Jay-Z, Harry Belafonte: Hov Responds To Civil Rights Icon On Magna Carta Holy Grail

jay-z harry

Jay-Z has finally responded to Harry Belafonte.

As the rest of the Non-Samsung having and non-album-bootlegging world settles into the rapper’s latest effort, Magna Carta Holy Grail, critics, fans, and everyone in between are dissecting Hov’s every move.

There’s been much said about his shot at Miley Cyrus’ culturally appropriative ‘twerking’ (and her obviously oblivious response). Then Jay took over Twitter for a few hours earlier in the week, reinventing the retweet and creating new trending hashtags. And most recently Vines and Instgram Vids have been popping up from what appears to be the video shoot for “Picaso Baby”. With all of this attention on Jay and the new album – seems like the opus’ most interesting and discussion-worthy set of lyrics has gone largely unnoticed.

harry-belafonte olderBack in August, legendary singer, actor and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte took Jay-Z and Beyoncé to task over what he saw as a lack of social responsibility. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Mr. Belafonte said this:

They have not told the history of our people, nothing of who we are. We are still looking. We are not determinated. We are not driven by some technology that says you can kill Afghans, the Iraqis or the Spanish. It is all — excuse my French — shit. It is sad. And I think one of the great abuses of this modern time is that we should have had such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities. But they have turned their back on social responsibility. That goes for Jay-Z and Beyonce, for example. Give me Bruce Springsteen, and now you’re talking. I really think he is black.

Harsh words.

Mrs. Carter, for her part responded via “an abbreviated list of the unselfish work Beyoncé has done and continues to do,” published in the Wall Street Journal. Her husband Hov however, was noticeably silent — until now. On one of the latest album’s standout tracks, “Nickles And Dimes,” Jay let his feelings on Belafonte’s criticism be known:

NICKLES AND DIMES

Sometimes I feel Survivor’s guilt
I gave some money to this guy, he got high as hell
Now I’m part of the problem far as I could tell
Did I do it for him or do it for myself
Can’t lie to myself
I love my niggas more than my own blood
I die for my niggas and I love my cub
Hope that’s not fucked up
I got a problem with the handouts I took the man route
I’ll give an opportunity though, that’s the plan now
No guilt in giving clear a nigga conscience out
No guilt in receiving
Every thing within reason
Can’t see it taking food out my lil monster’s mouth
That will drive me gaga
Run up in your mommas house
Two nickels, one dime
Manslaughter charges, the lawyer
Knocked it down
I’m just trying to find common ground
‘Fore Mr. Belafonte come and 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

There’s so much to dig into in this verse.

Jay-Z flagFirstly, any long-time Jay listener has to be happy with Hov’s foray into introspection. If you’ve listened to the rapper for a long while, you know he’s the kind of artist who’d rather give you his perspective than his feelings. “Nickles And Dimes” subverts this general theme of his as Jay opens up about something that exists not so much between his ears, but between his shoulders.

It’s also interesting to note how Jay’s ideology on “giving back” has evolved over the years. “So I got rich and gave back to me that’s the win-win” he rapped on 2003′s “The Black Album”. Now it’s “I got a problem with the handouts I took the man route, I’ll give an opportunity though, that’s the plan now.“ This kind of thinking is a bit troublesome as it fits in way too nicely with the same old “I did it, so you can too,” rhetoric right-leaning politicians like to throw around. “I took the man route” sounds a lot like American exceptionalism to me. Besides that, it’s not just about giving money. It’s about dedicating your time and energy to causes, it’s about using your celebrity to do more than advance your celebrity. To put it plainly – it’s about sacrifice.

It’s not fair to judge Jay based on what we see. He may do way more anonymous work than we could possibly ever know. But it would be nice to hear him lay-off lyrics encouraging the struggling masses to be aspirational, and instead throw a few bars toward those with money and power. It’d be nice to hear him encourage them to change the policies and institutions that buttress this tacit caste system upon which many of this country’s institutions are built.

