No, Jay-Z is not anti-Semitic
If rap was PC, no one would listen to it.
The rap police are at it again. The Anti-Defamation League has criticised the Brooklyn-born mega star Jay-Z for an allegedly anti-Semitic line in ‘The Story of OJ’, the lead single from his smash return-to-form LP, 4:44. ‘You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a strip club? Credit / You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America? This how they did it’, he says, before going on to extol the importance of making sound investments. An ADL spokesperson told Rolling Stone that they ‘are concerned that this lyric could feed into preconceived notions about Jews’.
This isn’t the first time a rapper has been accused of pushing anti-Semitic stereotypes. Rap has, to put it delicately, an awkward relationship with Jewish people. From Ice Cube rinsing his old NWA crewmates for getting financially buggered by ‘a white Jew’, manager Jerry Heller, on the blistering ‘No Vaseline’ to Lupe Fiasco accusing ‘dirty Jewish execs’ of robbing royalties from rappers, cash-stuffed Jewish label heads and businessmen are a recurring caricature. And you can see where it might come from: the black-power politics that informs much rap had a dodgy, anti-Semitic streak.
But more often than not, nods to Jewish wealth are a kind of awkward compliment. In contrasting stereotypical Jewish prudence with stereotypical black profligacy, Jay-Z was making a well-worn point – that black communities need to learn from Jewish communities about taking care of business and looking out for each other. As Ice Cube put it when questioned about ‘No Vaseline’: ‘I respect Jewish people because they’re unified. I wish black people were as unified.’ In rap, Jewish-level wealth has become a kind of benchmark of success. Hence the immortal, celebratory Rick Ross couplet: ‘Villa on the water with the wonderful views / Only fat nigga in the sauna with Jews.’
Rap is a joyously in-your-face genre that trades in brash stereotypes – sometimes to make a point, but often not. Just as most people have more or less chilled out about the word ‘bitch’ littering every other line, the tendency to drop in the J-word in a way that feels unnecessary, prejudicial even, isn’t proof of rappers’ simmering hatred. It’s a sometimes clumsy part of the idiom, an inheritance from black culture, and particularly black comedy, in which no holds are barred. Some rappers may not be as hip to the nuances and sensitivities around race and language, but we probably wouldn’t want to listen to them if they were.
Tom Slater is deputy editor at spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_
Watch the video for ‘The Story of OJ’ by Jay-Z: