“The Story of O.J.”

Overview

        “The Story of O.J.” comes from an American rapper and businessman Shawn Corey Carter, who is also known professionally as JAY-Z. “The Story of O.J” comes together with JAY-Z’s thirteenth solo studio album – ‘4:44’. The album and the song were released on June 30th, 2017. The album was released through Roc Nation and universal Music Group. When the album was released, it was exclusive to Sprint and Tidal customers. JAY-Z was the executive producer and Ernest Dion Wilson, professionally known as No I.D., was the co-executive producer of the album. ‘4:44’ is made up eight songs and features guest appearances from Frank Ocean, Damian Marley, Beyoncé and Gloria Carter, JAY-Z’s mother. “The story of O.J.” was nominated for Record of the Year at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards.

        During the release of Jay-Z’s 4:44 album, there was much press about Jay-Z and his supposed cheating scandal with his wife, Beyonce. His album was conjured in response to his infidelity. There is much significance behind the number ‘4’ for hip-hop sensation Jay-Z. Jay-Z reveals in an interview the number four was “the day I [Jay-Z] was born. My mother’s birthday, and a lot of my friends’ birthdays, are on the fourth; April 4 is my wedding date” (Ahmed 2017). The number 4 represents his love for his family and his wife and represents his direct response to Beyonce’s album Lemonade that was about love and infidelity. The number 44 also pays a tribute to the 44th president Barack Obama, the first black President of the United States. In the interview Jay-Z recounts how he woke up at 4:44 in the morning to write the song. Jay-Z believes that “4:44” is one of the best songs he has ever written. The number 4 is extremely significant to Jay-Z, and so this album carries the emotional, social, and personal commentary of Jay-Z.

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A snapshot from Jay-Z’s music video “The Story of O.J.” JayZVEVO. “JAY-Z – The Story of O.J.” YouTube, YouTube, 5 July 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RM7lw0Ovzq0.

Historical and Cultural Conversation

        There is much cultural and historical conversation to be made around Jay-Z’s song “the Story of O.J.”, the O.J. Simpson interview being the most obvious. In Jay-Z’s song, he mentions the famous O.J. Simpson interview in which O.J., himself, denies being black and instead identifies his being as O.J.. The conversation that sparked O.J.’s comment was when a woman commented “Look at those n*****s sitting with O.J.”, to which O.J. responded: “Don’t you understand? She knew I wasn’t black. She saw me as O.J.”. This interview was a streamline to the theme of inferiority complex among African Americans in “the Story of O.J.” The idea of African Americans distancing themselves from their race by means of their own wealth or social status becomes a huge theme throughout Jay-Z’s album. The reason behind this inferiority complex of blacks can additionally be attributed through black history. Jay-Z adds in the music video for “the Story of O.J.” several clips obviously referencing slavery. One clip displays Jay-Z’s persona lynched on a tree and another shows several black characters picking cotton. Later in the music video, the cotton is then made into Ku Klux Klan uniforms. This transition illustrates the history that follows the abolition of slavery with the later creation of the violently racist Ku Klux Klan. The Ku Klux Klan was a collection of confederate veterans that committed acts of violence against African Americans and whites that accepted the abolition. Jay-Z attributes the inferiority complex of black America to the history of slavery and the after result of racism with the Ku Klux Klan. Although blacks are equal to whites in modern day, the historical inferiority of blacks against the superior white race detriments the current day black America. This inferiority is what caused many blacks, namely O.J. Simpson, to deny their race and attempt to separate themselves from black culture through materialistic means.

        The theme of racial separation stems off to another theme of fiscal responsibility. In “the Story of O.J.” Jay-Z discusses his perspective of the financial culture impressed upon African Americans through various rappers and singers. As assistant professor at the University of Southern California, Jenkins, would claim, the influence of rap and hip hop in a black society determined the social survival of black America. Jenkins states that hip hop songs portray the illustration that the “ghetto life is so hopeless that an explosion of violence is both justified and imminent”(Jenkins 1232). Therefore, Jenkins concludes that hip hop songs and artists are greatly influential when forming the popular opinion within black America. In accordance to this claim, the constant materialistic nature of rappers such as Mos Def are able to dictate the financial culture of black America as well. Therefore, the financial stereotypes that are built into modern day society is centered around the idea of materialism instead of generational wealth.

