By Jason Keidel
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The first LP (remember those?) I ever bought, over 30 years ago, was “8th Wonder” by Sugar Hill Gang, which spawned a musical love affair that still hasn’t ended. So this isn’t some manifesto by the quintessentially unrhythmic white boy who cringes when hip-hop is on the radio. Indeed, I was listening to hip-hop back when it was called rap.
In fact, few things annoyed me more than when I left my slice of Manhattan and met the first moron who said a white kid with Lee jeans (with the permanent crease, of course) and shell-toe Adidas was “acting black” while the articulate black kid with glasses and good grades was “acting white.” The beauty of rap to those who lived in its womb (NYC) is that it knew no color.
If you grew up in NYC from the late 1970s through the ’80s, it was nearly impossible to avoid some steamy, summer blacktop with a backboard and a boombox throbbing with Whodini to Big Daddy Kane to Run DMC.
And perhaps you must worship the art to realize that Jay-Z, while wildly successful, is far more mogul than craftsman. Indeed, he coined the phrase, “I’m not a businessman; I’m a business, man!”
Shawn Carter took a largely urban, niche genre and made it a global brand, with his name swathed across records, sweaters, caps and capital. No sane mammal will question his business acumen. But anyone who worships the genre would tell you in two seconds that Rakim was way out of Carter’s class, in a strictly musical sense.
The genius of Jay-Z was his penchant for pop culture and fashion, becoming a trendsetter nonpareil, making every move a marketing boom, a precursor to a moment or movement.
Now Mr. Carter has become a certified sports agent, taking his transcendent sense of marketing into the world of athletics. On the surface it’s a brilliant move, as it doesn’t take David Copperfield to see that athletes have always wanted to be music titans, and the reverse. If an athlete isn’t entirely secure in his place in the cultural aristocracy, saying Jay-Z is his agent would end all doubt.
But the idea that Carter can make Kevin Durant, who just signed with Carter, a better player, pitchman or rich man is absurd. Kevin Durant’s game not only speaks for itself, but he’s a max-contract player even if Bugs Bunny represents him. He’s also in every other commercial, stars in movies and has made his brand without forking five percent over to an overrated consultant.
Durant reportedly told his former agent that he signed with Jay-Z to maximize his marketing potential. I’m not sure how Durant, who plays in microscopic Oklahoma City, can be any bigger unless the hip-hop king takes him on tour.
It makes perfect sense that Jay-Z thinks he can sell his Bed-Stuy-to-billionaire story to some kid who didn’t even have heat for a few barren winters. The problem with selling the American Dream to Kevin Durant is that he’s already living it. What exactly would the stellar forward get that he doesn’t have?
They say it takes money to make money. Then get with Donald Trump or Warren Buffet if you need to turn $100 million to $200 million. Signing with Jay-Z may give you more of that abstract street cred, but it doesn’t mean that Mark Cuban or Hal Steinbrenner will suddenly lump a few extra digits onto your next contract.
If you’re an athlete who daydreams about sweaty concert stages, clutching a microphone and spitting lyrics into your fist while the crowd finishes your next rhyme, then maybe Jay-Z can turn you into the ever-elusive crossover star.
But it’s painful enough to remember Ron Artest, Kobe Bryant and Deion Sanders butcher the science, reminding us why they should remain in the game that made them stars. Shaq Diesel? Ugh. Roy Jones, Jr. was hardly Michael Jordan. Remember Mickey Rourke’s boxing career? Exactly.
Carter and Cano make a more understandable marriage, as the splendid second basemen is already in the five boroughs, and Jay-Z’s fledgling agency can hit an agent’s home run without much risk. And if Cano, who probably likes late nights, can slip through every velvet rope in the city by flashing Carter’s business card, then why not? Cano will get what he gets whether Scott Boras or MC Hammer represents him.
Far be it from someone with a fraction of Carter’s traction to say which businesses he should or shouldn’t open. Indeed, he’s had a most charmed career, on and off-stage, on almost every product that bears his visage. And his newest venture should be profitable. But Kevin Durant just doesn’t need credit, from the street to the court to the bank.
Carter’s clientele should be the younger rungs of the key demo, the kid who has yet to become a man, ready to sign with The Man. Jay-Z is smart enough to see that a smaller splash leads to bigger ripples. All he has to do is look in the mirror and see himself when he looks across the table at his next fawning foal ready for the big time.
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