Jay Z’s remarkable rise and inspirational story for native New Yorkers
It is easy to see why any young sports superstar would want to include themselves in the Jay Z stable
A cold shiver of dread must have travelled down the spine of many a sports agent in the past 24 hours with the news that Jay Z, or Mr Beyonce Knowles, has signed not one but two of the most prized assets in American sport to the latest arm of his business empire.
Roc Nation Sports breezily announced that it will be henceforth representing Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano. Cano, for his part, issued a statement to confirm that he had indeed parted company – which is to say unceremoniously fired – his agent Scott Boras in order to allow Jay-Hova’s company to manage his interests in the coming years.
It will allow him get on with the business of spending timeless hours in batting practice as well as coping with the demands of getting through the God-knows- how-many ounces of chewable tobacco star baseball players consume during baseball’s meandering season.
New York Giants’ wide receiver Victor Cruz quickly followed suit and his interests are manifold. In addition to his primary job of catching a football without getting killed, he is a spokesperson for commercial behemoths such as Nike and Time Warner and is also developing an obligatory sideline as a fashion designer, offering threads under the brand name of Young Whalers. It’s a lot for any 26-year- old to handle. Who better than Jay Z to take care of things?
It is over15 years since the shady practice of sports agency was highlighted in Cameron Crowe’s bittersweet comedy Jerry Maguire . The hero of that film held notions of what a sports agent should be which ran in direct conflict with the prevailing ethos. Jerry Maguire was chaotically disorganised, loyal and genuinely wedded to the idea that he was there to serve the stars he represented rather than constantly skim from their extraordinary bank balances. And, of course, he was also Tom Cruise.
It is easy to see why any young sports superstar would want to include themselves in the Jay Z stable. He has them at hello. Not only has he proven himself to be one of the most canny entrepreneurs around, he has done so without shedding an ounce of the street credibility which distinguished him when he was making his way as a young rapper of note.
Shawn Carter, as he was in his childhood, was just five years old when Trading Places became the runaway cinema success of 1983. It was a blackly comic take on the classic debate of nature versus nurture; if you pluck a young black hustler from his predestined life of scrabbling for a living on the cold streets and place him in the mahogany-tabled environment of an Ivy League financier, can he then thrive? The hustler was Eddie Murphy and the answer was that of course he could, with bells on. He even managed to charm Jamie Lee Curtis into the bargain.
But Carter’s life has been one long thesis proving the same point. He grew up in Bedford Stuyvesant during the worst ravages of the crack epidemic, came from a broken home, invariably became embroiled in the drug trade, may or may not have had bullets fired at him and looked set for one of those trapped hollow lives that many of his neighbours led.
Except that he carried a binder in which he scribbled every rhyme, riff and thought that came into his head and began composing raps. And he had the chutzpah and discipline to begin to climb those invisible stairs which has culminated in a floor of offices in one of the heaven-bound buildings which fill the skyline of all Brooklyn residents. His ascent was sure-footed and meteoric. He no longer needs music but chose the instantly unforgettable Empire State of Mind as an exclamation point of where he now ranks in his home city: ‘ Right next to DeNiro/But I’ll be hood forever/ I’m the new Sinatra and since I made it here, I can make it anywhere, yeah they love me everywhere’.
The tune usurped Frank’s beloved, blowsy New York , New York as the natural anthem of the city as well as containing barbs about Carter’s huge role in the melting pot. When he performed the song at Yankee Stadium before the opening game a few years ago, the fans instinctively booed his line, “I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can.’
But there was a kernel of truth in the light taunt. Bored with sitting courtside at Knicks games – ‘ I could trip a referee ’ – he became an investor in the New Jersey Nets and within a few years the basketball franchise had moved to the heart of Brooklyn not far from the Marcy Projects which contained his childhood home. Just like that, New York hoops had a genuine rivalry which will, over time, grow as the Mets-Yankees derby games have done.
But Carter, as is his nature, has to keep moving on. There is only so long that you can spend as a figurehead for an NBA club. What about the players?
So the quick acquisition of two marketable and big names is bound to be just the beginning and has caused a stir. As Mark Ganis, who owns the Sportscoup agency put it, Jay Z can identify with sports stars in a way that an accountant of lawyer never can, before hastily offering a helpful comparison between himself and Jay Z noting that “both of us came from humble beginnings, both of us have women chasing after us and both of us want to make a lot of money.”
Turning profile into hard cash is the bottom line for any of the sports stars who will team up with Jay Z from here on in. They have a limited time in which to exploit their mass appeal and already the market is crowded. They will flock to him.
But the genius of it is that he while he has become a kingmaker for the privileged and talented few that have already excelled in sport and in music, he still remains relevant to his core fraternity: the youngsters that are growing up in the same high-rise buildings where he grew up and who now face the same bleak and seemingly impossible life choices which he managed to escape from. He has shown the way out and if even one or two acolytes with all of the talent and none of the opportunity can successfully negotiate the path from impoverished obscurity to dazzling success, then his story becomes worth more than any amount of dollars.