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On Jay Z: Dr. Boyce Watkins Is So Right, Yet So Wrong!

On Jay Z: Dr. Boyce Watkins Is So Right, Yet So Wrong!

By Khalil Amani


I remember my 6th grade math & science teacher Mr. Sank very well! A black man who was committed to learning, so-much-so, that after taking his Friday exam and coming back to school on Monday, he’d make everyone who missed problem #1 go to the blackboard and redo the problem. He’d stand behind you with a broken metric stick (a metric stick is a little over 3 ft. long—half of dat!) and dare you to get "his" problem wrong again. For some unknown and strange reason, I’d always work the math problem correctly. And then, he’d look down on me with his afro, pork chop sideburns and cigarette breath and ask, “Why couldn’t you do that on my test?”—and then commence to whipping my ass with that metric stick! That was 1970.


Teachers aren’t given that kinda power today and kids aren’t built to take that kinda punishment. This is a new generation.


If you haven’t heard, Mr. Belafonte called out Jay Z and Beyonce for their non-activism, saying, “they’ve turned their back on social responsibility”—while big-upping Bruce Springsteen by saying, “I really think he is black.”


In the age of hip-hop, bebe kids and rap music, many of the young are a disrespectful bunch who ain’t takin’ no ass-whippin’ from a teacher, let alone a stranger! (You can hardly whip your kids in the grocery store without some soccer mom harassing and threatening to call the po-po on you!) Such is the case with Jay Z and Harry Belafonte. Jay Z is the rebellious child and Harry Belafonte is the parent-from-ages-gone-by who thinks he can chastise his child openly in the grocery store—or, in this case, the media. Harry Belafonte thought he publicly whipped that ass but…


Eleven months and change later Jay Z goes at Harry Belafonte on his new joint rapping, “I’m just trying to find common ground/‘fore Mr. Belafonte come chop a nigga down/ Mr Day-O, major fail/ Respect these youngins boy/ It’s my time now Hublot/ homie/two-door homie/you don’t know all the shit I do for the homies!”


In the words of comedian Young Jack Thriller, Jay Z was, “So disrespectful!”


Enter Dr. Boyce Watkins, a professor at Syracuse University who writes some great commentary on social issues. He recently took rapper Tyler The Creator to task over a Mountain Dew commercial where he called it, “the most racist commercial in history.”


(Dr. Boyce Watkins)


Now Boyce is calling out Jay Z for his blatant disrespect of a Civil Rights icon—Harry Belafonte. Jay Z called Belafonte a “boy!” That shot was waaaaay below the belt! On first thought, Dr. Watkins is 100% correct. This is an icon of the Civil Rights Movement! It is because of Belafonte's activism that Jay has a voice! Tru' dat! But then I got to thinking…


I’m no Ph.D. (I barely made it through two years of community college to get an A.A. Degree and struggled two more years to get my Bachelor’s at the University of Nebraska, so excuse my lack of matriculation in the halls of higher, higher academia.) I won’t even pretend to be the critical thinker on the level of Dr. Watkins, but I am his elder by 11 years, so listen up young’un! I think something is missing from your well-crafted soliloquy. You are discounting a few factors—the cultural factor, the hip-hip factor and the human nature factor. Watkins is so right, yet so wrong!


Besides Jesus (and maybe my mama?) ain’t too many people (who matter) gonna call me out without a response. That’s just on some human nature, “fight or flight” ish. That aside, did Mr. Belafonte think he was gonna come out of his mouf sideways without hearing about it one day? From someone skilled in the art of words and beef?


Dr. Boyce Watkins has laid the burden to “do the right thing” on this young man—Jay Z, while arguing that Belafonte is twice as old as Jay and a historical personage in American history. Yet, I would argue that the very fact that Belafonte is older (and supposedly wiser)—the onus for “doin’ the right thing” rests squarely at his feet! The onus was on the elder (Belafonte) to come correct—not to put Jay on blast and expect a positive outcome!


The saying is, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar!” The wiser thing would have been for Mr. Belafonte to pick up the phone and call Jay Z and mentor him into activism! I’m quite sure that Jay Z would answer Mr. Belafonte’s phone call! (He wouldn’t dare “Robert De Niro” him!)