The other thing that jumps out about this verse is how abrasive Jay is with Mr. Belafonte. Harry Belafonte is 86-years-old. At this point in his life, there shouldn’t be anything at all the aging gentleman could say that should warrant someone 40 years his junior rapping profanities in his direction. It’s not about who’s right or who’s wrong, it’s about respecting your elders. If your 86-year-old granddad tells you the world is flat — then for the purposes of that conversation — the world is flat. Age aside – this is Harry Belafonte we’re talking about. This is a man who’s spent his entire life dedicated to causes of freedom, human equality and social justice. Calling him Mr. Day-O, a mocking allusion to his biggest hit “Banana Boat Song,” is wrong, calling him “boy” while urging him to respect you because it’s “our time now,” is dead wrong.

Jay once rapped:

“The say a midjet standing on a giant’s shoulders can see much further than the giant, so I got the whole rap world on my shoulders they trying to see further than I am…”

harry-belafonte-mlk

Jay’s has to understand that when he talks down to Harry Belafonte as he does on “Nickles And Dimes,” he’s only able to do so because he’s standing on his shoulders. Jay is the midget and Mr. Belafonte is the giant in this equation. And so while Jay see’s much further than “Mr. Day O” — having achieved levels of success in music and business his elder could never have dreamed of achieving in his lifetime — Jay needs to acknowledge that his success is predicated upon the sacrifices of men like Harry Belafonte. On “Nickles and Dimes” Jay raps that he walked through doors so that the generations that follow him can kick them down. Those doors he walked through weren’t unlocked by magic, they were unlocked by sacrifice. So while it’s possible that he may be more wrong than he is right in his assessment of Jay and B’s commitment to our people’s collective advancement, Mr. Belafonte’s sacrifice has earned him the right to always tell you what you should be doing – even if you’re doing it already.

And all this is coming from someone who speaks fluent Hov. So to my favorite rapper of all time I say this… when your old head tells you to do better – don’t react, especially if you already know you’re doing your best… instead – do what the BIG homey told you to do in shootouts…

stay low and keep firing.

… MOST

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  • http://goodguyswintoo.blogspot.com/ Zula

    when your old head tells you to do better – don’t react, especially if you already know you’re doing your best… instead

    True Words

  • langwichartz

    All I can say to that is AMEN!

  • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com Tristan

    Its far too common in this era to brush off the old heads and claim they’re bitter or even worse, “hating”. I get where Belafonte is coming from, however public finger wagging is never good to me. “I had a conversation with him about” sounds a lot better than “he should be doing…”.

    Theres a difference between responsibility and requirement. As seemingly the most powerful black couple in America not named Obama, Jay and Bey do have a responsibility to reach out, give back, speak out, yes. As entertainers, are they really required to be the voice of young black America, no. Jay is a rapper/mogul/philanthropist…i dont want to see him playing politician or activist, its disingenuous.

  • http://moacn.wordpress.com Sir Farouk

    I definitely agree with you, I think the way Beyonce responded was better than talking down to an old man. its about respect and I think Hov went a little overboard here.
    My recent post Corruption: Evil Prospers When the Good Remain Silent

  • Peter Parker

    Good Post. I agree, that he should respect his elders and express his disagreements out of respect. As was stated above though, is it his responsibility to help others or be more involved in social issues?? I think so, but he is his own man. Plus, as a celebrity, we don't see what he does behind closed doors.
    I respect Mr. Belafonte and the many others who fought during the civil rights movement and would never come sideways at him, but Jay is how own man.

  • SMilez_920

    The Jay-z / Harry fiasco actually represents a bigger problem in our community, when it comes to elders and the younger generation (especially older black men and younger black men). I think Jay-z forgot what era Harry B grew up in, he started his career in a time when getting a black entertainer on a major network to perform or even speak was extremely rare or at least very hard. Jay-z couldn’t do an MTV awards, have a concert in Time Square or any of that stuff if it wasn’t for Harry B and others like him.

