Updated: Jun 21, 2019
Friday evening at 10:30 p.m. on April 27th, while many of us across the world were knee deep in Avengers: ENDGAME mania, quietly a cultural icon took the stage.
This rap pioneer delivered a powerful 90 minute performance that evening at Webster Hall, an intimate venue located in Manhattan, New York.
During a week where headlines were scheduled to be dominated by news ranging from: the NBA Playoffs, the NFL Draft, Marvel Box Office Records, and Game Of Thrones, a rapper/entrepreneur from the Marcy projects managed to steal a moment all for himself.
This man of course, is Jay-Z.
Highlighted by what many are calling a new clarion call for black solidarity & collective economic empowerment. This performance titled "The B-Sides 2" was the sequel to the legendary "The B-Sides 1," but it was not nearly as anticipated as its predecessor.
"The B-Sides Part 1" held in May of 2015 at "The Terminal" also in New York, was the first of its kind. The Tidal event was a milestone for then up and coming streaming service. Used to help encourage new subscribers to join the then service while also serving as an opportunity for Jay-Z to deliver an ode to his long time die hard fanbase.
"The B-Sides 2" had none of the previous iterations fan fare and from all indications intentionally ditched the mass marketing campaigns all together. Which resulted in many self proclaimed Jay-Z super fans, having no clue that the performance was even taking place. It wasn't until after video clips began to emerge online, that the community began to roar with adulation & enthusiasm.
Thanks to (Tidal), camera phone technology and the proliferation of social media, many of us were given a virtual front row seat to enjoy to the show.
Beyonce's scene stealing might have captured everyone's attention early on that night, as she was once a again shining like the Queen of our culture, but no she shared the trending topics with her King that evening.
The on stage reunion/healing moment between Jay-Z & Cam'Ron, a rap beef that reportedly led to the 2002 breakup of the infamous Roca-Fella records, brought smiles to many rap fans faces. That headline alone would have been enough for Hip-Hop culture to discuss and write about for a few weeks.
But that wasn't the moment that allowed President of Rap to once again thrust his name across our timelines and into our minds. It something even more rare than that, Jay-Z debuted a new freestyle live on stage.
Over 48 hours later these new bars have already inspired thousands of posts, tweets, comments, articles, and BLOGS (like this one). HOV dedicated the freestyle as a tribute to the late Great "Nipsey Hussle," and then doubled down by delivering a thunderous call for economic empowerment, financial freedom, and community empowerment within black & minority communities.
Music as an art form has always inspired me, but I acknowledge it also has the ability affect some negatively. Instead of judging the merit of the lyrics, or the author's intent, since art is truly subjective. We felt it would be more impactful to examine the core concepts being addressed in the verses. Define what they actually mean, and let you be the ultimate judge.
Let's dive right into verse that has stood out the most:
"Gentrify your own hoods"
Wikipedia defines Gentrification as:
"A process of renovating deteriorated urban neighborhoods by means of the influx of more affluent residents. This is a common and controversial topic in politics and in urban planning. Gentrification can improve the material quality of a neighborhood, while also potentially forcing relocation of current, established residents and businesses, causing them to move from a gentrified area, seeking lower cost housing and stores."
Typically when we hear the term "Gentrification" it is being used in reference to a historically minority community, and the actions of that force/promote the current residents to be pushed out in favor of new neighbors with a lot more paper (money).
"Gentrify you own hood, before these people do it" Is a quote you will most likely see on many t-shirts and hashtags for the rest of 2019. This bar, more so than the rest is what has caught everyone's attention.
While the mix of the reactions have been mostly "Great, good, bad, or in between." The echo has truly resounded through out our community.
Knowing the many instances & accomplishments of both Beyonce & Jay-Z's public philanthropic & social justice work the way we do, it is highly doubtful that this is what he was advocating. In fact most have already argued that we was actually (clearly) promoting self improvement/empowerment.
"Claim Eminent Domain"
You might not see this one on a t-shirt, but undoubtedly it will be repeated often enough.
Wikipedia defines Eminent Domain as:
Eminent domain in the United States refers to the power of a state or the federal government to take private property for public use while requiring "just" compensation to be given to the original owner. It can be legislatively delegated by the state to municipalities, government subdivisions, or even to private persons or corporations, when they are authorized to exercise the functions of public character. The property may be taken either for government use or by delegation to third parties, who will devote it to public or civic use or, in some cases, to economic development.
Like all tools, eminent domain, serves a utility. Meaning it has specific function that if yielded ideally, can create desired positive outcomes. How governments choose to deploy and utilize this tool, is where cause for concern comes in.
