Shawn “Jay Z” Carter’s rise to the top the American economic ladder is now almost legendary — a legend he helped build through autobiographical rhymes over 17 years and 17 studio albums. Listeners have followed him from rags to riches and identified with his story along the way.
However, a recent survey finds that some of the rapper’s younger fans may not be buying it anymore.
He may be among Time magazine’s most influential people, but Jay Z was found to be one of the least influential celebrities, according to a survey of millennials conducted by branding expert Jeetendr Sehdev. Sehdev questioned a group of 1000 on public figures ranging Tom Brady to Hillary Clinton and found that, while Jay Z is popular with many Americans, his ability to persuade millennials is impeded by what they see as his growing lack of authenticity.
In the survey, Jay Z scored 70 percent lower in measures of trustworthiness and honesty than did celebrities like Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Lawrence. And Sehdev says it’s the rapper’s very vocal focus on profit that’s his problem.
“Millennials questions his approach to loyalty, whether it be to a business deal or his fans,” Sehdev says. “His motivations to just make money can be viewed by this audience as self-centered, even if they may be business savvy.”
WATCH THE TRAILER FOR ‘A GENIUS LEAVES THE HOOD,’ AN UPCOMING DOCUMENTARY ON JAY Z
Kevin Reevers, 25, a freelance digital designer, says he’s been listening to Jay Z’s music since the rapper’s 1996 debut with Reasonable Doubt. He says, coincidentally, it was authenticity that built Jay Z’s brand in the beginning but, like the millennials surveyed, Reevers says Jay Z’s image has taken a hit over the years.
“His music was so grounded and attainable that most could identify with it,” Reevers told theGrio. “In contrast, people can’t relate to Tom Ford, owning Basquiat paintings, and Yacht parties. That’s not to say a rapper can’t become a businessman and maintain his credibility but it’s the materialism – the more you focus on this unattainable lifestyle, the more you alienate your audience.”
Of course, Jay Z faced perhaps the biggest challenge to his brand recently when his partnership with Barney’s department store came under scrutiny after several allegations of racial discrimination were made against the retailer. Even The Daily Show called him out for standing by the company.
The show’s “Senior Black Correspondent” Larry Willmore said in a November segment, “Jay Z doesn’t care about black people…he doesn’t care about black people who want him to boycott Barney’s and I don’t blame him…These days Jay Z’s too big of a commercial force to rail against the danger of the man. He is the danger. He is the one who frisks. He’s not Jay Z, he’s Jay Z Penny.”
“The Barney’s situation showed that Jay Z has always been profits over people. His delayed response was disturbing, plus the Belafonte snafu. Those incidents illustrate his distance from the realities that his fans face,” says Reevers.
Amid questions over Jay Z’s dealings as a businessman, an upcoming film is set to shine a light on the business acumen that took him from Brooklyn Marcy Projects to corporate America’s biggest boardrooms.
A Genius Leaves The Hood is the unauthorized story of Jay-Z and a new documentary by Moguldom Studios. Executive vice president of Moguldom and executive producer of the film Barion Grant says the film shows, while Jay Z’s brand may be facing challenges, it’s built to last.
“He’s been very wise in not abandoning his core audience while expanding at the same time,” Grant told theGrio. “But I don’t think you can expand in the way Jay Z has and not take your core audience with you. At the end of the day, when Jay Z pops up on a song, he still has credibility as a rapper.”
Ultimately, Grant says, the rapper and businessman is more than capable of weathering bad press and attacks on his public image.
“The benefit that Jay Z has in navigating through all of this is being a black American. It’s what a lot of black professionals experience. It’s double consciousness. We have to be able to operate in many spheres,” Grant says. “There’s always this conversation for us of someone being real or authentic or a ‘sellout.’ Ultimately, it’s how you respond that matters. What do you say when people challenge your credibility? I think Jay has navigated that incredibly well.”
Follow Donovan X. Ramsey at @iDXR