I couldn’t help but notice that the rapper Jay-Z finally spoke up on his so-called beef with entertainment legend Harry Belafonte. Harry called out today’s entertainers, many of whom seem to avoid any and all uncomfortable controversy so they can max out their bank accounts. Beyond a few polite, neutered, politically docile charity events, most black celebrities wear voluntary shackles and fail to realize that entertainment platforms are among the most powerful and influential in existence.
As a result, too many celebs fill up their wallets and empty their souls, as their community sits back and suffers.
Here are the lyrics that Jay-Z used to get back at Harry in his Samsung-sponsored project, “Magna Carta/Holy Grail”:
I’m just trying to find common ground
‘Fore Mr. Belafonte come and chop a n*gga 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 sh*t I do for the homies
So, apparently, Jay-Z’s reference to the Hublot watch and two door sports car means that he’s convinced that having money vindicates nearly any form of ignorance that rolls out of his mouth. Got it. Not only has Harry Belafonte been able to afford an expensive watch or two, but I’m sure he could have gotten quite a few more if he’d been willing to sell his own people up the river in order to get them. I’m a Finance professor, so I know the value of money. But I also know enough about money to realize that an addiction to money can make you nothing but a high-paid slave.
I wrote on Harry’s remarks about Jay-Z and felt that Harry’s challenge to Jay-Z was an appropriate one. I am about the same age as Jay-Z, and I see it as entirely appropriate that we look to our elders for guidance when we think about what to do with the opportunities and blessings in front of us. Our job is to take the baton and run with it, not to throw the baton on the ground and pretend that we are only accountable to ourselves.
As I planned my “Building Outstanding Men and Boys” Family Empowerment Series, I spoke with Min. Louis Farrakhan, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Father Michael Pfleger, each of whom set me straight on the manner by which I needed to make adjustments in my approach. In fact, they broke me down and gave me direct criticism, in love, about the way I was going about trying to help young black men.
I listened, humbled myself to their criticism, and made myself a better man.
I’m not sure why Jay-Z, an entertainer who can’t find much to talk about other than the last Bentley he bought, can’t look to a great man like Harry Belafonte for guidance on how to make himself something more than just another dude who can spit dope lyrics. Harry is 86-years old (twice as old as Jay-Z) with the political courage of a college student, and is using his final years on the planet to make the world a better place. He has been more places, done more, seen more and overcome more than Jay-Z ever will, and Hova needs to respect that.
In fact, I dare say that if Harry Belafonte had the same attitude as Jay-Z, millions of lives would have been altered for the worse. Harry stood up to the white establishment when it was unfashionable and dangerous, tantamount to professional suicide. Jay-Z has $500 million dollars in the bank and still allows white folks to scare him into remaining silent about nearly any political issue impacting the people he left behind in Marcy Projects. The only time they seem to let him talk is when he stands up to call himself a “n*gga.”
Any rational person who cares anything about the civil rights struggles of Belafonte, Dr. King and others, should be immediately taken aback by the shear audacity of Jay-Z’s decision to refer to Harry as a “boy.” I don’t care if this is hip hop lingo, or if it’s the only word that came to mind, but Jay-Z should probably realize that referring to an 86-year old icon like Harry Belafonte as a “boy” is as disrespectful as comparing Mrs. Carter to Lil Kim’s raunchy little sister.
I don’t pretend to know Jay-Z and I don’t know if I’ll ever meet him. But he’d be wise to understand that Harry Belafonte is a MAN, a black man, and an extraordinary man at that. The definition of a “boy” is someone who validates an otherwise bland and underwhelming existence by reminding you of how many Rolex watches he owns. A boy might also attack an 86-year old man who is so busy fighting off death that he can’t readily defend himself; maybe for the next big adventure, we can go out and hit a senior citizen in the head with a baseball bat. Harry grew up with racist white men referring to him as a “boy,” so using this kind of vernacular to reference one of the greatest civil rights/entertainment icons in history makes Jay-Z look every bit as misguided as the bigoted Italians and Jews he seeks to emulate.
Jay can’t crush Harry Belafonte with his money, because Harry learned a long time ago that there are things far more important than the cash in your bank account. Real men don’t need to pull out their wallets in order to certify their manhood, for there is value in being intelligent, conscientious, strong and principled. You’re a brilliant businessman Jay-Z, but it is the incessant desire to worship money that has served as the greatest impediment to the advancement of the African American community.
A true king doesn’t sit back and tell his people to “Watch the throne.” He instead stands up and says that, “My power is a vessel through which I can elevate those I love.” – That’s what made Muhammad Ali so special; it wasn’t just about how many good punches he threw in the ring. In fact, maybe Jay-Z should step back and watch the throne himself to realize that Belafonte is sitting in it already, and Jay-Z has branded himself as a court jester.
I hope Jay-Z will issue an apology to Harry Belafonte. Were it not for the sacrifices of Belafonte and men of his generation, Jay-Z would still be”slingin” on the corner or rapping on the chitlin circuit. He also wouldn’t have the right to go around the world selling records to white kids who love referring to him as a their favorite n*gga. In fact, I argue that Jay-Z should probably keep Harry’s name out of his mouth, since he will never know what Harry has gone through in order to clear a path for all of us. Jay-Z, Harry Belafonte is a legend and you need to respect that. You, my friend, are just another N*gga in Paris.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the author of the lecture series called Commercialized Hip-Hop, the Gospel of Self-Destruction. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.