New Slaves vs The Story Of OJ

I was thinking of doing a long in depth analysis of the Story of OJ vs New Slaves, but the songs do a good job of explaining themselves.  Take a listen

 

Key points to ponder:

  • OJ Simpson, during his trial back in the day, mentioned that he didn’t identify as black. The irony is race was the focal point of his defense.
  • “Niggas” are a collective. No matter how you try to differentiate, niggas are still niggas. Jay-Z tries to activate the collective consciousness of the black plight. While I see what Jay is saying, the black population/experience in the US isn’t monolithic. While there are collective experiences (injustice, racism, etc) black people experience, there’s geographic, socioeconomic, educational, lineage differences that create a segmented reality. For example, I don’t have drug money and therefore cannot use it to buy the neighborhood. That’s a whole set of experiences I’m just not exposed to.
  • Jay tries to put people on game…. Buy assets that appreciate and don’t give in to the consumerist lifestyle/ trying to keep up with the Jones. To Jay, black people in America can only improve if they focus on asset acquisition.

Take a listen to New Slaves.

 

Key points from New Slaves:

  • Kanye is a very angry place when he made this album. This song is initially a moment of expression about his current challenges around engaging the fashion community. He feels like the gatekeepers of fashion don’t accept his ability to enter the space. So while the song has racial features, the ultimate struggle he’s arguing against is gatekeepers of consumerist culture.
  • Like I mentioned, Kanye invokes a lot of racial history and visuals. He makes a pivot into a larger audience in the first verse though; “Use to only be niggas, now everybody’s playing.” This differs from Jay’s approach as Kanye is speaking to a larger group than black people. He’s speaking to the power dynamic between consumers and corporations.
  • Kanye talks about all the other institutions that corporations own/run/influence and ultimately scheme to keep the status quo.
  • Kanye’s solution to fighting the man is to increase his voice, tear down walls/ misconceptions, and share with the world through his music. Oh yes, can’t forget sleeping with the mans spouses… I believe its a reference to the old slave masters fear of their spouses being raped by slaves and how its manifested presently in how black men are perceived in our society today.

The Story of OJ and New Slaves share a lot of the same imagery and messaging around slavery and racism. They both talk about power dynamics of the oppressed and the oppressor. Ultimately, they are reflection of Jay-z and Kanye and where they were in life. Jay has risen to prominence through flipping / selling value to his community. Not to put downplay Jay-z’s accomplishments, but he hasn’t done anything revolutionary.  Kanye, on the other hand, is less of a business person and more of a creative. He’s faced people, even Jay at times, that wanted him to stay in his lane (ex: as a producer). Kanye’s had to fight and prove his ability to gatekeepers at every point of his career. New slaves is a critique on institutions that prevent him from actualizing his creative potential.

Ranking The Best Rappers Of All Time: A Quantitative Approach

Everyone has a top 5 best rappers list. It normally looks like:

  1. 2pac
  2. Biggie
  3. Jay-z
  4. Eminem
  5. Nas

Give or take a few people… How does one arrive at a top 5 list to begin with?

Well, Rap Genius made a top 99 list , 2pac and Biggie took one and two respectively. Their metrics of evaluation were based off the 2015 billboard ranking  They made the list based on the following:

  1. The opinion of rapper’s; because who better to judge than other professionals?
  2. The opinion of the public; because it’s the largest population sample
  3. The opinion of critics; because they’re experts who put extra thought into it.

PinkCookies (a top rated user on Rap Genius) went through these categories and gave a rapper 10 points for being 1st, 1 point for being last or mentioned, factored in the number of appearances and came up with lists for each category. After a lot of informal interviews and messy math, they came up with their list (link up above).

I thought I’d take a more systematic approach in creating a list. The problem with the methodology above is people can easily name their top 10 but its tough after that. So I figured I’d come up with all the artist and then come up with categories to score from 1 to 10. From there, you could add the different parties to the mix ( rappers, public, and critics) but they’d have a more structured way of thinking about it which would most likely produce a radically different list from what they have now.

  • Longevity – How long have you been making music?
  • Discography – How many songs / albums do they have?
  • Underground Relevance – how well are they known by the connoisseurs of rap.
  •  Originality- Did they bring a new twist to rap? Do they have a style that’s theirs alone?
  • Concepts- Do they bring interesting concepts to life? Are their stories unique?
  • Versatility-  How well can the artist carry on a new style, use different beats and do things that are outside of their normal ability.
  • Vocabulary – How good is the artist vocabulary?
  • Substance- Are they saying anything worthwhile?
  • Flow-  How well can they put pars together and how long can they keep it going? Also could include speed in the conversation.
  • Flavor- Do they have that unique swag to their artistry that sets differentiates them from other rappers?
  • Freestyle- Ability to make things happen on the fly/ off the dome.
  • Vocal Presence- Can they hold a note or two?  
  • Live Performance- Can they carry a concert? How is their stage presence?
  • Poetic Value- How effective are they in using poetic structures in their writing/ music?
  • Industry Impact- How have they change the rap/music industry?
  • Social Impact- What has the artist done to impact the society.
  • Lyrics- What are they saying and how are they saying it?
  • Battle Skills –  Ability to beat other rappers in lyrical war

I figured I’d name a bunch of rappers from the beginning of rap until now and score it out. I hope by creating categories, I could be more inclusive to all types of rappers, people who are purely battle rappers and crossed over, those who have been in the game for a while vs those that were in it for a short time, and any other kind of group you can think of. One major challenge I foresee is my bias toward recent memory which could be mitigated by crowd-sourcing the list from people of all ages groups and taste.

