Stop asking if Jay-Z is relevant because of Beyoncé
OPINION: Yes, Beyoncé is the biggest pop star in America right now. But Jay-Z is a massive star all on his own and has been for decades.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
There are a couple of cringeworthy ideas rolling around on Black TikTok right now, but to me, the cringiest springs from this question: Would Jay-Z still be relevant if he wasn’t married to Beyoncé? It’s a leading question to be sure, but of course, several millennials responded yes. I saw that and said to the pop culture gods, forgive them for they have sinned. Of all the hot takes on Beyoncé’s internet nowadays, this one may be the hottest.
Let’s step back for a second. I count myself as Beyhive-adjacent. I love Bey, and I’m a big fan. I was at the Renaissance tour, and Renaissance was my favorite album last year. It was the album I listened to most. I interviewed her. But I’m only Beyhive-adjacent because I don’t know the lyrics to all the songs, I don’t know the timing of the fan-unfolding on “Heated,” and I don’t believe that the world revolves around Beyoncé. I know that’s news to my friends in the Beyhive, but that’s real. You would have to think the world revolves around Beyoncé to think that Beyoncé makes Jay relevant.
Now, there is some there there (just not enough). But, yes, Bey enhances Jay’s image. She humanizes him and elevates him — you look at him and say, hey, if an amazing, brilliant, lovely woman like her loves him, then he must be a good guy. He definitely benefits from being with her — their whole Black power couple of music royalty thing is beautiful. But you know what? That’s part of what most wives bestow on their husbands. A great wife makes people look differently at her man. If she’s smart and beautiful and a lovely person, you think, well, if she loves him then he must be a solid guy. In Martin Scorsese’s iconic film “The Departed,” Alec Baldwin’s Capt. Ellerby tells Matt Damon’s Sgt. Sullivan that being married makes a man more likable. He says, “People see the ring, they think ‘at least somebody can stand the son of a bitch’.” That’s real.
Yes, Beyoncé is the biggest pop star in America today (sit down, Swifties). But — and I can’t believe I have to write this — Jay-Z is a massive star all on his own and has been for decades. When he drops new music like “God Did,” it’s not devoured by fans because he’s Beyoncé’s husband. He’s not invited to close the Grammys with his long verse from “God Did” because he’s Beyoncé’s husband. When he’s at the Super Bowl or Wimbledon or the NBA Finals, the cameras don’t turn to him because he’s Beyoncé’s husband. He’s a massive pop culture figure. He’s big enough, all on his own, to meet with presidents, to drop a song that’ll go straight into heavy rotation on big radio stations and shape the NFL halftime show without her. He’s big enough for me to make a whole “Star Stories” episode around. He produces movies like “The Book of Clarence” and drops a massive book about himself, “Decoded,” not because of her. Yes, Beyoncé is part of Jay’s image, but she is not the difference between him being relevant or not.
I think part of the problem is that Jay-Z has quietly moved into semi-retirement. He’ll release a verse here or there, but he hasn’t released a solo album since “4:44” in 2017. This is the longest gap of his long career. But it’s not that he’s washed up; it’s that he’s choosing to move on to other things. So while Beyoncé rises to new heights, he’s easing into a self-chosen retirement. But he remains relevant enough that if he dropped an album or announced a tour, it would be huge.
I think ultimately we have to stop basing arguments around the vague and highly subjective notion of “relevance.” I never know what people really mean when they use the term relevance, and when you’re out here asking if Jay-Z is relevant, then we know the word has no real meaning. Also, superfans of a given artist might consider not looking at the world as if it revolves around their fave thus blinding them to pop culture reality. I recall Kanye fans saying that he made Taylor Swift into a pop star when he interrupted her at the MTV Awards. This is crazy talk. When he interrupted her, she was a multiplatinum global superstar. He did not make her famous except to Kanye fans who did not know who she was. But if you think the world revolves around Kanye then you’d think Swift didn’t exist until Kanye wronged her. Beyoncé definitely makes Jay look better, but only in a universe where Beyoncé is the sun will she be the reason why Jay, perhaps the greatest rapper ever, is relevant.
Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and the animated show Star Stories with Toure which you can find at TheGrio.com/starstories. He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.
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