    • Smilez_920

      The older black entertainers and the entertainers of our generation come from two different “black communities”. I think the older generation of entertainers grew up in a time when “blacks” knew the only way to push through was to work together collectively. They had already seen the “giving back” on a grassroots level, so once the gained fame and money, giving back became second nature.

      Jay-z and other entertainers around his age grew up in a crack era. Yes while some ppl gave back, it wasn’t to the extent of the prior generation. He grew up in an everyman for himself type of environment. He also grew up seeing a lot of the old heads around Harry’s age doing drugs, (heck he probably sold it to them), selling them or in his own personal life his old head (father) not being around. So that level of respect was never really learned and practiced regularly. Beyonce on the other hand, from her background, I can tell she’s probably been taught the respect your elders lesson.

      I don’t think Harry simply giving back financially; I think he means time and influence.

      • Peter Parker

        I agree that Harry is referring to Jay giving back his time and making more of a social impact in our community, but as I stated earlier we don't know what Jay does behind close doors. Just because it's not reported, doesn't mean he isn't doing those things.

        • SMilez_920

          True….. but even things behind closed doors come to light. I think we have to look through Harry eyes to see where he's coming from. And also other communities have successful entertainers, business men etc.. that give back in multiple ways, and it's understood that's how a community/ network works (Jews, Catholics, the upper middle class, A lot of groups understand how forward movement works. Is he obligated no, but sometimes in life you do things your not obligated to do for the better good.

          I agree with Streetz on Jay response I think it kind of tip toed on the line of disrespect. Maybe not purposely, Jay-z talks about the current events of his life in most of his songs so he was briefly referring to that situation to move forward into something else. I feel like the rest of the rap referred to situations like the one between him and Beenie with the whole "I'll give you an opportunity.".

        • Peter Parker

          True…Being on such a high platform he can definitely reach alot more masses. I just come from the thinking that celebrity or not, we in the african american community should all do our part. Many people who talk down on Jay for this or that, you ask them so what are you doing? They shrug their shoulders. Mr. Harry, yes he can express his opinion because he has done tangible things in the community, but others out here, not so….Just my thoughts though…

  • Dr. J

    I still think it's unfair to require celebrities be socially responsible. The mentality that breeds celebrity does not always translate into social consciousness. It is an inherently selfish dream.

    I don't think Jay-Z was dissing Belafonte as much as he was name-dropping as he does throughout his album whether it's a brand, city, or person. He does that to try and show people how much he's on another level. For all he said in this song really what he wanted you to take away is that, "Yeah, Harry Belafonte is talking about me. That's balling."

    And we mustn't forget that for every DuBois there is a Washington. It's perfectly okay for someone to believe that you need to pull yourself up by the bootstraps. A lot of people really loved, "Do you have the power to get out from up under you." It's odd to slander him for continuing the same line of thought. As well, we all love, "I'm not a business man, i'm a business, man." It's not fair now to ask him to stop being a business man and start being something else because our expectations have changed. That's not his bag.

    • Fubo

      Well, I think when we idolize and worship celebrities like we do in this era, they kinda are socially responsible. They are close to the people that really run the world, these world leaders. They have a larger and powerful use of freedom of speech. Dont get me wrong, I agree with the idea of celebrities not being required to be socially responsible, but in the end, its only an idea, not reality. I mean these celebrities are having parties with Presidents and Politicians…..At the end of day, I wouldnt want Celebrities that powerful to change the world but at the same time, at least be a voice for Positive Change.

      • Dr. J

        Do you understand how flawed that line of thinking is? Because I idolize you, you are now socially responsible. Nobody made you idolize and worship them, stop that.

        They are also not close to the people who run the world. Just because Jay-Z says he's chilling at the White House. Ask yourself, at any point in the last 7 years has Obama ever said he was chilling with Jay-Z or acknowledged a friendship there? Not once. That's a one sided relationship meant to make you think they have relationships that they do not have.

