Over the course of BET’s week-long tribute to Jay-Z, particularly Wednesday’s (12/4) celebration of his 50th birthday, we’ve received testimonials from admirers one would typically expect. Longtime peers such as Bink and Wale, and documented super-fans like B. Dot and Mouse Jones all chimed in to toast to Hov’s legacy.
Today, we’ve curated words of praise from a less conventional group of Shawn Carter enthusiasts—beginning with gospel legend Kirk Franklin, who is a year younger than Jay-Z, yet never crossed paths with him musically, and ending with 26-year-old Jamila Mustafa, who had yet to enter pre-school before the rapper released his debut album.
Read on as playwright Jeremy O. Harris, novelist Jason Reynolds, pop singer JoJo and others exemplify the reach of Jay-Z’s grasp.
Because of Jay-Z… We are reminded what real emceeing is. I think Jay-Z is the greatest lyricist of all-time. I mean when you talk about somebody [whose] rhymes were never written down, somebody who can be that eloquent just off the dome, somebody who can flow that well just in the spirit of a conversation—he’s the Master Emcee. It is phenomenal to see him turn 50 and still be the bar for what real emceeing is.
More than anything, I think that Jay-Z should be celebrated for his willingness to not forget the community and those who do not have a voice like his. So many times, when we become successful, we forget those who are voiceless. Even in areas where gentrification has forgotten people of color, he’s been very intentional to make sure that those who don’t have a voice are still able to know that they are valued and that they are important. For him to be able to do that, for him to be so vocal in doing that, you got to celebrate him for continuing the hustle in a positive way. So, I celebrate the King Emcee.
Because of Jay-Z… We got some amazing music. We got a strong Black businessman out there who’s killing it and showing other young Black brothers how to really change their life and really make a difference. He showed a lot of these young kids how to rap, how to put those metaphors together, how to really control the crowd. He’s really dope at his skills. He’s definitely Top 5—actually. Top 3—for me.
Because of Jay-Z… I think stock in New York Yankees hats went up [laughs]. He’s definitely in my Top 5. I was just talking about my Top 5 [recently]. I have to go with classics like KRS-One and Black Thought. Jay-Z is definitely up there [too] just for his “everything-ness.”
It’s inspirational for him to come from where he’s come from and share his perseverance. There’s no excuses. This is a cat who just did it. Figured it out guerrilla-style. It is really inspirational for me to see [him turn] 50.
Because of Jay-Z… I have Blue-Ivy Carter memes [laughs]. I think Jay-Z’s ability to turn both alliteration and end-rhyme into songs that were not only culturally relevant, but actually pop music is wild. He brought a new relationship to the poetic into the mainstream consciousness through his rhymes. I think that’s really exciting as a writer. So, thank you for that, Jay-Z.
Because of Jay-Z… I know I could be a billionaire if I wanted to [laughs]. Everyone is going to praise his hustle. They are going to praise [him going from] “Marcy to Madison Square.” But at the end of the day, he has an unbelievable command of the English language, and he was able to take it in the most casual and cavalier way, and add his genius to it like we always do. It’s the dexterity of language… for me as a writer, that’s what I’m thinking about. How do we use our intuition and take our language and turn it into a special recipe that no one can copy?
Because of Jay-Z… I give the people what they need, instead of giving them what I think they want. He told me to do that personally. And I appreciate him for that.
He supports Black people. He supports us—he’s about us. I know people be on him about this, that and the third, but y’all don’t understand. This is chess, not checkers. And only kings know that.
Because of Jay-Z… I know that it’s more than just music—it’s a business. He has legacy. He has history. He’s definitely shown us a different way to do this and finesse the art, the business, the everything.
As artists and as creatives, it takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of sacrifice to be great and actually reach the top. So for us to be able to watch him, and to be able to learn and absorb what he’s putting out there… I’d like to thank him for investing his time and his energy into being a role model for us businessmen, artists, creatives, fathers, husbands—Black men.
Because of Jay-Z… Men started dressing better [laughs]. [And] creating Tidal is such an incredible thing that he did. What an amazing platform. It’s for artists, by artists. There’s literally so many things [that I could thank him for contributing], but that’s the first thing that comes to mind.
Because of Jay-Z… I can dream to have a billion dollars and be top dog and continue to work. You can come from nothing and have it all. So, because of Jay-Z, I can be a dreamer. The first thing that’s on my mind, because I just finished watching the NFL… I think he had a lot to do with Colin Kaepernick getting his extra chance at the league with that workout. He’s done a lot more things that are way bigger than that, but for me, that’s the first thing that comes to mind.
Because of Jay-Z… “I’m not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of not trying.” He never stops and never settles. He’s been through a lot both publicly and privately; in music, his personal life, and as a businessman. And he never stopped. He always kept creating. He always kept reinventing. He always kept enhancing himself in every single way.
One thing Jay has always talked about is the idea of genius-level talent. He once said if you apply that genius-level talent, whatever it is, you can be anything in the world. That’s something I’d pass down to my children or my mentees—find your genius-level talent, and if you apply yourself, you can do anything.