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A snapshot from Jay-Z’s music video “The Story of O.J.” JayZVEVO. “JAY-Z – The Story of O.J.” YouTube, YouTube, 5 July 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RM7lw0Ovzq0.

Themes and Style

        The song: “The Story of OJ” tackles many racial issues relevant to not only the past, but also the present. These racial issues include racial pride, financial stereotypes, and racism. These themes are illustrated through the exaggerated features of the characters based on stereotypes as well as the many visuals presented within the music video such as the slave ship, slave auction, and O.J. Simpson’s interview. These themes are meant to speak to the public of black America and their lifestyles.

        Jay-Z’s disapproval of those who distance themselves from their race as well as those who embrace the stereotypes of their race is self-evident through his lyrics and animated music video. Jay-Z builds upon the frivolousness of intentional racial disconnect in America using O.J. Simpson’s infamous interview regarding his view of racial identity. O.J. Simpson attempted to escape racial identity through financial and social status, and tackles the ‘shame of being black’ by so desperately trying to separate himself from the reality of race in America. In the interview with Dean Baquet, New York Times executive editor, Jay-Z and Dean Baquet discuss the impact O.J. Simpson had on the young and black communities back in 1960s. O.J. Simpson was admired by many, “[kids] imitated his moves, his swagger […] We wanted to be him, gorgeous and running in the California sun.” He also disappointed many kids, especially black kids in poor neighborhoods, who were looking up to him and saw him as a god.

        In the interview Dean Baquet and Jay-Z discuss the powerful message that came from the song – “You can be rich, you can be poor, you’re still black.” Next Jay-Z answers who he was speaking to, and who he wanted to be moved by it. In the “The Story of O.J.” Jay-Z is specifically speaking to his audience and “about who we are and how do you maintain the sense of self while pushing forward and holding us to have a responsibility for our actions.” He brings an important idea about unity and having conversation all together and not shying away from the important topics. As Jay-Z states, it’s when we take the O.J. Simpson attitude that we isolate and separate ourselves from our community, people and the bigger conversation.

        “The Story of O.J.” also offers the audience Jay-Z’s stance on the financial culture of Black America. Jay-Z belittles the financial culture of African Americans that are so drawn into frivolous spending rather than leaving behind wealth for their own offspring. He illustrates this through the characters throwing their money away at a strip club. In the music video Jay-Z instead highlights the importance of financial responsibility. Jay-Z offers a solution to the current black financial culture. In the music video Jay-Z talks about the importance of credit, investment and saving.

        Most importantly Jay-Z presents a personal experience and offers the viewer to learn from his mistakes. Jay-Z raps about how he used to spend money on expensive cars. In the song he states that he regrets not buying property in Dumbo Brooklyn “Wish I could take it back to the beginnin’/ I coulda bought a place in Dumbo before it was Dumbo/ For like two million/ That same building today is worth twenty-five million/ Guess how I’m feelin’? Dumbo” Jay-Z explains how the property values have risen and how he could have invested into the property rather than buying “every V12 engine” this way he would have profited way more. He also conveys that he feels unintelligent, “dumbo,” about this situation and that he wishes he could go back in time and change that about himself. This way Jay-Z is trying to change the black financial culture of “living rich and dying broke.” Rather Jay-Z wants to install the mentality of leaving something for future generations and children.

        The caricature of “The Story of O.J.” music videos animation and its uncanny resemblance to Walt Disney’s animations is purposed to illuminate the racist and bigoted past of animated studios such as Fleischer studios, Warner Bros., and Walt Disney. Jay-Z’s persona in the music video, Jaybo, is an obvious tribute to Walt Disney’s Dumbo which had its own several racist undertones. Additionally, the animations symbolize the many African American stereotypes that were implanted through animations and movies. Therefore, it can be concluded that Jay-Z’s music video animation offers a criticism of past cartoon portrayals of successful animators as well as the portrayal of black America in media platforms.

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A snapshot from Jay-Z’s music video “The Story of O.J.” JayZVEVO. “JAY-Z – The Story of O.J.” YouTube, YouTube, 5 July 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RM7lw0Ovzq0.