        And just because they have a bigger audience than others, doesn't mean they are required to use how others see fit. That's like telling someone with empty bedrooms in their house, they should give beds to the homeless. You can't tell someone what to do with their winnings.

        Now if you really wanted to do something, what you would have done is when you gave Jay-Z your money in the first place you would have asked him what he planned to do with it.

        But he told y'all in Reasonable Doubt and no one listened.

        • Fubo

          I am not a fan of celebrities,nor do I idolize them. I don't buy DVDs or CDs nor do I buy anything off of itunes. I am a downloader. No Celebrity is worth my money. I have never listened to an entire album released by Jay Z. I do not care what he said in Reasonable Doubt. The man has no anchor in my life. But, there are millions of grown men, grown women and youths who jizz in their pants and moisten their Vicky's at every move JayZ makes. I think if you are an entertainer of any sorts, you are in the service of our entertainment. We made Jay Z relevant, not the other way around, in order for him to be successful, had to get the ear of the people first and foremost. All he did was take it further and owned myself. Congrats to him, lets throw a parade. So, he owes it and any other entertainer to make a positive change in our community. Men and Women wait hands and knees just to hear some BS coming from a celebrity's mouth.

          If you ask me, it seems you idolize Jigga man himself, if not that, at least aspire to diversify your portfolio of talents as he did. If that is the case, then thats what you took from him. But, lets not get started on the negatives that people do take.

          If Jay Z doesnt want people coming at him about his lack of Social Responsibility, if he wants to continue to think they are no problems in the Black Community, and that if he did it, then anyone could, then say it plain and simple to the public. Dont throw subs in the song, dont do that sissy stuff.

          What Jay Z did was wrong, because now you will have young people listening to what he said. They will not even think to learn about who Harry Belafonte is or what he has done…for us. They all know him as Day O.

          Pay it Forward, thats all Im saying. Im not saying he should give his money away. I wouldnt take it. But, lend your time and effort, to change the neighborhood you grew up in. Put the idea of self-ownership and a thirst for knowledge in the youth's head. Let them know its a hard road to travel but that you can make it. Now, he wants to to be a sport agent, any athlete with brains and common sense, will not join his agency. Because like you quoted "I'm not a business man, i'm a business, man." And its all business in the end….

        • Dr. J

          You didn't have to write so much. Typically, when people go to such great lengths to qualify their position, it means they're in denial. But you got it…

          And the people who read this blog regularly know for a fact there is absolutely nothing I idolize about Jay-Z.

        • Fubo

          No denial, just poor at explaining myself. Im not a writer in the least bit. And Im indifferent as to whom you are, just debating your position.

        • Nutruthers

          Seems like your terse nuttin to Fubo dain't can. No body give a crack at your addiction.

  • Douglas

    This was quite refreshing – one doesn’t easily come across such legitimate criticism of modern celebrities, much less those of Jay’s stature. Great post!

  • slimmycakez

    Harry Belafonte is an amazing man. I had the pleasure to attend a brief Q&A session with him, and that man spoke nothing but the truth. I totally understand where he was coming from, but unfortunately, as said above, entertainers don't feel required to be socially responsible. We are no longer in the socially-conscious age of rap, with the likes of 2Pac and Public Enemy — among a bunch of others. I wish we would at least have more Harry Belafonte's, but alas, no one wants to step up to that plate — and looking at the current divisive and stagnant state of the black community, we all can see why. But there is always hope. Always.

    Furthermore, I do think the way Jay-Z spoketh about Mr. Belafonte was on the disrespectful side. I even felt the sting. It sure speaks volumes to me.

  • http://twitter.com/DoronMac3524 @DoronMac3524

    Man Man…Jay-Z is Doing his thing..His has no obligation to anyone but his self…And that just the end of it. Harry Belafonte and his White Wife!!!!

    • Hairbear_FLL

      So he is to be thought of less because he married outside his race? Really…..

      Really….

      I'm of mind love knows no skin color, that's people that put the judgement out there.

