x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

So Jay Z has attitude – so what?

When I watched Jay Z perform in New York three years ago, I sat in the very last row. Even so, we were celebrating as intensely as those in front, mostly because no one else raps with as much joy as Jay Z.

Jay Z will headline a Formula 1 concert in Abu Dhabi in November. Getty Images
Jay Z will headline a Formula 1 concert in Abu Dhabi in November. Getty Images

We’re not worthy.

Responding to criticism from the singer and philanthropist Harry Belafonte that he has failed to use his celebrity status for the sake of social change, Jay Z said in an interview last month: “My presence is charity.”

Suppose we believe Jay Z’s own hype. We should be utterly grateful he’s coming for a Formula 1 concert in November. What have we done to deserve him?

“If your mere presence is charity, maybe you’re doing good every day simply by waking up,” scolded The New Yorker’s Sasha Frere-Jones.

So Jay Z has attitude – so what? At least he’s not all attitude, like his friend Kanye West, who recently called himself “the nucleus” of culture, despite his new album Yeezus being messy and minor.

Those are two words you can’t use to describe Jay Z’s endeavours. His music is sensational. Picasso Baby, the art-centric track from his latest album Magna Carta Holy Grail, features sonic textures but a simple tempo. It is technically breathtaking, without the assaulting racket of rap music from the last decade, and possibly the beginning of the return of minimalist hip-hop.

Magna Carta Holy Grail is Jay Z’s 13th No 1 album on the Billboard 200, the most by a solo artist in the chart’s history. Last year, Forbes estimated his net worth at nearly US$500 million (Dh1.8 billion).

But forget the figures. When I watched Jay Z perform in New York three years ago, I sat in the very last row. Even so, we were celebrating as intensely as those in front, mostly because no one else raps with as much joy as Jay Z. His sound was gloriously tactile.

Jay Z showcased this gift most recently when he performed Picasso Baby for six straight hours in New York’s Pace Gallery for a crowd of art world celebrities and regular fans. Watch the video on YouTube – Jay Z is engaging and goofy and intimidating and fashionable. New York Magazine’s art critic Jerry Saltz, who hates most of modern art, wrote in his review: “I stayed for just about the whole six hours, and I don’t think I saw one instance where Jay Z was not totally there, in the moment, working the energy ... I went in doubting. I left elated.”

Jay Z turned the rap marathon into a music video titled Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film. In it, he declares: “I’m the modern day Pablo.”

So the vanity continues. But we’d take the Great Jay Z any day over a trained pop star too safe to depart from the script.

jgabrillo@thenational.ae

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