JAY-Z has released his long-awaited and already acclaimed album, 4:44. In the album JAY-Z gives us "The Story of O.J.," and in it he talks about race and money. But unlike his opinions captured in "Money, Cash, Hoes" or "I Love the Dough." Carter provides a different, more solemn and pointed view, in fact he encourages his listeners to not waste money, but focus on building their credit. He says, forget “livin’ rich and dyin’ broke.” Jay is known as a businessman, but this time around he suggests that money and wealth’s value is greater than just temporarily taking over your neighborhood or field, but its value is in what you can leave behind for your children and how you can transform your community.
He manages in a short song to hit on credit, home ownership, investments and entrepreneurship.
This is a new vantage point, not often heard from today’s rappers. Another chart topper, ranked #8 on Rolling Stones’ 50 Best Songs of 2015 and still regularly played on the radio, “F*** up some commas” by Future, focuses on what he would do once he amassed some wealth, including putting rims on his new Audi, throwing money in the air and ordering bottle service.
So is Jay Z the new Suze Orman, personal financial guru? We would say he is far from it, and that is a good thing.
In communications, we learn that the message is just as important as the messenger. Personal finance and financial literacy have been a part of the American consciousness for a very long time, including in the black community.
Yet, is JAY-Z the future of personal finance? Is he better able to capture the tenants of what it takes to be financially free and to inspire such steps in a generation of listeners of all races and creeds?
We look to JAY-Z and are encouraged. This song has power, because even if one person takes a step back to look at how he or she views money because of this song that would be a win. Personal finance does not top the charts, but when JAY-Z lays a track on how investing in art can lead to an eight-fold increase, people sit up and listen.
JAY-Z also argues that if he had invested in “Dumbo before it was Dumbo/ For like 2 million, That same building today is worth 25 million / Guess how I’m feelin’? Dumbo” However, for many people who are not multi-millionaires, saving enough money individually to invest in property is out of reach.
According to Prosperity Now, a non-profit devoted to building wealth and financial security, and the Institute for Policy Studies, Black and Latino people have very little wealth. In its 2016 release of the “The Ever-Growing Gap,” it found that the median household wealth of Black and Latino families was $1,700 and $2,000, respectively. For White families, it was $63,800. JAY-Z, the No. 2 richest rapper in America, does not share the same wealth as the average Black and Latino family. However, in his position, he draws attention to the racial disparities.
We applaud JAY-Z for coaching us on the fundamentals of financial literacy and look forward to seeing the fruits of Arrive, his venture capital fund for young startups that also advises on brand and business development.
JAY-Z’s song is not for everyday people, but the super wealthy or other rappers as demonstrated by the naming of the song “The Story of O.J.” He encourages other rappers not to take advances and mocks those “holdin’ money to your ear.” However, his takeaways can be applied to all of us.
As a symbol for successful black entrepreneurship, JAY-Z is making enormous strides to become the face of black personal finance. He not only lays down a blueprint for strategic investments but by sampling Nina Simone’s “Four Women,” he acknowledges the complex world black people inhabit, similar to the four stereotypes Simone explores in her song, when trying to build wealth as a person of color individually and within a community. By presenting his own mistakes regarding personal finance to the public, he is becoming a businessman who leads by example.
We hope that listeners do not just nod their head to the backbeat of Simone’s “Four Women” and the lyrical talents of JAY-Z, but also take the advice he is giving for $9.99.
Today is the day to move on from putting money to your ear as a show of wealth, to creating wealth by investing in your future, family and community.
By Kylie Patterson and Xavier Buck
Kylie Patterson is the Senior Program Manager for the Racial Wealth Divide Initiative at Prosperity Now and a participant in the Allies for Reaching Community Health Equity Public Voices Fellowship with The OpEd Project.
Xavier Buck is a Ph.D. Student in History at the University of California Berkeley and hip-hop enthusiast.