Jay-Z is an amazing rapper. Some think that he’s been in the game for a bit too long, but I don’t agree. Personally, I think “Jigga” simply reflects the fact that hip-hop itself is aging. Jazz was once solely the domain of rebellious teenagers, but now you’re sure to hear it playing in every old folk’s home across America. The same is going to be true for hip-hop.
Jay-Z has said repeatedly that he will stop making music, and I’m sure that one day he will. However, there is one area in which we need to retire Jay-Z: In his role as the pre-eminent black businessman in America. It’s not that Jay-Z is a bad role model, it’s just that he’s been exhausted.
Don’t get me wrong, Jigga has made significant amounts of money by busting rhymes on his left and selling clothes on his right. Good for him. But is he really the best business role model for young black males, who are already consumed with a culture that teaches them that all they can be are rappers or athletes? No, he is not. Young black women also find that their leading role models in business are women like Oprah and Beyonce, both of whom keep us hyper-fixated on the entertainment industry. It’s time to make a change.
When our kids are looking for business role models, why not consider people like Dr. Randal Pinkett (The Apprentice), Ursula Burns (CEO of Xerox), Ken Chenault (CEO of American Express), or Chuck Creekmur (founder of AllHipHop.com). These individuals are educated self-starters who used a variety of brilliant and creative methods to either get to the top of the corporate ladder or to build their own corporate ladders. Sure, some of them are linked to entertainment, but they are the bosses of the industry and not one of the slaves.
Black males especially would gain from having a new set of role models to encourage us to more effectively target our collective genius. Many of us only dream of throwing footballs and dribbling basketballs, leaving education on the table for others to use against us. Rather than finding the real money and opportunity that comes from being the smartest guy in the room, we are deliberately choosing to be the dumb jock with a fifth grade reading level. This should be unacceptable for us all.
Jay-Z and others like him are tremendous beneficiaries of media. Media tends to focus on the most glamorous and entertaining African Americans, rather than the most impactful. Women like Fantasia were sucked into thinking that the decisions to drop out of school and become a teen parent would all be corrected by one lucky stop at the American Idol audition. Not only did most of us see the destruction of Fantasia’s dream, we also see the millions of other Fantasia wannabes who gave up everything to live the high life of entertainment, but got the welfare office instead.
It’s a new century, so black folks need a new paradigm. The former entertainer or athlete who becomes a successful businessperson is certainly worthy of our respect. But few success stories in black America run through Hollywood, the recording studio or the NBA. Instead, the greatest and most powerful success stories in black America run through the classroom. Let’s make sure our kids don’t forget that.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and the initiator of the National Conversation on Race. He is also the author of the book, “Black American Money.” He is online on t BoyceWatkins.com.