Lauded hip-hop blogger Byron Crawford's recent book, Infinite Crab Meats, identifies an important feature of contemporary rap:
Never has it been less important that a rapper commit some sort of crime in order to appear authentic. Why sell drugs so you can rap about it and a make shedload of money, when you could just as easily not sell drugs, rap about it anyway, and still make a shedload of money?
Crawford bases his thesis on the following quote from the most mainstream rapper alive (R.I.P. Tupac), American's newest minted Cuban anthropologist, one Shawn Corey Carter:
I’ve said the election of Obama has made the hustler less relevant.
And yet, after writing off today’s hungrier and more skilled MCs for being less "relevant" now that 44 is president, Jay-Z nonetheless feels compelled to stay one step in front of the law.
Armed with a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control to engage in "cultural work," Jigga and Queen Bey recently paraded around Havana enjoying their fifth anniversary. The Carters, with the aid of the Fidelista state media, apparently intended to educate helpless Cubans, who suffer from an obscenely high 70 percent divorce rate, in the arts of a healthy marriage.
But forget what American or Cuban media outlets say. Those of us who want to the bottom of the Carters' trip, just like in the case in of Hov’s verse to Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe, need to examine Jay’s lyrics.
As we learn from a close reading of 30 Something, his celebration of adulthood, Jay eschews rolling marijuana joints for a fine Cuban cigar. We might also surmise from Otis (released in 2011) that Shawn Corey has been looking to smoke a fine Cuban with communist dictator and human rights abuser Fidel Castro for at least two years. This trip was long in the making.
It's also kind of pathetic. Jay-Z trying to remain edgy by celebrating his fifth wedding anniversary in Cuba gets about as far as a guy can get from being an O.G. hustler. He's modern day royalty, not the slangin’ hustler on the block that became a star 20 years ago. Would a real MC stoop to rewriting 99 Problems for the campaign trail?
Maybe there's an upside to this controversy. Now that he’s selling his one-fifteenth share of the Brooklyn Nets, Jay can finally get around to releasing new material.
I heard LL Cool J could be in the market for a new record.