Jay-Z Jewish lyric spurs criticism from ADL
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Jay-Z Jewish lyric spurs criticism from ADL

Concern that ‘Jewish people own all the property in America,’ feeds stereotype, but watchdog group doesn’t believe rapper is anti-Semitic

Rapper Jay Z. (CC SA/ Mikamote)
Rapper Jay Z. (CC SA/ Mikamote)

WASHINGTON — The Anti-Defamation League expressed concern about a Jay-Z lyric that “Jewish people own all the property in America,” but emphasized that it did not believe that the rapper intended to promote anti-Semitism.

“The lyric does seem to play into deep-seated anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews and money,” said an ADL statement released Friday.

“The idea that Jews ‘own all the property’ in this country and have used credit to financially get ahead are odious and false. Yet, such notions have lingered in society for decades, and we are concerned that this lyric could feed into preconceived notions about Jews and alleged Jewish ‘control’ of the banks and finance.”

The song, “The Story of O.J.,” on Jay-Z’s latest album, “4:44,” has attracted negative social media attention for its lyric, “You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a strip club? Credit/You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America? This how they did it.”

 Rapper Jay-Z performs onstage during TIDAL X: 1020 Amplified by HTC at Barclays Center of Brooklyn on October 20, 2015 in New York City. ( Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for TIDAL via JTA))
Rapper Jay-Z performs onstage during TIDAL X: 1020 Amplified by HTC at Barclays Center of Brooklyn on October 20, 2015 in New York City. (Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for TIDAL via JTA)

Jay-Z’s defenders say the lyric is typical of his use of exaggerated stereotypes to make broader points about social problems — in this case, counseling African-American empowerment through emulation of Jewish business leaders.

“We do not believe it was Jay-Z’s intent to promote anti-Semitism,” the ADL said. “On the contrary, we know that Jay-Z is someone who has used his celebrity in the past to speak out responsibly and forcefully against the evils of racism and anti-Semitism.”

Since Jay-Z released his 14th album last week, a frenzied fan base has been parsing the lyrics of the album’s title song, “4:44,” looking for insight amid rumors that he committed numerous infidelities within his marriage to pop icon Beyonce. In her 2016 album, “Lemonade,” the diva seemingly accused her husband of cheating on her and Friday’s release appears to contain a mea culpa, which, if genuine, must have been accepted, as the couple is still happily married.

Jewish social media users have expressed an array of opinions regarding the expressed trope, which is particularly endemic to New York City – Jay-Z’s hometown – where there is a perceived abundance of Jewish landowners.

Israeli-born talent manager, writer and businessman Guy Oseary, who claims Madonna and U2 among his clients, said that Jay-Z’s lyrics are being taken out of context.

“If you listen to the song in its entirety you will hear that the whole of the song is based on exaggerated stereotypes to make a point,” he writes on Instagram. “Hes [sic] attempting to use the Jewish people in an exaggerated way to showcase a community of people that are thought to have made wise business decisions.”

Jay-Z’s history certainly does not paint him as an anti-Semite – at the inauguration of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, in which he was an investor, Jay-Z lit a menorah, a symbol which represents the re-dedication of the Second Temple after it was ransacked by the Syrian Greeks. He also appeared in a video decrying all forms of racism, and anti-Semitism specifically, alongside music producer Russell Simmons.

Still, the lyrics in “The Story of OJ” appear within a context of similar stereotypes less generous to Jews. Last month, a Democratic City Council candidate running for election in upper Manhattan released a YouTube video outlining his campaign platform, which involved combating the problem of “greedy Jewish landlords.”

In 2015, Shaquille O’Neal benignly described hiring a “beautiful little Jewish man” as a financial adviser, again playing into the “positive” Jewish stereotype.

And a shocking video compilation of references to Jewish lawyers in hip-hop, both positive and negative, racked up nearly 128,000 views on YouTube.

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