I like Jay-Z’s music (for the most part) and for this I am in good company. His god-complex is a bit overwhelming, however, and I have difficulty with folks who collapse faith with financial prosperity, as Zack O’Malley Greenburg’s book, “Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went from Street Corner to Corner Office,” apparently suggest Jay-Z does. In Ebony Utley’s discussion of this newly released take on Jay-Z in her article, “Identifying With God: Jay-Z’s Power to Profit” about the way he links god and money, she writes:

“Jay-Z’s body of work lives religion by connecting it with capitalism. As Jay-Hova, Jay-Z’s power to profit is endless. As he boasts on “U Don’t Know” “Put me anywhere on God’s green earth, I’ll triple my worth.” Jay-Z believes in God, and he believes he can be God when it suits him. His presentation as a peerless entrepreneur is secured through these appropriations of an Absolute authority.”
Yet, Utley is forgiving of Jay-Z on this topic–and though normally I’d be put-off by its association to the prosperity gospel camp (think: “The Secret”), Utley makes a truly convincing argument about why Jay-Z is making a solid social critique. “Serving God and money,” Ultey writes, “is Jay-Z’s way of addressing the contradiction that comes from living in a neighborhood where there are a thousand ways of believing and little evidence that conditions are improving. Jay-Z lyrically balances the external forces of poverty and oppression with the adrenaline rush and capitalist successes of the hustler’s life, and then with the hustler’s private conversations with God.” Her argument goes on to illustrate many, positive points about Jay-Z’s lyrics, and how they illustrate a powerful social critique–and I have to say, she makes me want to take a more sympathetic look at his songs for this precise reason. Maybe putting together god and financial success can indeed be transformative–Utley certainly makes a strong case for this, given Jay-Z. Fascinating. A must-read.

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