Friday, April 4, 2008

Ranking Role Models

I like listening to rap music.

I purposely called it rap music because I know if I labeled what I listen to "Hip-hop" some random cat would stumble upon this post and point out that artists like UGK, Lil Wayne and Jay-Z don't really represent Hip-hop. And if I admitted that I used to blast No Limit and the entire Cash Money Records catalog in my youth, well the Hip-hop purists would have a fit if I lumped my music in with their "art."

That's cool.

In listening to rap music, I've become a pretty big fan of Jay-Z. Not only do I like the way he handles himself on the mic, but I've become a fan of the way he handles himself outside of the studio on most occasions. Sure, I have a problem with his glorification of drug dealing and his gross materialism, but does seem to be pretty intelligent cat who tends to look at the big picture. More importantly, his career arc, from corner hustler to CEO, is fairly impressive.

Need more proof? Read this.

That right there is a mogul move. Although the deal is built on the celebrity Jay-Z earned as a rapper, it is really impressive because of the business savvy it displays. The deal not only insures upfront revenue, but it establishes a continuous influx of funding while minimizing Jay-Z's own risk. This cat clearly has educated himself about business (after all he is a high school dropout) and is making very, very smart decisions.

So, is Jay-Z a suitable role model?

Before folks get really upset I've heard the "parents are the best role models" spiel many times and I agree with it. But, the reality is that way too many young black youth do not have positive role models in their homes and are eagerly searching for outside sources of inspiration and guidance. The question is should these children be looking up to hard-drinking, week smoking womanizer, who happens to be intelligent, hard-working and independent?

I would much prefer if Jay-Z had displayed the same business acumen while pursuing a career as a lawyer, doctor, stock broker or executive. If he was preaching education and moderation as much as he talked about hustling and splurging, well our young people might have a very different outlook on life. There can be no argument that music influences folks, and while that does not mean we should hold musicians responsible for the failings of society, we also should no ignore the realities of life.

Then again, lawyers, doctors, stockbrokers and executives have not exactly been immune to corruption and shady dealings, have they? As the recent subprime mortgage crisis and the criminal failings of BET have shown us, just because you have degrees and operate a legal business doesn't mean you aren't screwing up the world. In fact, given the paucity of rappers who have truly wide-reaching appeal, you could argue that it's us regular folks who are causing all the problems.

Personally, I think Jay-Z can serve as a role model. His music shows he possesses a real awareness of his place in the world and how he obtained that position. While his hustling mantra may wear thin, he rarely lies to youth about the risks and dangers associated with illegal behavior and he also tends to glorify hard work. More importantly, his core values--loyalty, independence, perseverance--are exactly the traits I would want any young person to possess.

There is no doubt that Jay-Z is a deeply flawed man, who presents an equally flawed example of how to live life. But, any role model that children choose will be flawed in some way, and most of them will be unable to capture the attention of today's youth in the same way that a millionaire rap star can. I'm not advocating for schools to start including Jigga in their black history month programs, but viewing him as symbol of all that is wrong in the world is equally misguided.



Truthiz said...

This is what I get for stumbling into this site and Appreciating it to the point that I return time-and-time again_LOL!

Okay Big Man, here’s my thoughts on the matter and I I’ll try to be brief.

You asked: “is Jay-Z a suitable role model?”

Yes, for aspiring “business” THUGS who identify moreso with “corporate” hustlers- vs-the street thugs and hustlers.

Jay-Z and his ilk will do IF we, as a people, have drifted so far backwards that now we’ll settle for the likes of Jay-Z as “suitable” and “inspirational” role model_?!

I certainly Hope that that is NOT the case!!!...because IF we’ve truly sunk to that level in Our Failure to appropriately address what ails far too many Black “families” and the collective Black community, then GOD helps Us, because we are on surely on a fast-road to self-extinction!

Your wrote:

“Sure, I have a problem with his glorification of drug dealing and his gross materialism, but he does seem to be pretty intelligent cat who tends to look at the big picture”

Exactly! Which is what makes the Jay-Zs and P-Diddys within the Black community among the most Dangerous of Our enemies!

Corporate Black thugs and hustlers with BRAINS, who could achieve Higher standards of “Excellence” across the board_ including music. But instead they choose to make millions by promoting all kinds of Fake-azz, and self-defeating IMAGES, peddling all kinds of sh*t to Our young people; a distorted music art-form that hardly resembles its original form, is just ONE example!