As correct as Dr. Watkins is—as in the curious case of “The Last Poet” guy calling Jay Z a “coon”—do the elder statesmen of the black community think they can name-call and check someone’s activist gangster with impunity? Just because they are an icon? Jay should know better than to call Belafonte a “boy” and indeed, he does! But being name-checked before the world can override a nigga’s rationale, especially a wealthy famous Negro!


The faux pas (misstep) that Mr. Belafonte made is thinking he can call a rapper out without any comeback. Belafonte is not my 6th grade teacher Mr. Sank and Jay Z is not a prepubescent Khalil willingly taking an ass-whipping with an oral meter stick!


Hip-hop is the culture of sportsmanship—One-upmanship—and more recently, “Turn up!” You just can’t talk smack to this generation (let alone to a rapper who is known for having one of the most vicious beefs/war of words in musical history!) and expect your words to affect change. I understand Belafonte’s angst over this generation’s seemingly lackadaisical attitude towards social activism/justice, but this is nothing new! Dare I say there was just as many Negroes of note in the 50’s/60’s/70’s that were about that “Me, Myself and I” life?


Was there any truth to Harry Belafonte’s rant? According to Jay Z—no! Jay rapped, “You don’t know all the shit I do for the homies!” Jay also once said, “Men lie. Women lie. Numbers don’t!” Perhaps the homies can produce some receipts? Belafonte is looking for an outward show of activism while Jay Z might be on that anonymous activism—working behind the scenes type of activism. Everybody doesn’t want to be seen in the public championing causes! Yet, there are other (famous folk) who thrive off of public recognition. In the biblical tradition, this is that thingy Jesus spoke of when he said, “But all their works they do to be seen of men. They make broad their phylacteries and enlarge the borders of their garments” (Matthew 23:5).


I mean, Jay Z did make a public statement about the last bastion of human ignorance--homophobia--in support of gay marriage! That took hella balls as a rapper to align himself with gay rights in this homophobic world of hip-hop! That's social activism fo' ya! Mr. Belafonte is a gay right's activist and Jay Z supports gay rights. Maybe they can start there!


Like counting a nigga’s money—don’t count my activism!



Jay Z let Belafonte’s words fester for almost a year and when the right time came he addressed his elder with the same kind of venom that was thrown his way. What more could or should we expect? Jay Z’s reaction was no different than when Tupac went ape-shit berserk on Civil Rights leader and former Dr. King ally C. Deloris Tucker over gangster rap music.


Jay Z recently showed up at a Trayvon Martin rally. He may even be a part of a bigger boycott of the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida. Was Mr. Belafonte the impetus behind Jay & Bey’s public support? Maybe and maybe not!


(Jay Z & Beyoncé with Trayvon Martin Family)


The elders are respected, but this generation of urban Bantustans will not be moved to action or activism by the name-calling or airing out by older Civil Rights leaders or the forefathers that birthed hip-hop. As right as Dr. Watkins was, he was still wrong for discounting the nature of the Self/ego... humanity—and discounting that ol’ “generation gap”. If we can excuse the culture of former generations who deal in “name-calling” and “putting on blast” tactics, surely we can excuse this younger hip-hop generation for their reactionary ignorance. As Chris Rock joked, “There’s never a reason to ever hit a woman. Shiiiit! There’s a reason to hit everybody, just don’t do it!” So I’ll say, “There’s never a reason to call a Civil Rights icon a boy! Shiiiit! There’s a reason to call any elder a boy, just don’t do it!” Jay Z is wrong for that, but the larger picture is that no one is truly sacrosanct! (Immune from criticism) Don’t ask the young to stand down, while you throw verbal jabs. Jay Z didn’t start the fight (but damn if he didn’t address it!).



Khalil Amani is a blogger for AllHipHop. He also writes for DJ Kay Slay’s Originators Magazine & Straight Stuntin Magazine. Amani also writes for Hoodgrown, Maybach and Sext Magazines. He is the author of six books, including the ground-breaking book, “Hip-Hop Homophobes…” 07). Amani is gay hip-hop’s self-proclaimed straight advocate. Visit The Coonerific One at Follow on Facebook/Twitter @khalilamani. Youtube @ yahweh 12



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