Jay-Z’s undercover feminism

Let me confess: I talk hella shit about Jay-Z. Not because I don’t respect his long career and enjoy his music (I genuinely do) but because it seems everyone, especially in New York, is a Jiggaman “Stan” and sometimes I like to be contrary. Folks love his swagger arrogance and egoism, and even though it gets on my nerves I can’t knock his hustle. However, Jay-Z is letting us see some of his hidden feminist stripes.

First, Jay (and even cray Kanye too) won me over with the track “New Day” from Watch The Throne in which they ponder what life will/would be like raising sons. Hearing two hip-hop heavyweights talk about their real anxieties and worries about fatherhood, and reflecting on making their children’s lives better than their own, is powerful. In a world where emotional vulnerability especially around relationships and childbearing is seen as “feminine” and thus weak, this was a refreshing departure from much of the boastful bravado that’s expected of rappers and often more generally, men of color.

Secondly, as Courtney pointed out yesterday, Jay-Z and Beyonce made mega pop-culture news by announcing they are expecting a baby with a blissful belly rub after Bey’s VMA performance. I won’t repeat how myself like so many others witnessed and appreciated the palpable joy of the entire arena and on the proud parents-to-be’s faces but I’m just thankful to see people rejoicing a pregnancy especially in the mainstream hip-hop community.

What stood out to me as much as his excitement about being a father is Jay’s face during Chris Brown’s performance. I know I’m not alone in having unsettling mixed feelings about watching Chris Breezy perform. The young man can dance his ass off. After watching his VMA montage and realizing that all those songs on the radio are his, I understood that his comeback is major. But how can I disconnect and enjoy his performance without thinking about Rihanna and the police photos of her face after their altercation he beat her up? How can I disconnect from the fact that now dude is making bookoo bucks, had no real legal accountability (not that court intervention changes the misogyny behind abuse) and had no time away from the limelight to do some legitimate anger management and therapy. I can’t. But people still rock hard with CB and will defend him or at least push the incident under the rug. Even my mom was like, “Haven’t people forgotten about that?” *side eye*

We don’t know Jay-Z’s true feelings but as I was watching it live, I felt like Jay-Z’s face expressed my own mixed feelings. He watched intently and seemed to acknowledge CB’s talent  but he wasn’t going to outwardly cosign with clapping or any signs of approval, except for a slight head nod at the end. It was a stark contrast to Kanye who was standing up next to Jay throughout the performance and who applauded enthusiastically at the end…along with Justin Bieber who you could see cheering “That’s my boy! That’s my boy!”

Damn how quickly we forget that only in March he was flipping out on TV when reporters asked him about Rihanna.

But apparently Jigga hasn’t forgotten…and neither have many of us. Jay-Z brought Rihanna up in the game and it’s said she’s like a little sis to him. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it (we don’t know these people!) I was touched by what seemed like loyalty and allegiance to her…and perhaps implicitly to all of us who have struggled in unhealthy, violent and/or dangerous relationships. I know over the years he has had ignorant lyrics about women (i.e. “Girls, Girls, Girls” and more), I am not denying it. He could have faked the funk, clapped, smiled and hammed it up for the cameras who watched his every move but he did not endorse or celebrate Chris Brown in any way. I respect that.

Would Jay call himself a feminist? I would pass out if he did. Hell, his wife doesn’t call herself one (and her “feminist” status is always up for debate). I’m not sure I care…it’s more about what you’re doing than what label you’re claiming. Jay & Bey may represent and musically express many stereotypical gender roles but I think at times we all do. Thank socialization for that. Nonetheless, we are getting to see a more mature and exposed Jay-Z…one that might even raise a feminist son or daughter and inspire others do the same.

Join the Conversation