99 Problems But Kap Ain’t One

Hit me!

It’s strange to think how a white boy from the north shore of Chicago could see himself in the music of a hustler from The Marcy Projects. But I love Jay-Z. I also saw myself in the music of a rude boy from Trenchtown. I love Bob Marley. It’s tempting to say I love the music of Jay-Z, it’s tempting to say I love the music of Bob Marley, but it’s a lie, an understatement in trying to downplay how tightly I’ve woven my identity into the tapestry of their storytelling.

The greatness of their art is undeniable. When Bob Marley sang, “Get Up Stand Up, Stand Up For Your Rights,” I took it as an invitation to make a break from the things I was told that I had to be when I was growing up and bushwhack my way on a path I still cannot explain, on a path where I still cannot see how it ends. I’m one year past the halfway point to one hundred. You’d think by now I’d see the light. But I’m surrounded by darkness and I’m okay with the darkness, it’s sexy. 

“I’m a hustler homie. You’re a customer crony. Got some dirt on my shoulder, could you brush it off for me?”

If Shawn Carter’s dad made it too hard on him, well then my dad made it too easy on me. I remember when I finally earned the opportunity to go to school in New York City, I opened up my life to everyone I knew, inviting them to crash on my floor, wanting to share the moment. My dad was paying the rent. This is what he said to me, “How can you help other people when you can’t even help yourself?” I was naive. This is the downside of being raised spoiled. I can’t blame my dad, he was trying to do the right thing which is never an easy thing to see when you love someone. You think you’re helping by giving them what they want but really you’re stealing from them the turbulence they need to better understand a world filled with friends who are stealing your mojo, girlfriends and boyfriends who are holding you back, siblings you’re better off shooting.

Legend has it, Sean Carter shot his brother when he was 12 years old for stealing his jewelry. Think about what jewelry means to a child living in the projects. It’s status. It’s success. It’s a signal, in a very small world, that you’re someone who’s going places. All of this is bullshit but not through the eyes of a 12 year old child.

Unfortunately, my time machine is broken so I can’t go back in time but if I could, I would throw everyone out of my apartment, I would throw everyone out of my life. Then I’d go back further in time and never invite them to join me in New York City. Then I’d go back further in time and never quit the swim team going into my sophomore year of high school. At the time, I quit the team because I was tired of going back and forth in a pool, it was boring. I reeked of chlorine, my skin was chalky. I wanted to get a job, save money, buy a car, kiss a girl. But if I had only fought through the boredom, allowed myself to reek and applied lotion, if only I had denied myself the obsession of romance, maybe it would have occurred to me to shoot my brother before he stole my future. Probably not. I’m not a violent person. But when I sing along to Jay-Z, it’s fun to imagine being ruthless.

“Got a project chick that plays a part and if it goes down, y’all, that’s my heart. Baby girl so thorough, she’s been with me from the start. Hid my drugs from the NARC’s. Hid my guns by the park.”

I’m having a hard time processing the deal Jay-Z made with The NFL. Please understand, it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t care about me. He doesn’t care about you. He certainly doesn’t care about Colin Kaepernick. He does in so far as he knows how to use Colin Kaepernick to get where he wants to go, but Jay-Z is not interested in making a difference, Jay-Z is interested in making a deal.

Imagine if Dr. King had been interested in making a deal, if after the deal he kept Rosa Parks off the bus, if after the deal he encouraged everyone to call off the march from Selma to Montgomery, if after the deal he encouraged everyone to keep sitting in the back of the bus, for now. That he struck a deal with the bus company, and his deal was enough, and his deal was beyond kneeling.

Take it or leave it, Rosa.

The miscalculation in the math of my social justice word problem is Dr. King was preaching in a small room on Dexter Avenue unlike Jay-Z who raps in sold out stadiums. I saw in Jay-Z something that was not there. I’m having a hard time processing the deal Jay-Z made with The NFL because I’m too stupid to see what’s right in front of my face.

I did the same thing with Barack Obama.

