Anyone who knows me is aware that I have an
slight infatuation with Jay-Z. So needless to say, I was over the moon to find out that one of the most prominent professors/authors of modern African-American culture is teaching a class solely dedicated to my boyfriend Jay-Z at my alma mater. Where was this class when I was in school? I would have lined up at 7 am in order to take it. But really, is Jay-Z worthy of having a 75-minute 3 credit college course dedicated solely to him?
As much as I love Jay-Z, I think this class is premature and untenable. Michael Eric Dyson is known for his ability to be a fantastic wordsmith, but regardless of how one spins this, teaching about Jay-Z’s success, breadth of “work” and lifestyle is premature. I recognize this is a sociology class and Professor Dyson apparently wants to focus on pop culture, but what about teaching about the wide aray of hip hop artists who have influenced pop culture (i.e., Dead Prez, Tribe, Run DMC, Mob Deep, and the list goes on…)?
Of course most students would prefer to take a class discussing Jay-Z versus someone like the iconic Nelson Mandela; but without a doubt, the life of Mandela can provide us with more insight than Jigga. Of course Mandela is no Jay-Z but he spent 27 years in prison and later became the President of the country who imprisoned him (versus president of a record label) and has been hands down one of the most influential people in the world.
When professors highlight the success of Jay-z to college students then are we saying that going from selling drugs in your community to attaining a corner office by rapping about bi*ches and pushing weight (that’s crack/coke for my non-hip hop readers) with a sprinkle of consciousness (i.e., Mr. President there’s drugs in our residence tell me what you want me to do, come break bread with us) is successful enough to warrant a class about one’s life? That’s one way to make a college student realize that their $100k education is waste of time.
In a recent Forbes article, Professor Dyson explains his class on Jay-Z: “I wanted to investigate his career as not only a Horatio-Alger-in-blackface, rags-to-riches story, but as a person who, were he alive during the period of ancient Greece, would be regarded as a god in terms of literary and poetic expression.” Jay-Z has mastered the art of double and triple entendres but, a “god in terms of literary and poetic expression”, a Horatio Alger of our day?—sounds to me like Professor Dyson drank the kool-aid on this one.
If we are lauding Jay-Z in our university classrooms, then how can we tell children in the “hood” that their dreams to become a drug dealer turned rapper are wrong? Perhaps Professor Dyson believes that this homage to Jay-Z will get him into Jay-Z’s close circle (Professors desire to be cool too), or earn him front row tickets to the upcoming Jay-Z concert in Washington, DC. Regardless of his intent, Professor Dyson should have chosen someone other than my boyfriend Jay-Z—and that says a lot for anyone who understands my love for Jay-Z.