Rapper and entrepreneur Jay-Z is under a bit of fire lately due to a lyric off his most recent album. Released on June 30, 2017, “4:44” is the rapper’s fourteenth studio album and thirteenth solo album. Despite the album’s quick success and accolades, including becoming certified platinum by July 5th, 2017 and being deemed the best album of the year by fellow rapper Diddy, Jay-Z has received criticism that a certain song on his album may imply anti-Semitic stereotypes.
In his second track on the album, “The Story of O.J.,” Jay-Z raps, “You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a strip club? Credit/ You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America? This how they did it.” In addition to prompting a social media debate over whether the lines were anti-Semitic or not, they have also attracted the attention of The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an international non-governmental Jewish organization founded in 1913 that “fights anti-Semitism and all forms of hate.”
Jay-Z is someone who has spoken out publicly against anti-Semitism. In 2006, he and fellow entrepreneur Russell Simmons gave a PSA sponsored by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding stating, “What’s not cool is anti-Semitism. It’s a long word for racism. Anti-Semitism and racism are the same thing. Don’t be silent, remember: We are one, one voice.” An ADL representative acknowledged this. “We know that Jay-Z is someone who has used his celebrity in the past to speak out responsibly and forcefully against the evils of racism and anti-Semitism,” they say. However, their position remains that even if Jay-Z did not mean to perpetuate a negative stereotype, the lyrics are still damaging to the image of Jewish people.
“The lyric does seem to play into deep-seated anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews and money. The idea that Jews’ ‘own all the property’ in this country and have used credit to financially get ahead are odious and false. Yet, such notions have lingered in society for decades, and we are concerned that this lyric could feed into preconceived notions about Jews and alleged Jewish ‘control’ of the banks and finance,” the rep continued.
The majority opinion seems to be that Jay-Z did not mean any injury by the lyric. At his defense were Russell Simmons and Jewish talent manager, Guy Oseary. In an Instagram post, Oseary argues that the rapper was trying to portray Jewish people in a positive light as a financial model for the black community. “He’s attempting to use the Jewish people in an exaggerated way to showcase a community of people that are thought to have made wise business decisions,” begins Oseary. “In my opinion, Jay is giving the Jewish community a compliment. If you had to pick a community as an example of making wise financial decisions achieving financial freedom who would you choose? I’m not offended by these lyrics,” he declares.
Simmons also defended Jay on Twitter. “Mischief makers would like to take Jay’s statements about the culture and practices that exist within some parts of the Jewish community (notice I say some). The fact is this culture that promotes good business and financial well-being is and has been a guiding light to the black and specifically the hip-hop community.”
Out of context, the lyric could certainly be viewed as anti-Semitic, but similar to the way that art imitates life, art also exaggerates life, and rappers do this often. For the lyrics and video of the track, “The Story of O.J,” Jay utilizes exaggerated stereotypes in order to prove a point, but it is generally believed that no harm is intended by them.