As a lifelong hip-hop fan, there are certain things that come with having been born in the 80s, being a kid in the 90s and as they say, partying in the 2000s. One of those things is that the popularity, commercialization and aging of the genre has effectively paralleled your life.
As an artist, Shawn Carter will always be one of the most dynamic to ever do it. For my money, The Black Album is one of the best ever made. But as he's branched out, it's become obvious that his personality seems to shine most when he's doing anything other than rapping. In short, Jay is more interesting as a mogul than as an artist.
That's not the case for everyone who fits the artist-to-mogul bill. For instance, Diddy, 50 Cent, and Dr. Dre have all tried, but in many ways they don't have the same appeal and charisma as Jay. Sure, they've made big money in other ventures, but in essence, Hov can quit the proverbial day job of rocking the mic and still be as influential. He's noticeably beyond all three in terms of total self-expression.
Take Diddy. His ventures have put his face and image into bars all over the world with the Ciroc brand. But at the end of the day, I'd still rather hear him rap than talk about anything else. His music persona and business persona have grown together, and both are outsized, loud and somewhat obnoxious. He's into movies now, too, which is tremendous.
Mr. Cent, whose Vitamin Water deal made him a gazillionaire, has been trying hard to hang on to relevance with little luck. He was recently on “60 Minutes” and I don't know one person that tuned in.
Dre, whose Beats by Dre headphones have redefined what luxury audio means to a generation, still can't manage to drop an album. Which, frankly, I'd listen to at this point.
But in the last five years, the Jay-Z-that's-not -rapping is the one I've become most inspired by. His book with Dream Hampton, “Decoded”, was incredible. When he discusses architecture and gallery art in interviews, I find myself far more intrigued than listening to him rhyme while sitting in a chair on a Justin Timberlake song.
And as much as I loved the track 'Otis,' that was mainly because the video showed him as a grown man who still knew how to have fun. A skill that all of us aspire to keep.
His foray into athlete representation isn't particularly surprising. Percy Miller (Master P) failed gloriously at it once, but Carter is not on his level. Miller also tried out for the NBA at one point, too. Jay-Z is a minority owner of an NBA team.
And the importance of him snagging Robinson Cano from Scott Boras is not lost on sports fans, either. Boras is a proverbial big dog. Grabbing a top client, a guy named after Jackie Robinson, the week before a movie about the legendary ballplayer comes out is an awfully slick maneuver. Not to mention the preview for said movie features a song of Jay's.
I hope this latest move is the first step toward any hip-hop artist being able to rise above the basic characterization as 'rapper/insert other job here.' But to do that, you have to stop rapping. Shawn Carter's career as a father, businessman and style icon will be far more interesting and lengthy than anything he ever did as a rapper.
Jay-Z has always been a strong example to mainstream America that young black men don't always have to define themselves by their pasts in order to determine their own futures.
I just can't wait to see what he puts his mind to when he finally sets the mic down for good.
Yates is a columnist for The RootDC