Critical Conversation

        The cultural influence that many rappers have today can be explained through Jenkins’s interpretation of pop/rap music. Jenkins believes that Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” and other hip hop songs of the like, recognize that hip hop songs dictate the social tempo of black America. Therefore, Jenkin’s beliefs can very well explain the materialistic financial culture of black America with many rappers and hip hop artists representing gang violence, drug culture, and issues that arise with poverty. Her views are very much in line with Dr. Hughes, a professor at Virginia Tech. Dr. Hughes conducted a research that very well supports the social influence of rappers. Through empirical data, Hughes is able to concluded two major points: the first being “group identification is associated with positive group evaluation” and the second being “racial identification… is linked to higher self-esteem… and lower symptoms of depression” (Hughes 27). This research develops an argument that supports the idea of the positive social impact of a mob mentality driven by a certain culture or identification. In this scenario, the popular singers/ rappers have the ability to culturally drive groups into certain ways of knowing such as financial responsibility.

        A staff writer in the Atlantic, Kornhaber, on the other hand expresses his view of racial and financial significance of Jay-Z’s song: “the Story of O.J.”.Ultimately Kornhaber focuses on two major topics within Jay-Z’s “The Story of O.J.”. The first topic regards O.J. Simpson’s famous line: “I’m not black, I’m O.J.”. Kornhaber analyzes this phrase and concludes it as an attempt of a man to separate himself through the reality of race by means of his own wealth. This claim ultimately builds upon the frivolousness of intentional racial disconnect in America. Secondly Kornhaber delves into the idea of generational wealth instead of ‘living rich and dying broke’ present within Jay-Z’s song. Money is without a doubt a major theme within “The Story of O.J.” as Kornhaber decrypts Jay-Z’s message that belittles the financial culture of African Americans that are so drawn into frivolous spending rather than leaving behind wealth for their own offspring. Kornhaber portrays the idea of the foolishness of trying to disconnect oneself from their own race as well as providing a social commentary on his view of financial culture in black America. Finally, Jay-Z, himself supports Kornhabers claims in an interview with Dean Banquet. In the interview JAY-Z talks about having conversations and how with his music he tries to create conversations between people, between different races, between different ages. He talks about the importance of one’s culture and history and how that defines us.

 

Works Cited

Baquet, Dean. “Jay-Z Discusses Rap, Marriage and Being a Black Man in Trump’s

        America.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 29 Nov. 2017,

Coscarelli, Joe. “Jay-Z Releases His Personal and Political Album ‘4:44’ on Tidal.” The New

        York Times, The New York Times, 30 June 2017,

Hughes, Michael, et al. “Racial Identity and Well-Being among African Americans.” Social

        Psychology Quarterly, vol. 78, no. 1, 2015, pp. 25–48.,

Jenkins, Toby S. “A Beautiful Mind: Black Male Intellectual Identity and Hip-Hop Culture.”

        Journal of Black Studies, vol. 42, no. 8, 2011, pp. 1231–1251. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Jesus, Austin Elias-de. “Jay Z’s New Music Video Uses America’s History of Racist

        Cartoons to Deliver a Haunting Message.” Slate Magazine. N.p., 30 June 2017.

        Web. 27 Feb. 2018.

Kornhaber, Spencer. “Jay-Z Pitch for Generational Wealth.” The Altantic. N.p., 30 June      

        2017. Web. 26 Feb. 2018

Morgan, Marcyliena, and Dionne Bennett. “Hip-Hop & the Global Imprint of a Black  

        Cultural Form.” Daedalus, vol. 140, no. 2, 2011, pp. 176–196. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Sullivan, Rachel E. “Rap and Race: It’s Got a Nice Beat, but What about the Message?”

        Journal of Black Studies, vol. 33, no. 5, 2003, pp. 605–622. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Further Readings

Blanchard, Becky. “The Social Significance of Rap & Hip-Hop Culture.” THE SOCIAL

        SIGNIFICANCE OF RAP & HIP-HOP CULTURE, 26 July 1999,

KOUTONIN, Mawuna. “Racism Is an Inferiority Complex.” Silicon Africa, 30 Mar. 2014,

Leight, Elias, et al. “Jay-Z’s ‘4:44’: A Track-by-Track Guide.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 30

        June 2017, 
Scott, Eugene. “Jay-Z Says Trump’s Election Forced a Conversation on Race, but Talking Is

        Not Enough.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 30 Nov. 2017,                      

Keywords:

“Jay-Z”, “The Story of O.J.”, “Financial Culture”, “4:44”, “Analysis”, “Race Issues”, “racism”, “hip-hop”