I looked underneath the word problem when he said his thoughts were evolving on gay marriage. It didn’t add up. I should have taken him at his word. I couldn’t imagine being smarter than Barack Obama. I doubted myself. I’ve got 99 problems and this is one.

Yes, Barack is more accomplished. Yes, Barack is more famous. Yes, Barack meant what he said. There is no subtext in politics, there is no subtext in life – take people at their word – save the subtext for art.

“Baby I’m a boss, I don’t know what they do. I don’t get dropped. I drop the label. World can’t hold me, too much ambition, always knew it’d be like this when I was in the kitchen. While you in the same spot, me I’m dodging raindrops, meaning I’m on vacay, chilling on the big yacht. Yeah I got on flip-flops, white Louie boat shoes. Y’all should grow the fuck up. Come here let me coach you!”

In the music, I’m being coached. In the music, I’m being schooled. In the music, I’m plugging into the bravado. I cannot tell you how many times I sang along to the music of Jay-Z to recapture a sense of who I wanted to be despite the disappointment of who the world consistently showed me I was. If he could do it, escape the Marcy Projects and sell out Madison Square Garden, while I was singing along, it felt like I could do it too.

This is the problem I’ve had my whole life.

Here it is. You ready?

I liked the lie.

Growing up, there was a kid down the block who made up this story about two girls he was having sex with. I knew the girls, I was friends with the girls, and yet I went along with the story. I used to go over to his house. We’d play ping-pong as he weaved his tale of sexual debauchery into the tapestry of our childhood, his commitment to the details of the lie should have been a tell, but I didn’t care. I wanted to go along, I liked the lie. Let me say this again because it’s important to call myself out: I was friends with the girls, I should have known better, but I went along, chipping away at my character, teaching myself not to see what’s right in front of my face.

“Financial freedom my only hope. Fuck living rich and dying broke. I bought some artwork for one million. Two years later, that shit worth two million. Few years later, that shit worth eight million. I can’t wait to give this shit to my children. Y’all think it’s bougie, I’m like, it’s fine! But I’m trying to give you a million dollars worth of game for $9.99.”

4:44 is a masterpiece. It’s the latest album by Jay-Z. Instead of the usual bragging, he gets underneath problems in his life. This is unusual for Jay-Z. In every other album, if it’s not bragging, it’s bravado. This was fun when he was still coming up, almost like he was carving his future out of words. But as he became famous, as his wealth became a calling card of the brand he was building, his bravado turned into bragging. The only thing more off-putting than listening to a billionaire rap star brag about his Picasso collection is watching a billionaire president standing on the White House lawn just before boarding his helicpoter calling himself “The Chosen One.” Having said all that, to address rumors of infidelity, this is how Jay-Z apologized to Beyonce…

“What good is a ménage à trois when you have a soulmate?”

That’s not an apology. That’s a chest-thump. Just like Colin Kaepernick isn’t the centerpiece of the NFL Deal, he’s an afterthought. And me, what am I doing about it? Hashtagging. What’s that going to do? Who’s that going to help? Really. This year at the Super Bowl Halftime Show, I’ll do what I’m told, “Throw your hands up in the air. Wave ‘em like you just don’t care.”

Hit me!

10 thoughts on “99 Problems But Kap Ain’t One”

  1. Jay Z should buy Greenland now and make Kaepernick the grounds keeper.

    No, I take that back.

    Trump should invade Greenland, like Putin took Crimea. That is the next move.

    1. Putin invades like an insecure dictator. Trump invades like he’s playing Monopoly. Jay-Z is a baller for real. Colin Kaepernick is in the rarefied league where his peers are Muhammad Ali, Megan Rapinoe and The Dixie Chicks.

      1. Everything you think you know is fake, built on a fallacy. Start with the Cold War which in your eyes never ended. The expansion of Nato into Eastern Europe that we were promised by James Baker wouldn’t go one inch East of Germany.

