[intro to “The Story of O.J.”]

Shawn Corey Carter, known as Jay-Z, has been an accomplished, respected, and professional American rapper since 1994. Jay-Z has an enormous, dedicated fan-base from being one the most influential artists to begin the new era of rap after 1980’s “gangsta rap”. He often raps about current political and societal issues, making his opinions heard. Creating a strong and controversial reputation for himself in the music industry, Jay-Z’s music and lyrics truly reflect his beliefs, and being transparent and honest in the music industry builds connections to the audience and creates a devoted fan-base. Those fans help spread his message and help create change through awareness.

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rG9ykpuPwQE] (1:40 – 2:09)

Jay-Z’s most recent album is “4:44”, which was released June 30, 2017, and went certified platinum in less than a week. The album perfectly reflects his style, cadence, themes, and messages he has become known for throughout his career. Although, the song off “4:44” that has generated the most commotion in the media and online is “The Story of O.J.” and its music video, which currently has just under 90 million views on YouTube.

“The Story of O.J.” represents Jay-Z’s thoughts on the famous O.J. Simpson case, material success and racial inequality, and America’s past and current states regarding racial discrimination in the music and entertainment industry. O.J. Simpson’s most famous and controversial line during his case was, “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” and was also what Jay-Z centered his song, “The Story of O.J.”, around. Simpson, mistakenly assumed his own success would exempt him from the reality of race in America; Jay-Z compares that shortsightedness to drug dealers risking their lives over “turf” that they don’t even own, and to rappers who sign away control of their careers over to labels and management. He visualizes this through his music video for the song. Which represents racist caricatures and imagery, including lynching and stereotypes. Jay-Z is making strong statements of critique with these visuals and how entertainment industries have marginalized races based on skin color. Like Nina Simone’s “Four Women” which is the main sample of “The Story of O.J.”. Her song tells a story of racism through female characters of different skin tones, Jay-Z samples some of her voice and the main base line in the beat. Compare…

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgoRc3GoXo8] (0:00 – 0:20)

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RM7lw0Ovzq0] (0:20 – 0:44)

Jay-Z in his interview with Dean Baquet for New York Times, states that “The Story of O.J.” is a song directed at America’s African-American community and how everyone needs to keep a sense of self-worth. That self-worth is what drives the community to keep pushing forward. When discussing the song, Jay-Z says…

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rG9ykp uPwQE] (1:10 – 1:40)

Baquet took the song’s message, addressing African-Americans and O.J. Simpson, as a way of saying that, “You can be rich, you can be poor, you’re still black.” Jay-Z wants to help create a platform to have these types of conversations through his music.

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rG9ykpuPwQE] (6:32 – 6:42)

The racial wealth gap is rooted in centuries of inequality and racism through housing and land or property. The results of Edward Wolff’s 2016 “Survey of Consumer Finances” states that Home Equity counts for around 2/3’s of wealth. If there are continuous issues of redlining (which is when banks purposefully deny or charge more for necessary services), and banking inequality, then this gap will never decrease or end. In a 2015 article from The Guardian about the American Civil Liberties Union stated that, “Black Americans were unequally issued loans on unfavorable terms during the sub-prime loan bonanza that prefigured the housing crisis and are still suffering in its aftermath.” This brings up concern for the United States’ future, because if people are generationally affected by this, when’s it going to end?

With the United States current state of politics, sociological imagination, and power. Jay-Z said that “The great thing about Donald Trump being president is now we’re forced to have the dialogue. Now we’re having the conversation on the large scale; he’s provided the platform for us to have the conversation.”  By sociological imagination, I mean, “who portrays power, who truly has the power, and who follows and abides?” Jay-Z addresses these types of issues and concepts with what he calls “general statements” and lines up for interpretation, such as: “You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America? This how they did it”. Lines like this draw the comparison between the stereotypical success among races in America and how people should take those stereotypes and actually benefit and learn from them regarding wealth and status. There are more appropriate ways to approach this topic, but Jay-Z felt this would grab the attention of his listeners.

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rG9ykpuPwQE] (7:10 – 7:32)

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rG9ykpuPwQE] (7:32 – 7:45)

“We all make money, and then we all lose money, as artists especially. But how, when you have some type of success, to transform that into something bigger,” said Jay-Z on the radio. Jay-Z makes it evident with reoccurring themes that, “Generational wealth / that’s the key,” which he raps on 4:44’s “Legacy”.

The status of the United States regarding equity among all is poor because of what is rooted in the past. Jay-Z reflects on personal experiences as well as what he witnesses in his position. To gain a more relatable and realistic perspective, opposed to Jay-Z’s financial status and platform, right now I am here with Michael Leon.

“I can give a small example, every kid when growing up wants to earn extra money, for example mowing the lawn or shoveling snow. My closest friends happen to be black, so their skin color played into an area where I lived, which was predominately white. When they came for a visit and it snowed, we’re discussing how we’re going to earn extra money. They coaxed me into approaching the suburban area, or house, and I would be the face. I would be the face of the friends, who the woman or man answering the door would accept us a legitimate workforce. We’re only kids, we’re teenagers, so earning the money is innocent. But the underlying idea that we had to play race to earn cash within the suburb area is something interesting and wrong with this unsaid language I was referring to.”

Smaller examples such as that can be used as a metaphor or analogy to better understand the societal issues involved with redlining and banking. Housing and finance are the foundation of a wealthy life, and Jay-Z summarized it best when he said…

Protest songs like “The Story of O.J” will continue to open dialogue and raise questions and awareness. Solutions and change will happen once the dialogue reaches people of power, it’s about getting involved and making your voice heard. Keep pushing forward and progressing, I’m Justin Leon and thank you for listening.

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