On “4:44,” Jay-Z’s Got 99 Problems But Anti-Semitism Ain’t One

Why a curious lyric on Hova’s new album is not controversial

Jay-Z’s much-anticipated 4:44, his first record since 2013’s critically panned but awesomely titled Magna Carta Holy Grail, drops today. Fans are rightly scouring the release for any conceivable mention of Jay’s marital and familial drama—although Beyoncé, his wife, had the first and probably last word on the matter with Lemonade, her monumental “visual album” from last year. Listeners are also noticing a curious line in the song, “The Story of O.J.”

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.

On the surface, it would seem as if Jay-Z is trading on classically anti-Semitic notions of Jewish ubiquity and control. But before this escalates into controversy, I implore you all: Try a little harder.

Very little of the verse, and very little of the song itself, seems calibrated toward creating a generous or positive image of the speaker, who boasts about his shrewd investments in Brooklyn’s awful DUMBO neighborhood, and muses about the day he can pass on an $8 million artwork—bought for the peasant sum of $1 million—to his kids. The crassness motions toward a higher truth about Jay-Z and his often-complicated attitudes towards money, social status, and the hip-hop vocation writ large; crucially, that truth is being evoked through a raw and less-than-ideal version of the artist himself.

Bombast has been used as a semi-ironic mode of self-criticism pretty much since the dawn of hip-hop, and Hova is making a valid and even familiar artistic choice in dialing up the unseemliness. We also shouldn’t immediately assume that it’s Jay-Z himself who’s even talking here, strictly speaking. Relative artistic merits aside, teasing out the relationship between speaker and artist is no less important to understanding a rap song than it is to understanding a Shakespearean sonnet.

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SOURCE: Tablet Mag
Armin Rosen

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