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The Artist

It’s hard to say anything new about a man who has had every superlative applied to him already. The story behind Jay-Z, aka Shawn Carter, is a compelling rags-to-riches story but there’s so much more to it than that. I believe that in many ways, Jay-Z has personified hip-hop in that he is a living example of how elements of that particular culture can be used to transform a Hard Knock Life into La Dolce vita.

A young boy is born in one of urban America’s projects. His father abandons him at an early age and although his mother is dedicated, she’s also busy with multiple jobs. As a result, the boy turns to the streets for guidance and acceptance. Of course, that acceptance comes at a high price: the loss of innocence, which frequently means breaking the law or engaging in anti-social behavior in many forms. Naturally, this makes a life of crime like a thing of normalcy and a residence in correctional facilities is almost certain. You’ve heard this story before.

But rarely has anyone been able to tell it in more vivid and honest fashion than Jay-Z. While many have rightly criticized rap lyrics for glorifying all the wrong things, an honest critique of Jay’s message will find that a crucial element is added to the steady diet of guns, guts, girls, and gold. That element is guilt. On each solo album there has been at least one song almost strictly dedicated to the wrongs that come from living a lifestyle that is disloyal to the best intentions of God for the human race. This element of guilt is widely understood by many as evidence of his credibility, which solicits strong loyalty from a huge fan base.

As a result, Jay-Z has a list of accomplishments that few individuals anywhere in the world or at any stage in life can boast of:

  • Over 33 million albums sold
  • Roc-a-Fella Records, multi-million dollar record company
  • Rocawear, wildly successful multi-million dollar clothing line
  • Numerous music awards including the Grammy for Best Rap Album
  • 40/40 Club, elite sports bar now in two locations, NYC and Atlantic City
  • Named by Time Magazine as “Most Influential”- not in entertainment but as “Titan and Builder”, solidifying his status as entertainer and entrepreneur
  • President of Def Jam Records, the crown jewel of hip-hop music labels
  • 1st non-athlete with a shoe contract; S. Carter shoe is the fastest selling in history
  • 1st hip-hop artist to have private audience with Prince Charles
  • 1st hip-hop artist featured on 60 Minutes; the segment was Emmy-nominated for Outstanding Interview

His list of achievements is much longer than this. However, these points are highlighted to illustrate that Jay-Z is not “just a rapper”. Since he embodies the hip-hop movement, a commentary on his lyrics has application to the content of rap music in general. Since he is arguably the best rapper alive, selecting Jay-Z’s lyrics for biblical analysis was an easy choice.

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