Frankly, I was never a big fan of mainstream rap or hip-hop, even in its original form. But it wasn’t the garbage that’s been passing for rap and hip-hip over the last 10-15 years.

BTW: About a year ago, I stumbled into the world of Underground rap and hip-hop. I could NOT believe my ears! Talented groups of musicians, vocalists and artists championing what they call "soul fusion.” Incredible and Intelligent music, (if you will) with a powerful social-political message. I'm definitely hooked!

But I digress.

In short, I pray that We will soon begin to really focus on repairing the broken Black family so that our children will not have to settle for the likes of Jay-Z to be a role model or inspiration.

Truthiz said...

One more thought_

IF, in 2008, the best we can do is Jay-Z and P-Diddy, Kobe Bryant, and Tiger Woods_Ooops, I forgot Tiger’s “NOT” Black_or Micheal Jackson_Ooops, my bad again!

Anyway, IF the best we can hold up as role-models are entertainers and a professional athletes, than I would argue that despite the obvious “progress’ we’ve made as a people, in other ways we’re actually worse off, in terms of our mentality and values and standards_ then during the time of Slavery, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement.

The “Family” is central” to our success, as a people, and the collective belief of Blacks was that WE are a “Great” people capable of doing "Great" things when:

1st: We hold ourselves to a much Higher standard. And_

2nd: we’re given a “good” Education and an Equal opportunity to compete.

Our Ancestors (even young people) were willing to protest, shed blood and even DIE for what they believed.

I will never concede the sacrifices of those great and courageous people who came before Us to a bunch of “Kneegrows” and Black Klansmen who, by their very deeds, do NOT share that same Appreciation for our heritage, our past and our future!

Big Man said...


Those were some serious posts. I'm going to think on your comments for a while and write something later.

I will say quickly that I think you are selling Jay-Z a little short, but let me think on a response to what you said.

And I can't believe you used Jason Whitlock's hated "Black Klansmen" phrase. If you weren't a loyal reader I might have ignored your comment completely for that one misstep.

WNG said...

What is sad is that we have sunk low enough to be looking to a few people who have 'made it' as role models for both the private and the business life. Should kids who want to be rappers or businesspeople be looking to Jay-Z's career for a roadmap? Possibly- I don't know. Should they be looking to him as a model of how to treat their families and friends or how to live their personal lives? Hell no. All he lets you see is the persona he wants you to (as with most celebrities) and you can't live your life as a persona. We, as a culture need to stop telling our kids to look up to celebrities, no matter how talented they are, on a personal level. There is a difference between admiring someone's career and their life. Our children need to be taught that. A role model is only good if that's the role you want to fill.

R. Lee Gordon said...

When speaking with children, I tell them it may be a better idea to considering being 50 Cent's business manager rather than 50 Cents, so that they can make 30 cents of every 50 cents 50 Cents makes, if that makes sense . . .

One in UniTee and all the blessed . . .

R. Lee Gordon

Truthiz said...

Big man wrote:

"And I can't believe you used Jason Whitlock's hated "Black Klansmen" phrase."

lol!_Yes, I am aware of Whitlock's use of the phrase.

But the truthiz, I actually began using that phrase about 5 years ago. And I've continued to use it on occasion.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Gye Greene said...

How 'bout Obama as a role model for young black males? Compassionate, intelligent, straight-shootin' yet diplomatic, and etc.

re: rap -- If you'd be so kind... I like the **sound** of rap, but sometimes have a problem with the lyrics. Dunno what the breadth of your musical tastes within the genre are, but can you recommend a few artists or groups that go easy on the cussin' and the misogyny, but still have intelligent rhymes and good backing instrumentation?

I like Public Enemy, Disposable Heroes of Hiphopricy, Digital Underground, NWA (the sound, not some of the naughty language), Onyx (the sound), Arrested Development, even the first M.C. Hammer album! (you can probably guess my age based on my examples...)

Any recommendations?

Thanks! :)


Gye Greene said...

Oh: And the older stuff from D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (editorial comment: back before Will dumped all his buddies and went solo...). And Sir Mix-a-Lot (Mack Daddy).



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