn’t get and so on and so forth. No one begrudges any entrepreneur for putting in work and getting paid handsomely for their efforts. To the contrary, we love it. We’re inspired by it. What we find repugnant, however, is the way in which the one percent appropriates the human capital of 99 percent for personal gain.
The gossip site TMZ is reporting that it spoke to Occupy Wall Street leader Grim, who had this to say , “Jay-Z, as talented as he is, has the political sensibility of a hood rat and is a scrotum. To attempt to profit off of the first important social moment of 50 years with an overpriced piece of cotton is an insult to the fight for economic civil rights known as Occupy Wall Street.” Now that sounds like real hip-hop. Somebody should write a song about it.