Zombies are real; they walk among us in ordinary life, and if you have the proper eyes and mind, you can detect them.
I’m neither referring to Hollywood’s depiction of zombies nor Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word. I’m referring to ordinary citizens who block out harsh realities as means of survival.
Rapper and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z knows about survival. By all accounts, he has risen to represent the ultimate survivor. With his rise from Brooklyn’s Marcy housing projects in the mid-1990s to posing beside Warren Buffet on the cover of Forbes magazine’s “old and new school of American wealth” edition, who can dispute that Jay-Z is a survivor?
When editors at theGrio approached me to write an article reflecting on Jay-Z’s sixth studio album, The Blueprint, which was released the same day as the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, I struggled to find an element outside of the date that would tie the two events together.
The release of The Blueprint and all that has happened after September 11 seemingly had nothing to with one another.
I visited The Blueprint’s Wikipedia page in search of information regarding the album’s first-week’s sales. I felt this would provide a broad picture of how American citizens and the world at large were coping with the shock of witnessing human beings jumping out of windows 80 stories high to their deaths.
To my surprise, I discovered The Blueprint’s sales had done exceptionally well — it sold over 426,000 copies in its first week, which meant that on September 11, 2001, despite the reality that the United States was under attack on its own soil for the first time in history, fans still went out to buy Jay-Z’s new album.
I can’t totally blame them — the album was exceptional. Produced exclusively by Kanye West and Just Blaze (with the exception of a lesser-known producer named Bink) The Blueprint was the Muhammad Ali of rap albums, floating and pounding Jay’s lyrics into your brain, “one million, two million, three million, four / in just five years, forty million more…” telling tales of money monopoly and ghetto capitalism on steroids. The album invited listeners to visualize a diamond-adorned don, sipping champagne, protecting his business interests, shooting down his opponents, and attaining more and more wealth — the American Dream.
Content-wise The Blueprint was symbolic of the very wealth and prosperity the World Trade Center towers were supposed to represent for the United States of America — a country whose ultimate wealth and prosperity exist almost solely for the top one percent of its population, and which also holds the title for the largest prison population in the world.
Jay-Z’s intended audience largely consisted of African-Americans males, many of whom garnered felony drug convictions and lost their right to vote and attain living-wage-employment years before they found themselves under attack on the morning of September 11, 2001.
Those (black and white) who purchased Jay’s album in the midst of slow moving thick clouds of pyroclastic dust billowing around the recently imploded Twin Towers were either seeking solace from a grim reality brought on by the beginnings of a perpetual war on terror that they themselves had nothing to do with, or they were indeed doing the only thing they knew how to do in times war and peace: consume.
In the midst of the of televised 9/11 war propaganda, the general consensus in the U.S. from politicians to ordinary citizens was that the United States was attacked because outsiders hate its wealth and freedoms, a message that rings eerily similar to Jay-Z’s The Blueprint lyrics directed at Jay-Z haters.
Another long running psychological slight of hand that was sold was the idea that America is the richest country in the world, when in reality and according to Dan Ariely of Duke University, in 2011, 1 percent of the U.S. population owns approximately 40 percent of the nation’s wealth.
Parallels between Jay-Z’s The Blueprint and the United States government are apparent when considering the fact that the bulk of Jay-Z’s fans do not live the lifestyle Jay-Z raps about, and the majority of U.S. citizens have never laid hands on the wealth their representatives boast about.
This leaves us with a dreary conclusion for fans who purchased Jay-Z’s album the week of the September 11th attacks: life is not about reality, but rather the comforts of a dream — a dream in which Jay-Z sold 426,000 units of his album in the wake of September 11, 2001.
Dream or reality, zombie or human, one point applies to both the release of Jay-Z’s The Blueprint album and the events of 9/11 (and all the wars that have followed): consumerism and capitalism trump everything, even dead bodies in the street.