        1999 the illegal bombing of our brothers in Serbia. 2003 Iraq, 2008 the unilateral recognition of Kosovo, 2011 Libya, then Syria, the putsch in Ukraine in 2014. A nonstop war against Russia by America. You have a global media, NBC ABC CBS CNN FOX PBS Voice of America, 5 Russian speaking channels that do nothing but blast Putin day and night, FUNDED by the State Department. We have never sanctioned any American Russian speaking media in Russia, we should, but we haven’t, not once. We have RT and even that you sanction and declare a foreign agent. You interfere with our internal affairs CONSTANTLY, your own diplomats at senior levels don’t even deny it anymore. Thought you Americans would benefit from what you call context. You are in no position to lecture anybody about anything in this world.

        1. Another fallacy is 1776. The 1619 Project is using the 400 year anniversary of slaves being brought to America to re-examine the brutal legacy of slavery.

          Full Disclosure: I had to google The 1619 Project to help write the previous sentence. I haven’t been able to get my hands on The New York Times Magazine where it started, but I’m aware of the project and grateful for the awareness as a starting point.

          I’m also grateful for your thoughts, Alexander Dugin.

          Speaking of “context,” everything you wrote about is making me re-examine the thoughts floating around my head as I read The Mueller Report for myself. Thanks for stopping by to comment.

          By the way, my aim isn’t to lecture anyone. My aim is to grow, maybe have a laugh.

  2. So what the fuck does this all mean? Are you gainfully employed? Are you supporting yourself and those around you? Are you building a life for yourself or just flailing along tweeting 20x a day like a good SJW? Is this how you make a decent life for yourself? Sounds like a meaningless, sad existence.

    Here’s a little unsolicited advice, the free kind too. Shut the fucking internet off and start living your life like a 51-year-old man. Turn off Twitter and Facebook and grow up. Sorry, your 20s and 30s, 40s are over and never coming back. You made the choices, yes **choices** you made and now you have to live with the consequences, good bad and ugly. It’s called manhood and womanhood. Try a 9 to 5 job 5 days a week for a year and write a blog about the physical world, not this never-ending social media idiocy.

    1. I don’t know who you are, Jill, or what you do but I can only hope with a delicate touch like yours that it has something to do with guidance counseling.

      My life is wonderful. The things I’m doing are wonderful. I’m lucky, we’re living in a time when being a SJW (Social Justice Warrior) is the highest of high. I love it. I love what it does for my writing. And to think, blogging didn’t exist when I was coming up. Who knew?

      My advice to you, my unsolicited advice to you, is continue doing exactly what you’re doing. There’s something undeniably attractive about how easily you launched an avalanche of vitriol in my direction. I have a Jewish Mother, it feels like home.

      I’d date you but my dance card is full. Thanks for commenting. Hope to see you again here soon. Until then, ta-ta!

        1. Here’s a catalog of my behaviors…

          I’m listening to a podcast every Saturday called The 1619 Project, I’m reading a book called “Before The Mayflower” which I learned about from the woman who started The 1619 Project, Nikoke Hannah-Jones, I’m walking to they gym & hitting the elliptical for 17 minutes & lifting weights & hitting the punching bags & then running home, I’m writing every day, knocking on doors for candidates I believe in, recording a new album with my band Friends withOUT Benefits, (we’ll be hitting the open mics again starting this September), I’m loving the people I’m lucky enough to love, yesterday I took a road trip to Wisconsin in a futile but gorgeous attempt to chase The Northern Lights.

          It’s tempting to say that anyone who feels my “behavior is destructive” might want to take a look in the mirror. But having said that, on the flip side, if they still feel I’m the one with a problem – then man up, then woman up – invite me out for a cup of coffee, look me in the eye, tell me how you feel instead of passive-aggressively commenting.

          Thanks for commenting, NotJillEither.

  3. I must admit to having had some confusion… Not about what Greg wrote, no. I found the original post to be thought provoking.

    I was confused by the mean-spririted comments. I kept trying to see the connection between them and the post.

    Then I realized there isn’t one. The connection goes back to the writer of the comments: Comments speak volumes about the commenter.

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