What else should be included? I was thinking of using album sales/ ticket sales/ streaming data to evaluate but it’s tough to get your hands on that information.

1:48 Part II

When I initially started writing my thoughts around the new Jay-Z album, I was pretty set on what I wanted to say. ” 4:44 is a set of journal entries of a man that’s done a lot, made a lot of mistakes, seen success, but ultimately wonders how his actions, experiences, and family will be remembered.” Seems logical and sound based on the lyrics and explanation of each song. But there’s so much more, especially when you put 4:44 in the context of when it was released and the Jay-z that released it. We can over analyze it till kingdom come but I’m just going to focus on two areas that hit me based on other things I saw/read last week. (This ended being way longer than I thought it was going to be so I split it into two parts… this is part 2 of 2)

Dave McClure and Jay-Z defining masculinity? 

Earlier this week, Dave McClure, Co-Founder of 500 Startups, stepped down as GP due to multiple claims of sexual harassment from women founders and associates. As a huge fan of 500 Startups, their mission and outcomes, I was truly saddened by these allegations but not surprised. As most people know who’ve engaged with the Silicon Valley ecosystem, there’s a bro-ish culture still entrenched in how people do business which creates a sometimes hostile environment for women and minorities. Don’t get it twisted though, its not just Silicon Valley. I’ve heard similar stories from women in other sectors; the higher you go, the more questionable and outright disrespectful behavior you encounter. Why is it that some people in power, who often happen to be men, feel they are beyond moral and ethical parameters in how they engage with others? One of the key explanations I’ve heard in the recent week or so around sexual harassment in the VC space is there’s a “machismo/masculinity” problem that needs to be addressed and I agree. As a society, we have an outdated perspective on what masculinity encapsulates. Most men (and women) still operate on masculinity 1.0. As a result, we have guys chasing outdated ideas of masculinity that disenfranchises women and other men.

Masculinity 1.0 is purely focused on the three p’s; protection, providing, and pro-creation. Any student of history and biology understands the rationale and advantage in  providing the the three p’s to your family and tribe.  Make as many kids as you can, protect your lineage and your group, and provide food and shelter for those you are responsible for. Masculinity 1.0 got us to where we are now; 7 billion + people, weapons of mass destruction, and economic system allows us to trade currency for food and shelter.

Fortunately/ unfortunately (depending at how you look at it), we live in a time where we’ve built institutions to manage the key areas that define masculinity. For most in the developed world, the state takes care of security, you can go to the store and buy food instead of hunting, you don’t have to build your house, and sometimes men aren’t even needed for procreation. (Yes smarty pants, money has become an intermediary but hold off on that thought for now.)  What does masculinity look like now that we have most of the basic external threats covered?

4:44 surprisingly encompasses this same question but from Jay-z’s perspective. He’s experienced most of his life through the masculinity 1.0 lens. From his experience hustling, building his business empire, promiscuity…etc, he’s done what he’s done to get to what we see today. Will that take him to the next level though?  Kill Jay-Z kind of gets at this struggle between who his was and who he has to be now that he has a family and is focused on building legacy. What does masculinity 2.0 look like from Jay-Z’s perspective?

  1. Legacy – its an important theme throughout 4:44. I think Jay looks at providing from a societal and generational perspective. It’s less about his kids and more about his children’s children and lifting up those around him. Many would argue this is a function of his socioeconomic realities. I’d disagree.  The “7th generation” principle taught by many Native American tribes say that in every decision, be it personal, governmental or corporate, we must consider how it will affect our descendants seven generations into the future. Legacy is something everyone can think about.
  2. Courage- I don’t know if Jay-Z could have made this album earlier in his career. Outside of my feelings about spilling your own tea, it takes a lot of courage to open up about your shortcomings. I guess Beyonce may have given him some. Courage in the face of adversity and tough times is essential to being a modern man.
  3. Self Improvement/Expertise – Jay-Z shows us in 4:44 why he’s one of the G.O.A.Ts of the music industry. 13 albums in, he’s still making quality music. He’s perfected his craft overtime and become one of the best at it. Mastery and self improvement is at the core of masculinity 2.0. What are you doing every day to improve yourself and build mastery?
  4. Morality/ Predictable framework for how you operate – Jay, for better or worst ,lays out his sense of of morality and his perception on how he tries to live his life. Living by a code, set of rules, or framework helps de-risk relationships so people know you before they meet you. It also helps to navigate gray area situations.

