On Monday (12/2), BET began its week-long celebration of Jay-Z’s 50th birthday. We first heard from the eighties babies; folks who experienced their adolescence with Jay-Z owning each summer between school years. Today, a much younger generation of artists show their appreciation for a man who claimed “God MC” before they ever wrote rhymes of their own.
To love rap in general and Jay-Z in particular at 20-something-years-old is its own unique journey. But to also be a rapper at that age is to walk in the cavernous footprints of a giant, with a stride you studied somewhere between “Where I’m From” and “Marcy Me.”
No matter how disparate their approaches to artistry may be, traces of Jay-Z can be seen in the images of contemporary rappers. We don’t get the slick-mouthed charisma of King Combs without Jay-Z and Puff Daddy co-parenting the wildly popular “jiggy era.”
In 1999, Jay-Z rhymed, “I made it so you could say Marcy and it was all good / I ain’t crossover, I brought the suburbs to the hood.” 20 years later, Brooklyn native Flipp Dinero has a platinum-selling single on Billboard’s Hot 100.
In certain instances, like in the case of Oakland rapper Kamaiyah, the degrees of separation between Hov and young artists are as slight as a Roc Nation management contract. Under different circumstances, like those dictating the lineage of Dreamville signees Lute and EarthGang, Jay-Z’s family tree sprawls in a way that allows artists like J. Cole to bridge the gap.
Yet a common thread connecting almost all current rappers is that they’re products of the prompt, “Because of Jay-Z.”
Because of Jay-Z… The world looks at rap music as more than just a genre. He’s one of the reasons we get respect on a higher level.
I started [rapping] when I was young—at 14. By the time I turned 18, I met a couple of people. One of them was Rich Kleiman from Roc Nation. From there, Rich told me that Jay-Z heard my music and that he wanted to meet. Roc Nation booked me a flight to New York for a meeting. It was a crazy meeting. I walked in on Jay-Z at The Mercer Hotel when he was working on Watch The Throne.
They had the whole floor on lock and turned it into a studio. We’re in SoHo, I’m 18-years-old, and the first thing Jay-Z asked me was, “What’s your story?” He was interested in hearing my backstory and where I came from, and I thought that was super dope.
He played me music that day. He played me “Otis” and “No Church in the Wild.” Then he asked me to play him some songs. I had a verse about my grandma on a song called “Hear Me Screamin’” on my Sleeping In Class album. I remember him telling me, “Yo, that verse was deep.” One of the greatest to ever do it just gave me a compliment on my music. It was like a dream come true.
Because of Jay-Z… I believe in myself more. To see a black man become a billionaire is everything to me. He’s motivation and a prime example that you can make it from anywhere, because he comes from the dirt. Because of Jay, I don’t doubt myself like I used to. Recently, he gave away Rolexes as an invitation [to a gala], and I’m like, “What the hell?” That’s the biggest motivation I’ve ever seen.
I definitely respect his rise. What’s really important is knowing that this man is not perfect, but he’s a legend forever. He also taught me not to be scared to work with anyone, and not to hold grudges forever. To see him and Nas squash their beef and get past it, that was cool. Some enemies are for life and some are for the moment. I most definitely learned that from him.
Because of Jay-Z… I can really do anything. I’ll tell you a story. I got this text one day like, “Yo, man. Nipsey Hussle is having this private joint. You gotta wear a suit.” I was like, “Man, I might be out of town that night.” And they were like, “If you aren’t, fall through.”
I fell into the Peppermint Club, right around the corner from the Beverly Center, and it was real intimate. It wasn’t crazy packed, and it was only invited guests. I ain’t have no suit on, but I was there to support my guy. Hov was there, way on the other side of the room.
So, I’m chilling, watching Nip perform. That night, I actually took my last picture with Nip. I went backstage and was standing there, then the door opened and I see Ty Ty come out, and then Hov came out. I tapped him, and he was like, “Yo, wassup?” It was an intimate moment where I could finally tell him, “Thank you.”
I was like, “Bro, it’s too much too explain, but seriously, thank you.” And I didn’t explain who I was. It wasn’t about me being an artist… it’s just so much [love], man. Even the love that he showed my bro Nip. I realize Hov takes a liking to people who he sees his younger self in, or his “now” self in. Meek [Mill], Nip, Kevin Hart—it’s a certain type of crowd that he rocks with that reminds him of himself. Those guys are always pushing something forward. It’s a brilliant thing to see and understand.
Because of Jay-Z… Storytelling, flows and swag [are all] important to me. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a breath or an ad-lib, it was always swag in his lyricism. I admire mostly how Jay carries himself. He’s very respectful, and the times I have been around him, he talks to everyone in the room and won’t just single out one person.
As a young artist, I learned from him that patience is a virtue, because he [put out music in his early days] and people weren’t really catching on. My favorite album from him was his first album, Reasonable Doubt. When that dropped, I feel like no one caught on until later, but when you know how dope you are—like Jay did—people will eventually [understand].
Because of Jay-Z… I know it’s possible to become a Black billionaire starting from music. He gave us a real blueprint. I think the most admirable thing about Jay is he never lets the outside world get to him. And if it does, nobody ever knows. He’s a family man, an amazing businessman, and an outstanding lyricist.
I feel like his influence made young men such as myself want to become more than just rappers. We want to be owners now. We want to own what we do, create jobs and enter politics. One thing I would pass down to my kids from his legacy is instilling a mastermind mentality in them. I want them to be able to plan and execute like Jay.
Because of Jay-Z… I understood how you could come from absolutely nothing to becoming one of the greatest icons of Black excellence. Jay didn’t allow his circumstances or past to block him from being the successful businessman or artist he is today. Two of the most pivotal records that I can still run back to this day are “Can I Live” and “Song Cry.”
Because of Jay-Z… I see what it’s like to transition from a businessman to a “business, man!” I’ve seen him do this by surrounding himself with extremely smart and savvy business partners, being relentless in pursuing his professional dreams and goals, and by constantly evolving.
What’s most admirable about Jay-Z is his evolution. He hasn’t gotten complacent or comfortable with becoming a millionaire, then a multimillionaire, then a hundred-millionaire, and now a billionaire. He pushed himself to become bigger and better. Jay took away the limitations imposed on Black America and helped take the ceiling off of what Black America defined as success. If there’s anything I learned from Jay’s legacy that I’d pass down my heritage, it would be that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish—you can start out in Marcy projects, and finish a billionaire.
Because of Jay-Z… I’ve pursued a rap career that’s progressed in multiple ways. Jay’s rise showed people like myself that we can accomplish anything. I’m currently becoming more involved in investments and stocks to expand myself as a businessman.
I want to thank Jay for his creativity, and if there was anything I’d teach my own kids from his legacy, it would be to go against the odds.
Because of Jay-Z… People up north learned about UGK. - Olu
And he’s got a fearless attitude toward business. I think black people all got a little bit of inspiration watching him. - WowGr8
And it’s not just music. He’s dealing with athletes, he’s dealing with agents. It’s beautiful [for him] to spread it across the whole culture. - Olu
Because of Jay-Z… I practice taking part in ownership. I'm managed by Roc Nation, and I feel like what they stand for and a big part of what they do is make sure us melanated people understand [financial] literacy and business.
So many people come in the game just trying whatever because they’re trying to feed their families, but they’re not realizing they’re signing away the babies they never had. And I feel like Jay tries to make sure we understand what we’re signing, so that later on when we’re 50-years-old we ain't getting zero cents [in return for our work]. I think that's the biggest thing that anybody can give you in this [industry]—game on how to own your business. That's just what's real. It don't get no more realer than that. It can't get no more realer than that.