(August 17, 2019). Rap’s first “billionaire” Jay-Z is getting dragged this week for teaming with the NFL in what is largely viewed as yet another corporate move disguised as an NFL cultural awareness campaign.
Yep, it’s the same NFL that banished former quarterback Colin Kaepernick three years ago for peacefully protesting social injustices against (and police-involved killings of) black and brown people across the USA. It’s the National Football League with which Jay-Z is now partnered – the organization from which he won’t be able to separate himself going forward as it awkwardly continues to navigate its own fine line between racial disparity and social justice (a dilemma it created for itself, by the way).
Separately, two weeks ago, Donald Trump – the president whose election partially stemmed from the racial divide that resurfaced in the wake of high-profile police shootings of blacks (and the resultant protests) – stumped on behalf of A$AP Rocky, the New York rapper accused (and convicted) of physical assault… in Sweden of all places.
Although convicted in Sweden’s legal system, Rocky will serve no jail time (he was allowed to return to the U.S. the week before a verdict was reached). Some believe Trump’s tweeting on A$AP’s behalf helped his cause.
Trump’s move was seen by many as opportunistic, as it came during a time when he was on the hot seat (actually there is no seat too hot for him) for his own racist remarks. There are too many to list them all here, but the ones in play then were related to a predominantly black district in the city of Baltimore, or the “rat and rodent infested mess that no human being would want to live in,” as Trump put it, and the four freshman U.S. congresswomen (of color) who Trump said should “go back to where they came from.” All four are U.S. citizens and three were born here.
But of more relevance to this blog is A$AP, the beneficiary of Trump’s dubious campaigning whose stance on the whole Black Lives Matter movement is anything but ambiguous.
A$AP made it clear in a 2015 rant on Time Out that, to this day, doesn’t sit well with the woke community. “I don’t wanna talk about no fucking Ferguson (Missouri) and shit because I don’t live over there! I live in fucking Soho and Beverly Hills. I can’t relate,” he angrily said. “I’m in the studio; I’m in these fashion studios; I’m in these bitches’ drawers. I’m not doing anything outside of that. That’s my life.”
With those stated priorities, it’s hard to hold A$AP to a higher moral or cultural standard than you would, say, a U.S. president, but the comments were still revealing…and jarring.
A$AP later clarified in a 2016 interview on the Breakfast Club radio show that he was just upset about “bandwagon” protesters and that black lives should matter whenever anyone takes one, not just when a policeman does.
But the damage had already been done, and as we all know, words definitely matter. During his recent dilemma, A$AP received both support from fans for his release from Sweden’s legal justice system (“where’s the justice for A$AP” being their rally cry), and disdain from the conscious community for his earlier stance – with the latter group recalling his 2016 statements and relegating his legal situation to karma at its best.
After all, as some have put it, A$AP, whose real name is Rakim Athelaston Mayers, is still “just another black man” to many, especially those who don’t know shit about him or his celebrity status. Whether he realizes it or not, if he gets pulled over on a dark street one night for having a burnt-out tail light or an expired state tag, the men in blue won’t be asking him about his rap credentials before assuming the braided 30-year-old is just another “thug” looking for trouble.
Then there’s Kanye West and his well-known, professed allegiance to the current White House occupant. It’s not worth exploring much more here than to highlight it as yet another example of high-profile rappers who choose such strange bedfellows.
In Kanye’s case, his Trump connection seems more about the freedom to choose who he supports politically and the notion that blacks (or rappers, for that matter) shouldn’t be viewed as monolithic.
Again, true and good points indeed.
But Trump, Kanye?
I get it, this president is a frequent target of black folks’ disdain, and given that there’s no culturally offensive floor below which he’s willing to sink, the opportunities will only grow larger. I also get that groupthink can be a dangerous thing and we as black people shouldn’t fall into it.
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t question the kept company of celebrities who profess to be thought-leaders, as Jay-Z and to a lesser extent Kanye West purportedly are, whether by their words or their actions. (A$AP, by his inclusion here, is just collateral damage, an unwitting and unapologetic non-activist who likely will be remembered more for his Swedish problems than for any future hit albums).
As for Trump’s role, perhaps he was informed of A$AP’s prior BLM stance when he chose to lobby for the rapper’s release from a Swedish jail. One has to wonder if he would have done the same for a rapper with the exact opposite view, or any Trump antagonist for that matter.
In the wake of it all, the POTUS gets to say he lobbied hard for a fellow American (against a foreign country) – a sentiment that plays well to his nationalist base. The fact that the American was black supports that same base’s views that Trump isn’t a racist after all, or even worse, the belief that racism doesn’t even exist in Trump’s America.
As for Jay-Z, the NFL move could be just the latest in a long line of corporate moves designed to grow his brand. After all, as he told us more than a decade ago, he’s not a businessman, he’s a business, man! The rap mogul, who will be 50 this December, isn’t the richest rapper in America this year for nothing.
The NFL certainly benefits from its alliance with the rapper, who has an unquestionable track record of social awareness and activism throughout his career, including on Kaepernick’s behalf. It was Jay-Z who only last year criticized the NFL’s handling of the ousted QB.
Yet the NFL now gets to point to Jay-Z whenever anyone criticizes the league for its lack of racial sensitivity or its slow progress in race relations. Or worse, the NFL may even feel like this move absolves it of any further responsibility or accountability for the Kaepernick fiasco (the QB is still unemployed by the league, but reportedly settled a lawsuit against it for eight figures).
But there’s the off-chance that Jay-Z’s liaison with the NFL will also cause some cultural change, at least within the league. It’s the healing “conversation” that Jay-Z wants to start.
We’ll see, but odds are that the NFL is still a slow-moving ship that won’t be steered that easily.
And Jay-Z is just along for the long, rocky ride.
No pun intended, A$AP.
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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