Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went From Street Corner to Corner Office

Reviewed by Wafiur Rahman
Wednesday, March 1st, 2017


Author: Zack O’ Malley Greenburg


Shawn Corey Carter, H-to-the-OVA, Jazzy or Jay-Z is a hip-hop/rap mogul and successful entrepreneur today; his last album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, broke Elvis’ record of the most No.1 albums by a solo artist and with hits like his path breaking, “Hard Knock Life” to his more recent D.O.A, Jay-Z has become an institution by itself. However, this public figure is equally successful if not more in the many businesses he has built “off-stage”.


Forbes estimates his net worth to be in the region of half a billion dollars and author Greenburg tries to dissect the success in this “seemingly” tell-all book. Initially when the author approached “Jay-Z’s people” for the book, they asked what was in it for them-the shrewd motto that made Carter thousands (perhaps millions) when he was hustling drugs on the streets of New York and now when he is a business, man (I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man)-his complacent lyrics suddenly make sense!


The book manages to keep the reader enthralled and with vivid anecdotes of the people that have worked with Carter or have grown up with him is what grabs the reader.


Jay-Z is tongue-in-cheek and when he raps that he made more money selling crack than he does now, he lets us know the background he came from but he never explained why he left. In one particular interview with HOVA’s mentor, Jonathan “Jaz-O” Burks, where he recounts how Jay-Z came to him after shooting his brother for stealing his earring, you are left baffled but you sense no judgement from either the narrator or the author; Jay-Z just seems to have that charm around him. So much so that now, being a multi-millionaire and endorsing brands and name-dropping in his songs, you could call him a “sell-out” which in rap music equates poor connection with audiences and even sorrier record sales. However, he still manages to wow his crowds and churn out music hits.


The grit and brutality of Jay-Z’s childhood is mentioned and to Greenburg’s credit, he does explore why Jay-Z finally left selling drugs to pursue a career in music: simple, music had more money. According to kids he went to school with (the likes of Biggie Smalls and Busta Rhymes), “he was a slick kid who kept to himself and was real smart” and it was easy for him to make rhymes. He never wrote down his lyrics, he just had a natural flow. These aspect of the book will truly endear to the Jay-Z fans who may have been embittered by Jay-Z’s own book, “Decoded” where he briefly mentions why he left the drugs for music.


Picking up the book however, you would want the whole 360 angle of the persona that is Jay-Z. He is as controversial as he is rich and the reader is left wanting of the allegations of Jay-Z promoting black supremacy (“Run This Town” lyrics and video) along with Zionist practices such as the diamond sign he flashes during his concerts and videos. Furthermore, his not-as-successful endeavours are left unexplored as well-his association with the New Jersey Nets (the team with one of the worst NBA records for the past few seasons) and with Reebok which is hardly an elite brand he preaches his lifestyle to be. But, Greenburg does allay that Jay-Z makes money for every partnership, for every promotional activity and it is the money that keeps him going. Fair Enough.


However, like the words of his song, “Empire State of Mind,” he has truly come a long way from Brooklyn to TriBeCa and one must celebrate this business/music savant with this book.

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