Hall of Fame 001: JAŸ-Z
This is my earliest memory of hip hop. I was 6 years old sitting in front of the TV watching the VMAs with my older sister. I don't remember being interested in award shows, but I always watched whatever my sister was into. I saw the basketball routine and became even more disinterested until I heard a beat that I had already heard around the neighborhood in cars riding by. The Izzo beat dropped and I saw a guy in a headband, a jersey and Rocawear shorts head to the stage. I was too young to follow what he was saying, but it sparked my curiosity to figure out whatever it is he was doing on the tv screen. What I initially thought was going to be a performance I could care less about ended up being my official introduction to hip hop. And it's fitting that Jay-Z would be the one to open that door.
It's similar to getting introduced to basketball through watching Jordan play in his prime because that's essentially Jay's equivalent. We've never seen someone in our culture go as far as him musically and in business simultaneously. The list could go on about his achievements and while I do admire him for that, the thing about Jay's story that always inspires me the most is his come up. Sometimes I feel people do tend to talk a lot more about Jay's wins than they do about his recovery from losses. Jay-Z wasn't always who he is now that is the part of his career that I've always referenced in my own life.
The moments in an artist's career when their patience and perseverance are tested before their rise is the ultimate display of character to me. Releasing Reasonable Doubt to critical acclaim, but also dropping the ball financially by partnering with Priority Records too soon. Getting your release lost within the rising popularity of Nas, Biggie. Wu-tang etc... Fast forward to the second album and it's not as good as the first and the first real attempt at radio doesn't go as planned. I always look at the failures and the downtimes because I can tell those are the times when Jay had to bet on himself. It's like jumping off of a cliff and praying you to land on a huge cushion at the bottom. He could've stayed in the street because that's where the money came from. Quitting rap would've been easy, but having the patience to keep going is hard.
That's why he's a legend. Outside of being an incredible rapper and making classic albums, he showed me and other young men and women that look like me, the reward of perseverance and rolling the dice on your fate. Going the easy way out doesn't get you a label like Rocafella and the ability to create generational wealth for your family. Quitting doesn't get you a Blueprint or million-dollar clothing company. Risks and self-belief do that. Jay is the ultimate example of that.
Some people'll tell you to never look up to rappers or entertainers and in most scenarios, I would agree. They're human and they're bound to make mistakes just like we are, but there's an exception to everything which is why I made Hall of Fame in the first place. It's because of people like Jay-Z. Nothing positive is expected to come from a drug dealer from one of the toughest neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Nothing less than jail or death is expected. By all means, he's not supposed to be here, yet he flipped his circumstances and maneuvered through every obstacle stacked against him which leads me to ask myself "What's stopping me from doing the same?". I want that same role. I want to inspire people the same way. Who says I can't? Shawn Carter is an example of someone exceeded any limitations that people place on him. He showed people that it was possible and for some people, that's all they need to see. The older I get, the more I appreciate the greatness of Jay-Z. Everything from the music to the business acumen has been a blueprint (no pun intended) he's laid out for black & brown kids to follow. Someone had to go out into the unknowns of the industry and take those punches so everyone can walk in. Being independent allows more freedom, but it's tough. Being Independent in the '90s was even tougher. Going from a small record label with a street team to almost billion dollars is a big jump, but it's also something that should be applauded and looked in the same sense as bringing a team out of obscurity into winning multiple championships. "Show them how to move in a room full of vultures / Industry shady, it needs to be taken over / Label owners hate me, I'm changing the status quo up". One of the greatest musicians of our time came out of Marcy Housing Projects. Reasonable Doubt to 4:44. 13 albums. Millions upon millions of records sold. Billionaire. Multiple classic albums. Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. No one's done it better.
"Those who are successful overcome their fears and take action. Those aren't submit to their fear and live with regret" - Shawn Corey Carter