“I don’t know what you take me as, or understand the intelligence that Jay-Z has” 99 Problems

Preface: This is a brief look at the concepts of intelligence, juxtaposition, and irony as viewed from a cultural studies perspective on pop culture and music. I’m simply pointing out my observations as though I was studying an artifact. My simple disclaimer is that where quoting was required, there is adult language (whatever that means) so be prepared. I haven’t seen anybody write something like this yet so follow me on this for just a sec. Read and watch each item and think w/ me on this one:

I’ve studied rap artist and business mogul Jay-Z as a cultural icon for many years now and I mean it when I say that this is one of the most interesting things I’ve come across regarding his life. Irrelevant of the production quality of the vid, what you are about to learn is definitely an eye opener that will make you question your judgements, misperceptions, and prejudices in and out of music/entertainment.

Many people prematurely write-off hip-hop culture and rappers as being unintelligent trouble makers whose music makes no sense (…basically summarizing the common statements I hear from people who don’t like rap music). Well, watch this quick video and read the accompanying synopsis and see if you feel any different. I’m confident you’ll feel like he’s onto something which you may be just now discovering. If nothing else, it will feel like things just don’t add up in your head. It is that same discomfort that I often think is purposely delivered to us in order to make a point similar to how many great comedians jar our thought processes throughout their routines. Some of you will be thinking: “Jay-Z? The guy with Beyoncé? Rappers? …Books? Oprah?!?! Evolution, physics, Greek mythology, and 10,000 hours of practice? Huh!? All of these are the 5 most influential books that have shaped Jay-Z?”

(LOL) Yessir! If these are the most influential books, then this has to make you wonder about all the other texts Jay must have read by now that we may never have even heard of hahaha. To quote a line from Good Will Hunting, “my boy is wicked smaaaarrrt!”

Irregardless of the tone of the video, it is probably hard for most people to comprehend that he managed to get his hands on these texts. For those of you just learning about Jay, I’m going to be quite blunt and get you up to speed on his past life. Basically, Jay is from Marcy Projects in Brooklyn, NY and had been dealing crack cocaine up and down the East coast throughout the 1980’s and early 90’s until he recognized (or rather, his friends recognized) his innate talents for rhyming/rapping/performing and convinced him to give up dealing drugs to pursue a music career. After countless attempts at trying to get a record deal, he and his friends decided to start their own music label (self financed…)

In the past 14 years, Jay-Z has climbed the charts and grown his personal net worth to over half a billion dollars.  You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried (which is part of the reason why I have been observing his trajectory as a cultural icon). It’s all simply his life’s course playing out in front of our eyes and in our ears. As he recently said in his latest album Blueprint 3: “Can’t chill, but my neck will / haters really gonna be mad off my next deal / I don’t know why they’re worried bout my pockets / meanwhile had Oprah chillin in the projects / had her out in Bed-Stuy chillin on the steps / drinkin quarter waters, I gotta be the best / MJ at Summer Jam, Obama on the text / ya’ll should be afraid of what I’m gon’ do next, hold up!” (On To The Next One)

There has to be something at his core that clicked for him and made life so understandable at an early age. Whatever it was, I think it is collectively found in these 5 texts – as ironic as it my sound…

Here’s a brief synopsis of these books:

The Seat of the Soul is about human evolution and focuses on the requirements for living an authentic life. It is often found in the New Age section of most book stores.

The Celestine Prophecy focuses on experiencing synchronicity and following the paths that the “random coincidences” in your life lead you down.

The Odyssey by Homer tells the life journey of a Greek character named Odysseus as he travels home from a 10 year war (written approximately 3000 years ago).

Outliers states the claim that people with extraordinary success have attained such positions through unparalleled hours of practice and preparation. The magic number for success is argued here to be 10,000 hours of doing something in order to fully master it…practice, practice, practice.

Lastly, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable is a unique look at innovative marketing. The premise is that a purple cow would stand out in a field more than your usual cow because it’s something nobody has seen before. Therefore, it captures your attention and would force you to make a remark about it (it would move you to do something). It would be remarkable to witness.

Confused? Well, the nuts and bolts of it is that Jay-Z (birth name Shawn Carter) is one very intelligent human being irregardless of his choices in 9 – 5’s. He even says multiple times in his lyrics (such as the title of my blog post) that he ‘gets it’. So whether or not you ‘get’ him is your own personal problem. His Twitter profile says all that needs to be said:

A couple random lyric selections:

“I’m so far ahead of my time, I’m about to start another life, look behind you, I’m about to pass you twice. Back to the future gotta slow up for the present, I’m fast, [they] can’t get past my past” from Hovi Baby off of Blueprint 2

“I’m not a rapper, I’m a hustla. Just so happens I know how to rap” from an Intro track off of In My Lifetime, Vol. 1

And you can see how far ahead of the curve Jay is in his song Ignorant Shit in which he dedicates an entire song to telling you how ridiculous it is that he is really an intelligent artist, but you don’t want an intelligent rapper. You want a dumb ass that says ‘ignorant shit’ that entertains you. Literally, he made a song telling listeners (and critics) that he knows he has to dumb it down for the masses since it is still just entertainment. And entertainment is all (unfortunately) you are asking out of him. But, if you listen closely you might just learn something within his lyrics.

Did you catch the double entendres Jay is famous for? “I missed the part when it stopped being bout Imus / what do our lyrics got to do with this shit? / Scarface the movie did more than Scarface the rapper to me / still that aint to blame for all the shit that’s happened to me / are you tellin me what I’m spittin is worse than these celebritants showing their kitten / you kidding?”

Ready for the real irony (especially if your musical tastes are on the other end of the spectrum)? Jay’s approach on Ignorant Shit is no different from the impetus behind Sara Bareilles’ song, “Love Song”:

🙂 haha, yes, I did just put Jay-Z and Sara Bareilles in the same blog post! That’s the point. It messed with your expectations and maybe made you think about something you otherwise would’ve never thought could relate. Contextually, as much of a juxtaposition as you see before you, the commonality here is that both of them are flexing their artistic talents and intellects…Reportedly, Sara was being forced by her record label to write a love song on her new album, so she wrote a song about not writing a love song and aptly titled it as such to appease their requests.

Thank you for reading! I hope you’ve learned something.

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~ by Adam Maikkula on August 6, 2010.

3 Responses to ““I don’t know what you take me as, or understand the intelligence that Jay-Z has” 99 Problems”

  1. If you be postin’ bout Jay-Z, I feel bad for you son. Dr. Dre made 99 million dollars, and your post ain’t made one.

  2. I’ve grown an appreciation for the man in the past few years and this intelligent article backs up my view, and was entertaining to read!

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