At its core, government serves the will of the people and to ensure law & order. So for example, lets say a local neighborhood group noticed that an old abandoned factory in their community, was causing a blight or nuisance in the area. These citizens could ban together, petition their local government to condemn the property, or seize the land. This land could then be converted to a park, business center, or community resource hub.
Conversely "eminent domain" can also be used to serve other interests that do not originate from the community. For example if a group of land developers from outside the community took interest or targetted certain neighborhoods. Typically the developers are looking for property that is low cost to acquire.
Thanks to policies, loopholes, and sometimes bad actors, influential entities have unfortunately been able to have whole apartment buildings and areas condemned or seized for their sole financial gain. With little to no regard for the people or culture that permeated the land previously.
"They Red Line us, so property declines..."
BlackPast.org, an online reference center defines "Redling" as:
"A discriminatory pattern of disinvestment and obstructive lending practices that act as an impediment to home ownership among African Americans and other people of color. Banks used the concept to deny loans to homeowners and would-be homeowners who lived in these neighborhoods. This in turn resulted in neighborhood economic decline and the withholding of services or their provision at an exceptionally high cost.
The origin of the term stems from the policies developed by the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) created in 1933 by the Franklin Roosevelt Administration to reduce home foreclosures during the Depression and then institutionalized by the 1937 U.S. Housing Act which established the Federal Housing Association (FHA). Federal housing agencies including the HOLC and the FHA determined whether areas were deemed unfit for investment by banks, insurance companies, savings and loan associations, and other financial services companies. The areas were physically demarcated with red shading on a map. In contrast, zones which were to receive preferential lending status were marked in green shading and intermediate areas in blue shading. Often these decisions were arbitrarily based on the area’s racial composition rather than income levels. While the practice was almost universal before 1968, the Civil Rights Act passed that year theoretically outlawed redlining."
If you are still following, let me pull up out the main takeaway from paragraph above, from 1937 till 1968 (over 30 years) it was legal for our banks and other businesses to deny loans/services and resources to Black Americans.
Let's set aside for a moment the fact that in the United States, homeownership has proven to be the greatest mechanism towards building generational wealth.
Let's also forget, the mental & physical trauma human beings must endure when they are perpetually and systematically denied access to basic needs (safety, shelter, & sustenance)
My mother was born in the 1940s.
My wifes mother was born in the 1950s.
Meaning from the day they were both born, up until they were both well into adulthood, our country could legally deny them home loans, insurance, and other vital financial services.
The racist and discriminatory practice of redlining not only devastated the millions of Americans who were alive during this period. Its effects have cascaded, impacting, and disenfranchising generations of Black & Minority American children as it was intended.
"Crabs in a barrel, but crabs don't belong in the barrel..."
Urban Dictionary defines "Crabs in a barrel" as:
A syndrome where a person, group, or subculture of like situated people hurt those in their community attempting to get ahead. Often this is applied to people in an impoverished community where one person is starting to get ahead. The collective community becomes jealous or filled with a sense of self-loathing, so they find a way to pull that person back down to the community’s level.
It comes from the story of catching crabs in a bucket. When you catch a crab and place him in a bucket, the first thing he'll try to do is escape. Now, if you put two crabs in a bucket (hence the plural form of 'Crabs in a Bucket') and place them in there together, as soon as one tries to climb up out of the bucket the other will grab the escaping crab by the legs and try to escape itself, to which the process gets repeated to the point where NO crabs end up escaping.
This one is pretty self explanatory.
Rather than give you another set of examples and interpretations, let's take a step back and look at "The Freestyle" as whole.
On his tribute freestyle for the late Great "Nipsey Hussle" Jay-Z;
-Encourages collective unity & economic empowerment
"Gentrify your own hoods & claim eminent domain"
-Acknowledges the systemic levers of oppression designed to keep specific communities in turmoil
"They redline us, so the property declines if you live by Blacks"
-Calls out the false stereotypes and sometimes self fulfilling characterizations that are too often attributed to and accepted by Black & Minority Communities
"Crab in a barrel but crabs don't belong in a barrel, and they ain't never tell us that, so we act how we act."
-Returns to the call for collective action & unity
"We can easily get out the barrel if we stand on each others back"
Personally this freestyle stand outs as one of most poignant lyrical compositions I have heard in the last year. (5 mics) for relevant content, great delivery, perfect timing, and impeccable presentation. Though I will acknowledge being a long time fan of both Nipsey Hussle & Jay-Z might place me at the precise intersection for maximum impact.
So I will end this blog with a question for you.
Was the freestyle impactful? Will people in our communities learn or take anything from the subject matter? Or will this moment be lost in the media news shuffle, along with Direwolves, Infinity Stones, and Damian Lillard memes?