Can rap stars Occupy while watching their thrones?

OPINION - Given the economic terrain back in August, boasts of 'planking on a million' felt hopelessly out of touch...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

As Occupy Wall Street and all of its various offshoots continue to garner press and shift the national conversation toward the growing gulf between the haves and the have-nots, nearly everyone has formed an opinion.

Whether it’s MSNBC contributors and hosts like Melissa Harris-Perry and Chris Hayes, who write and think about these sorts of social issues full time, or rappers like Young Jeezy who are just responding to the questions of an interviewer, Occupy Wall Street is on the minds and hearts of many. Some folks are so moved they feel compelled to act or show support in some way, be it marching in the streets or donating money online. Who exactly these people are has been a topic of much concern.

When Watch the Throne, the collaborative project from two of hip-hop’s biggest stars, Jay-Z and Kanye West, was released earlier this year, fans and critics had a spirited discussion about whether or not it was a good time for an album dedicated to celebrating an opulent lifestyle.

Given the economic terrain back in August, boasts of “planking on a million” felt hopelessly out of touch. In the end, the quality of the music won out above all, and the two artists have since embarked a wildly successful tour together, with ticket prices matching the album’s rich rhetoric. Somehow, Jay and Kanye have proven themselves recession-proof.

Which has made their embrace of the Occupy Wall Street movement even more puzzling. A little over a month after their album was released, citizens took to the streets of Manhattan to protest the gross economic inequality that has been allowed to fester in this country for so long and is now threatening the opportunities for a vast majority to one day get their piece of the sought after American dream.

In two short months, the movement has grown into a global phenomenon, rallying around are central idea and slogan, “We are the 99 percent,” drawn from the fact that the richest 1 percent of the population’s wealth has increased exponentially has the bottom 99 percent has endured tough economic hardships.

This message has found endorsement in the expected places: the pages of The Nation magazine and among liberal activists like Van Jones and Michael Moore. But it seems to have resonated even beyond the usual suspects, as proven one could find folks like actress and last year’s Oscar co-host Anne Hathaway taking to the streets holding a “Blackboards not Bullets” sign in solidarity.

While Republican presidential candidates, most notably Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich, have attempted to dismiss the movement and the people involved, admonishing them to get jobs (after they have taken baths, per Gingrich’s request), the occupiers have only gained relevance and support from large swaths of the country and the global community.

Enter and Kanye and Jay. Kanye made an appearance at the original Occupy site down at Zuccotti Park in Manhattan early on, guided through the crowd by none other than business mogul Russell Simmons, who has come out in very vocal support of the occupy movement.

It was cause of shock in some and consternation in others, as the Internet buzzed for a day or so over Kanye’s brief flirtation with the budding protest. Cord Jefferson over at GOOD stated very plainly that he believed the multi-platinum, multi-millionaire rapper didn’t belong there, particularly while sporting a gold grill and matching chains.

Jay-Z caught some heat a few weeks ago after he was photographed alongside Simmons (again) sporting a t-shirt that read “Occupy All Streets,” a clear nod to the occupy movement while also extending a message of inclusiveness. The shirts were on sale on the Rocawear website, but the company stated they had no intention on donating any of the proceeds from the sales to the occupiers.

The perceived backlash and subsequent removal of the shirts from the site led some to believe they had backtracked, but they were simply out of stock. they shirts are still for sale and that has not helped Jay in the public relations department.

An artist, Daniel Edwards, recently sculpted a depiction of Jay-Z alongside other famous penny pinchers, like Scrooge McDuck and Mr. Burns from The Simpsons.

Simmons has said that he and Jay are currently working on putting a concert together in support of the movement, but it’s likely this will only invite more criticism. It isn’t so much as these men are a part of the 1 percent being railed against that rubs people the wrong way. If that were the case, all of the big names and Hollywood supporters would get equal fire. But unlike a Tim Robbins, for example, Jay and Kanye’s (and to some extent Simmons) personas seem to be derived from, in part, their conspicuous consumption and exorbitant wealth.

They come across as invested in the system of inequality because without it the rhymes they so painstakingly put together and deliver with such passion would not be possible. Perhaps if they struck up as much emotion when discussing the issue of debt and inequality as they do Maybachs and private jets, they would not be read as disingenuous when trying to show their support.

They may need to resort to penning a New York Times op-ed about how little they pay in taxes and requesting Congress raise revenue by taxing them over, or travel to Washington and make that argument in person. In Simmons’ case, he may want to stop selling predatory debit cards to low-income earners.

However, it would be unfair to preclude their participation. After all, these men are not unfamiliar with the hardships of the 99 percent. They rose from those ranks. They were not born in G4s. Their major life experiences are much closer to ordinary citizens than their critics would like to admit. As such, despite their current status, they likely identify much more closely to the 99-percenters and, however awkwardly or misguided, are trying to reflect that.

Besides, if it has any chance of success, the occupy movement will not all the support it can muster. If that involves a few class traitors in name only like Jay and Kanye, we may just have to accept it.