There’s an interesting Jay-Z related debate going on over at the Village Voice site. Writer Philip Mlynar accuses Jay, through his involvement with the Nets and the Barclays Center, of selling out the borough and his roots for cold hard cash. He points to the arena as a quantum leap forward in the march of gentrification and adds that its supposed benefits to the community are little more than lip service. Via The Village Voice:
The objections with the Barclays Center have been well reported on: The stadium was finagled into existence against local opposition by using an eminent domain claim; the project hasn’t yet come through on the promise to create local jobs; the introduction of waves of concert and basketball game goers will add to the traffic congestion in the area. (To those who have claimed the influx of extra bodies wasn’t too bad during opening week: Enjoy the fateful day with 19,000 Juggalos spray piss and Faygo on your sidewalks.) The Barclays Center is also easy to mock, not least for its look. After quickly reneging on claims that super-architect Frank Gehry would be designing the arena, its final form could be kindly characterized as a gigantic rust bucket. It might be the first structure in New York City that will look better once it has been coated with a patina of pigeon poop. But the Barclays Center is here and it’s not going away. Day to day, the borough will adapt just like it always does. That’s the cycle of change in New York. Less easy to come to terms with is Jay-Z’s role in the project.
As some amalgam of Jay-Z the hustler-turned-rapper from the Marcy Houses projects and Jay-Z the corporate business man, he has embraced a role as the figurehead for the stadium. Seeing images of him performing there last week brings to mind the closing scenes of a corny sports movie: The local boy who overcame adversity to snatch victory right at the whistle. Except Jay-Z’s rise isn’t about overcoming adversity so much as having sold a lot of drugs (including crack) to a lot of people who lived in his neighborhood and then taking that money and forming a music career based around rapping about having sold lots of drugs to those same people. At least that’s how Jay-Z has defined his rise in his own songs. On the second night of his string of shows, he gloated about his position, telling the crowd, “Today is a beautiful day and a dream realized. . . . I’m living proof that dreams come true.” But it leaves an image that smarts: No matter the tiny scale of Jay’s actual stake in the Barclays Center, the dream he talks about is one that proves that selling a crap load of drugs (and presumably decimating families in the process) can pay off.
Jonah Bromwich counters that Jay-Z’s journey from hustler to mogul is an example to Brooklynites, particularly the young ones who look up to Jigga, and that Barclays is a concrete monument to what he’s achieved. Also via The Village Voice:
Among the heavily left-leaning critics of rap music, corporate America has become a fearsome bogeyman, and it’s no wonder Jay-Z, as the most famous face in corporate rap, is a prime scapegoat. And as the Barclay’s Center goes up, there’s been a host of criticism,much of it focused on the ugly fight between developers and locals.
But we’re talking about the symbolic personality of Jay-Z here, and what that entity has done for Brooklyn. And what he’s done is what he’s said all along he’d do. He has succeeded, and he has given back, and in doing so has provided an example for over a million Brooklynites, young black kids prominent among them. That’s the kind of hustle, and the kind of effect, that it’s pretty hard to knock.
Seriously, go over to The Village Voice, read both articles, and tell us what you think in the comments. This is interesting.