The hip v the hop
As rap royalty Jay-Z and Kanye West prepare to roll into town with their Watch The Throne tour, TONY CLAYTON-LEAasks who’s the king?
JAY-Z:BORN December 4, 1969, in Brooklyn, New York, Shawn Corey Carter didn’t have it particularly easy growing up – living in a housing project, surrounded by guns (at the age of 12, he shot his older brother) and drugs (he was a crack dealer until the release of his 1996 debut album, Reasonable Doubt). Inspired by the Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight, Carter began to write his own rhymes while also admiring white music acts that were played on NYC urban radio (“Bono and George Michael were like honorary black men – they had soul,” he once noted; Jay-Z went on to support U2 on their 360-degree tour in late 2010). Clearly, Jay-Z’s eyes were on the street as much as the sky. At a conservative estimate, he has sold more than 50 million albums; he has won 14 Grammy Awards, and is repeatedly rated as one of the best rappers out there, with both Reasonable Doubt and 2001’s The Blueprint considered landmark hip-hop records. It seems Mr Carter can do no wrong: he mentored Rihanna, he’s best mates with Chris Martin and Bono, and hip-hop fan Barack Obama has given him his personal phone number. 9/10
Through early exposure to artists such as Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson, Jay-Z knows the value of soul music (highlighted to brilliant effect on Otis, from last year’s Jay-Z/Kanye West album, Watch the Throne), and he aligns this with a rapping technique that fuses fluidity with something known as “partial linking”, which can add more rhymes to a verse. He likes the colour black, which is fine by us. 8/10
With a net worth of more than $450 million (this is a conservative estimate), it’s an understatement to claim Jay-Z as – along with, perhaps, his mate Bono – one of music’s most successful businessmen. He co-owns 40/40 Club (a chain of sports bars/lounges, some of which have experienced work-related and trading difficulties), is part-owner of BNA’s Brooklyn Nets (a professional basketball team), is co-founder of the clothes line Rocawear (the brand rights of which were sold by Jay-Z in 2007 for over $200 million), a co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records and the founder of
Roc Nation (a multi-pronged music/ management/entertainments company partnered with Live Nation. 9/10
Jay-Z married Beyoncé Knowles in April, 2008. The bride was wearing a Lorraine Schwartz-designed ring that cost $5 million. A daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, was born on January 7 this year. 10/10
It can hardly be Jay-Z’s fault, but his headline appearance at 2008’s Glastonbury caused major disruption within the indie/guitar community, prompting its laddish mouthpiece, Noel Gallagher, to state: “I’m sorry, but Jay-Z? No chance . . . I’m not having hip-hop at Glastonbury. It’s wrong.” On the night, Jay-Z opened his set with a cover of Wonderwall. Sweet. 7/10
It’s difficult to know what separates genuine interest and virtually unstoppable entrepreneurial spirit, but Jay-Z has ventured into Broadway stage production (the award-winning musical Fela!, which celebrates the life and music of late Nigerian musician, Fela Kuti; co-produced with Will and Jada Pinkett Smith) and online content (through the lifestyle website Life + Times; lifeandtimes.com, which is curated specifically around the interests of Jay-Z).
He is also curator (and headliner) for the inaugural Budweiser Made in America festival in Philadelphia this September. 8/10
LITTLE KNOWN FACTS
* The moniker Jay-Z is derived from several sources: in his neighbourhood as a child he was known as Jazzy; and close by to where he lived are the J/Z rapid transit subway lines.
* The officially-credited crying of two-day old Blue Ivy Carter is included at the end of Jay-Z’s single Glory. When the song cracked the Top 100 Hot RB/Hip-Hop Songs in January of this year, BIC became the youngest person ever to appear on the Billboard charts. 5/10
And he follows: 12
AND, FINALLY, A GOOD QUOTE
“There’s no way you could have seen ‘entrepreneur’ in the crystal ball when I was young. I’ve just learnt along the way. About two years ago, I saw some old photos of me and my friends where we grew up – a lot of them, they dead . . . That gives you a moment’s pause. How is it one man gets shot in the Projects and another one gets to live the life of . . . a king?” 6/10
KANYE WEST:BORN June 8, 1977, into a stable middle-class communiy in Atlanta, Georgia, Kanye Omari West worked initially as a producer, assisting the likes of Janet Jackson, Alicia Keys, The Game, Black Eyed Peas, John Legend, Ludacris, Beyoncé and Lil Kim. Keen to pursue a solo career, West eventually released his debut album, The College Dropout, in 2004. Eight years and five solo albums later, West is a major figure in not just hip-hop but in pop music. He has sold more than 30 million digital songs in the US alone. He also has 18 Grammys in the bag. Being known for grandiose, often ostentatious gestures, however, undermines such status. 8/10
West comes across as a dapper rapper who likes his wordplay – but then having a mother (Donda West, 1947-2007) who was once professor of English (at Clark Atlanta University) probably helped in this respect. Also, while he operates in the commercial hip-hop zone, West is no stranger to stadium rock music, hipster dudeism and string sections. Indeed, he has been known to go on tour with an 11-piece chamber orchestra.
Re: his image, West brought in a hip-hop style change from oversized T-shirts to fitted clothing. For that alone, we thank him. 7/10
With a net worth at about $70 million, West has business concerns in restaurants (via his company, KW Foods LLC), fashion (he has his own clothing line, Pasttelle; he has collaborated in shoe design with Nike and Louis Vuitton; he has a women’s fashion label, DW Kanye West) and record labels (his own label, GOOD Music, is home to the likes of Consequence, Common, John Legend, Mr Hudson and Kid Cudi. 6/10
Following an on/off six-year relationship, West ended his 18-month engagement to designer Alexis Phifer in 2008. He then embarked on a relationship with US model/actress Amber Rose, but this ended in 2010. Currently hanging out with reality star Kim Kardashian. 4/10
Where to start? How about West’s comments during a benefit concert for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when, as a featured speaker, West abandoned the script and remarked that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”. Bush’s retort? “That was one of the most disgusting moments of my presidency.” West later apologised, causing political analyst Dr Boyce Watkins to claim that West was “now part of the establishment, where waffling on your principles is fully expected”. You want another one? How about the 2009 MTV VMAs, when West disrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for Best Female Video. This altercation led US President Barack Obama to call West “a jackass”. 9/10
West dabbles in magazine writing in the likes of Interview (wherein he once interviewed Rihanna) and Complex. He is also a video/ film director; this week his short movie (long music video?) Cruel Summer premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. The Guardian called it “a wobbly, wandering showcase of West’s taste for the grandiose”. 4/10
LITTLE KNOWN FACTS
* West’s father, Ray, was a former Black Panther who was one of the first black photojournalists at the Atlanta Journal- Constitution. His mother, retired from her Chair of the English Department at Chicago State University to manage her son’s career.
* In October 2003, West was involved in a near fatal car crash; this event provided the inspiration behind his debut single, Through the Wire, which he wrote and recorded with his jaw wired shut. At the 2005 Grammy Awards, the song was nominated for Best Rap Solo Performance, but was beaten by Jay-Z’s 99 Problems. Ouch! 8/10
And he follows? Five. 10/10
AND, FINALLY, A GOOD QUOTE
“As a celebrity, as soon as you become a star, as soon as it pops off for you? At that point, you stop growing. As soon as you dont have to wash your own dishes any more . . . I was, like, trying to get somebody to jog for me the other day.” 10/10
AND THE WINNER BY THREE POINTS IS. . . JAY-Z
* Jay Z and Kanye West play the O2 on Friday June 8th (West’s 35th birthday) and Saturday June 9th