Rap songs — and the artists who make and perform them — have never shied away from using offensive language or themes, even at the expense of other people or groups.
Most people, myself included, tend to turn the other cheek at these lyrics, instead choosing to appreciate the music for the enjoyment that it provides.
Every so often, however, an artist will use a lyric that stirs up controversy in the rap world. The most recent artist to do this is Jay-Z on his new album 4:44.
On the track “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 is how they did it.”
This line, which plays into the oft-used anti-Semitic stereotype about Jews and money, caused many in the Jewish community to speak out against Jay-Z.
Jay-Z’s 4:44 is a good album. I won’t dispute that. But the quality of the album and Jay’s stature in the rap world do not take away the fact that his lyrics single out a group of people in a way that has been perceived as offensive.
If anything, Jay’s place as one of the most lauded MC’s of all time makes his use of the anti-Semitic stereotype all the more noticeable.
It is alarming that in a time when our president, the so-called leader of the free world, deems it acceptable to say (and tweet) racist things, many, like Jay-Z, would engage in this behavior instead of condemning it.
Since Trump’s election, public displays of anti-Semitism have skyrocketed. In an annual audit published on April 24, the Anti-Defamation League, an international nongovernmental organization that seeks to fight anti-Semitism, found that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the first three months of 2017 was up 86 percent compared with the same time last year.
Jay-Z’s use of anti-Semitic lyrics is even more alarming when one considers the extensive history of oppression in both the black and Jewish communities.
These are two groups who have shown unprecedented support for one another when society has seen fit to ostracize them.
During the Civil Rights Movement, it was Jews like Rabbi Joachim Prinz who first marched with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. before other clergy decided to join. And when Jews immigrated to America in the 1930s and ’40s while being targeted during the Holocaust, it was historically black colleges and universities that accepted the Jewish intellectuals into their communities as professors.
It is important that instead of engaging in self-destructive behavior like perpetuating stereotypes, members of these communities remember their shared history and work together to combat discrimination in all its forms.
When people in the public eye do things that make others feel unsafe, it opens the door for everyone to engage in acts of discrimination.
Many will argue that Jay-Z’s lyrics are simply artistic expression, which is fine, but in a time when feelings of unrest are rising, it is imperative that we recognize that our words have effects beyond our comprehension.