      For the record, was in agreement with the first half of your statement, for the most part.

  • h.h.h.

    miscommunication leads to feelings always getting in the way.

    whatever criticisms Belafonte may have had, would it have been better if he had said " well, i think some current artists should shoulder more of the responsibility, and i hope to have more indepth conversations with them in the future"…

    it might have been better if Jay had said "i understand where Mr. Belafonte is coming from, and i hope to have more behind-the-scenes discussions with him in the future"…

    or maybe they did. who knows, i'm not their secretary.
    but i feel like that public criticism, or shouting out someone's actions, to have them act in a manner that you want (or get down with your agenda) shouldn't be the preferred method of going about things…

    but hey we live in a society where keeping it real > keeping it 'right'.

    No sympathy for the king huh
    Niggas even talk about your baby crazy
    Eventually the pendulum swings
    Don't forget America this how you made me
    – Jay-Z "Picasso Baby"

  • BlkBond

    Good Post man. Don't post often, but whenever truth and true enlightenment is being presented I think it warrants acknowledgement.

    Look forward to more.

    Bond.

  • Rasheed

    I used to be a Jay Z fan, but ever since I grew into a mature man, I cant respect that guy anymore.. All he raps about is himself and how rich he is song after song. In this world, with all the turmoil and pain and suffering that there is (especially in our community) it makes me sick that this is all Jay can find time to talk about. Himself and how cool he is.

    Belafonte was a celebrity who cared about the world and cared about the issues going on in the real world. He still does. If you ever look at that era of celebrities? you'll see a bunch of black men who were real men. people who stood for something in real life as well being performers. They were real role models and helped to improve the black community.

    The disrespect guys like Jay Z and Lil Wayne and some of these ignorant negroes show to themselves and the rest of their brothers is something makes me sad. Selfish arrogant brothers who think the world is fantasy where you act like "n*ggas in Paris"..

    Its no wonder our community is a mess and our youth are so backward thinking.. they got people like Jay and lil Wayne to look up..

    • Nutruthers

      Well said. The whole illuminati thing is pure 100$ bullshit.

  • Mr SoBo

    Well done. Great write up. Jay took an L with that response. Where is the respect?
    Why would he even attempt to put an important Black figure like Harry Belafonte 'in his place'? Where is the humility? Too much arrogance and not enough respect. Seems like Mr. Belafonte got it right to me.

    Mr. SoBo
    OpinionatedMale.com
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  • http://Newsone ViBorn

    Everyone has a Lane to travel. What Mr. Harry did in his time was his duty. I’m sure he inspired many to do the right thing. Just like Jay is doing in his time.
    Speaking for myself coming from a little Island in the Caribean. Jay has inspired me to stay off the corner and strive to achieve as much as possible while looking out for vultures.
    Realizing that although I was on the block with my homeboys, I had dreams that I needed to attend too.
    I followed jayz blueprint and I feel I became a better man behind it. Looking at him achieve makes me see that I too coming from where I’m from can achieve too.

  • http://mrpuzuzu.tripod.com/plan.html Wester

    Sorry if this hurts,: . Z can't sing out of one octave, never learned to play a musical instrument, can't act, can't talk, cant write, cant think, doesn't know who he is, doesn't know who to hang out with, never made a decent side in his life, owes his whole existence and career to people like Belafonte but is too vacuous and clueless to recognize it. He's obviously not interested in serious heavy hitters like Garvery, Phillip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Claudette Colvin, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, etc..etc…And he studiously avoids them like the plague. Now that you mention the word plague: He likes black women who hate being black. He measures his worth not by his own standards or those set by those hitters mentioned before, but by other, lesser, much stupider people's facile, morally bankrupt, superficial, ineffectual ridiculous standards. The point is not and never has been to pretend to be Ken and Barbie, to show off, worship money. Your boy is a joke. He's owned, stock and barrel, and can't even see or conceive of the the chain around his own neck. House vs Field. The comparison not possibly be any clearer.
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