Transitioning away from masculinity 1.0 to a more modern day appropriate definition of masculinity will provide a new set of traits, actions and characteristics for men to aspire to. I believe a transition will do its part to eradicate some of the toxic behavior and beliefs we see as common place.

1:48 Part I

When I initially started writing my thoughts around the new Jay-Z album, I was pretty set on what I wanted to say. ” 4:44 is a set of journal entries of a man that’s done a lot, made a lot of mistakes, seen success, but ultimately wonders how his actions, experiences, and family will be remembered.” Seems logical and sound based on the lyrics and explanation of each song. But there’s so much more, especially when you put 4:44 in the context of when it was released and the Jay-z that released it. We can over analyze this till kingdom come but I’m just going to focus on two areas that hit me based on other things I saw/read last week. (This ended being way longer than I thought it was going to be so I split it into two parts..this is part 1 of 2)

Trauma/gossip sell for all the wrong reasons. 

My main man Vince Staples (I don’t know him like that but he’s definitely on my celebrity dinner invite list) did an interview with Ebro in the Morning last week. It’s a great interview ( I started it right in the middle but definitely watch the whole thing) but I want to focus on what he says early on. “For black people, we sell trauma. ” 

“I turned that 2 to a 4, 4 to an 8
I turned my life into a nice first week release date”

Jay-z The Story of OJ. 

Jay shared a lot of personal experiences that could definitely be described as traumatic for him or others in his life. He’s leveraged trauma and tea to go platinum in the first week on his own streaming music service and make a ton of money. He’s not the only artist that’s done it and won’t be the last, but there’s a certain air around the conversation especially with Beyonce’s miscarriages and his infidelity. I understand pain and tough times make for the best music, (Hello Mary J Blige) but there’s something about profiting from infidelity and the pain of others (even if they okay it) that doesn’t sit well with me. Somethings have to be out of bounds. But its for that exact reason 4:44 did so well. Yea, No I.D spazzed on the production and its nice to hear a rapper put some words together, but why do people find so much benefit from hearing about the worst parts of a celebrities life? Why do people like to see successful people fail or fall from grace?

 

 

Looking For America On The Fourth Of July

This is was supposed to post on the 4th but I scheduled for the wrong time. 

One of my favorite songs ever. It encapsulates the journey of an individual and their loved one (Paul and Kathy) as they journey across the United States and also serves as an analogy for the search of the American dream and ideals.

Volkswagen released a great commercial that used the song in the background of a story about an Irish family taking a vacation throughout America to fulfill the last wishes of their grandfather. (side comment…. Volkswagen is always on their advertising A game when it comes to giving the audience all the feels in their commercials. Does anyone know which agency VW uses?)

 

They had three generations of Americans in the new VW Atlas traveling across the US. Talk about an existential cake of thoughts, views, and experiences. The VW video and Paul’s song remind me we never may get a chance to see the best America has to offer but we owe it to those who came before us (mostly immigrants, slaves, and natives)  to continue the search and work toward a more perfect union for all.

Happy 4th of July!

Flying to Nigeria with my Woes

I’ve been getting a lot of emails, texts, tweets from my friends asking me to explain what’s going on in Nigeria. I don’t really have all the answers but I think I have an okay understanding. Here’s my response to one of my friends about the recent growth adjustment discussed here.

A couple of things…..
  1. It’s bad but it isn’t as bad as this guy makes it sound
  2. It’s a mix of history and current situations biting Nigeria in the butt
  3. This is probably the best situation Nigeria can be in.
It’s bad but it isn’t as bad as this guy makes it sound… A lot of things aren’t happening right now because of the currency restrictions the Nigerian government has put on commerce and consumers. The policy is in place as ant-corruption +  protection driven strategy to prevent rapid inflation. I need to find some articles to better explain it but that’s one major part of whats going on. There are things still happening but the industries that aren’t driven by import and currency arbitrage seem to be doing okay. Totally forgot to mention the fuel scarcity… maybe its pretty bad, but Nigerians always make the pretty bad seem bearable for some reason.
It’s a mix of history and current situations biting Nigeria in the butt.  The major challenge with the Nigerian economy was that it was so dependent on oil revenues as a government. As supply increased, the Nigerian government was over exposed to the decreased prices and it ruined the 2015 and 2016 budget. Now everyone internally is screaming diversification but its a tad late. If you look at Angola, Saudi Arabia, Libya….They all have ridiculous sovereign wealth funds that have been at work to invest oil profit in other industries and other areas of the world. Nigeria has been squandering its oil profits through corruption and living the high life.
This is probably the best situation Nigeria can be in.. I think this is forcing a lot of difficult conversations that should have been had 20 or 30 years ago. It could be severely worst…. Imagine a currency diving into a tail spin. That would suck. Nigeria still has a things going for it… a ton of natural resources, low labor costs, improving infrastructure…. There’s still a lot of work to do but  I think Nigeria is still in a decent position…