In a fortnight that brought Rick Ross' despicable pro-rape and Ray J's equally despicable attempt to retain some post-Moesha relevance one would be forgiven for thinking what the hell was wrong with rap music these days? Both depict Hip Hop's regretful side.
Now let's talk about the good. Let's talk about Jay-z. Facing rampant criticism from his decision to sell his minority stake in NBA franchise Brooklyn Nets – and then take a cheeky break to Cuba with Beyonce as an 'up yours!' (and also in violation of a U.S ban on citizens visiting the state) – Jay-z turned not to twitter, but to rap. His impromptu mini track “Open Letter” is defiant, abrasive and intensely braggadocious – perfect. Jigga speaks candidly about his decision to divest Nets shares, and more superficially about the state of world affairs. In a flow as relaxing as his illicit trip, Jigga raps: “Boy from the hood but got White House clearance” and “Obama said chill, you gonna get me impeached/But you don't need this sh*t anyway/Chill with me on the beach” – thereby picking up on the Black Excellence motif he and Kanye West pioneered on 'Watch The Throne'. And the best thing about it all is that there is a degree of truth in this. The Carters and Obamas do have a social relationship. The White House was therefore faced with serious questions regarding the Cuba saga today.
Listen to enough Lupe Fiasco and he would have you believe that wealthy rappers equates to stupid rap – with Maybachs as a disgusting by-product. It does not. Yes, Jay-z is not shy about celebrating excess. But why shouldn't he be? Is music not just another form of escapism? Why do I want to listen to Akala's pseudointellectual piffle when ostentatious rap about Maison Martin Margiela and Murciélagos are far more interesting? In any case, Jay-z has shown with “Open Letter” that he can still retain the essence of hip hop: identifying a problem and eloquently addressing it in verse. This is an important moment in modern hip hop.