5 Lessons From Jay-Z on Wealth, Race, and Growth - Black Enterprise

5 Lessons From Jay-Z on Wealth, Race, and Growth

(Image: Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

On Wednesday, T: The New York Times Style Magazine released a revealing exposé in which Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter opened up to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dean Baquet about a myriad of topics. In addition to admitting to cheating on his wife, Beyoncé, and disclosing the status of his embattled relationship with Kanye West, the hip hop mogul shared his thoughts on President Donald Trump, racism, and his own personal evolution.

Here are five profound statements that Jay-Z made during his interview and the lessons that can be gleaned.




Despite accumulating an exuberant amount of wealth and success throughout his career, the music mogul admits that he still is not immune to racism.

BAQUET: Are there incidents even at this stage in your life—you’re famous, you’re rich, you own stuff—where you run into racism that’s evident to you, that’s easy to recognize?

JAY-Z: Yeah. Yes. Yeah. But it mostly comes when you try to challenge the status quo.

If I’m being quiet and entertaining, everyone’s cool. Ah man, it’s great. You don’t feel racism. But when you try to challenge the club, it’s like, Oh, nah, we should have a seat at—to use the Solange album title—we should have a seat at this table. And then it gets into a space where it’s like, wait, you guys are mad at me about the same thing you guys are doing. It gets into a weird space.

Lesson: The institution of racism and white supremacy is embedded into the fabric of our democracy.


The Positive Side of the Trump Effect


Although the election of Donald Trump into the White House has emboldened white supremacists, Hov points out that this has also catapulted race issues into the national discourse and forced America to deal with an age-old problem that has largely remained ignored. Racism can no longer be denied or masked under the disclaimer that our country elected the first black president. Instead, Jay-Z argues that we are confronting these ills, which is a good thing because “what you reveal, you heal,” he said.

 The great thing about Donald Trump being president is now we’re forced to have the dialogue. Now we’re having the conversation on the large scale; he’s provided the platform for us to have the conversation.

Lesson: There is always a plus side, even in the bleakest situations and scenarios.




Therapy has often been dismissed as a taboo in the African American culture and associated with weakness, especially for men. The rap icon, however, shattered this myth by openly addressing how therapy has helped him conquer past demons and become more whole as a person. He also claims that “the strongest thing a man can do is cry.”

I grew so much from the experience. But I think the most important thing I got is that everything is connected. Every emotion is connected and it comes from somewhere. And just being aware of it. Being aware of it in everyday life puts you at such a … you’re at such an advantage. You know, you realize that if someone’s racist toward you, it ain’t about you. It’s about their upbringing and what happened to them, and how that led them to this point. You know, most bullies bully. It just happen. Oh, you got bullied as a kid so you trying to bully me. I understand.

And once I understand that, instead of reacting to that with anger, I can provide a softer landing and maybe, “Aw, man, is you O.K.?” I was just saying there was a lot of fights in our neighborhood that started with “What you looking at? Why you looking at me? You looking at me?” And then you realize: “Oh, you think I see you. You’re in this space where you’re hurting, and you think I see you, so you don’t want me to look at you. And you don’t want me to see you.”

BAQUET: You think I see your pain.

JAY-Z: You don’t want me to see your pain. You don’t … So you put on this shell of this tough person that’s really willing to fight me and possibly kill me ’cause I looked at you. You know what I’m saying, like, so … Knowing that and understanding that changes life completely.

BAQUET: Was that a moment that came from therapy?

JAY-Z: Yeah—just realizing that, oh my goodness, these young men coming from these … they just in pain.

BAQUET: Mm-hmm.

JAY-Z: You have to survive. So you go into survival mode, and when you go into survival mode what happen? You shut down all emotions. So even with women, you gonna shut down emotionally, so you can’t connect.

BAQUET: You can’t connect because of the way you feel about yourself, you mean?

JAY-Z: Yes. In my case, like it’s, it’s deep. And then all the things happen from there: infidelity …

Lesson: Vulnerability is strength.


Money and Politics


Despite acquiring a net worth of an estimated $810 million, the rap icon made it clear that money does not influence his politics. When asked if his wealth has made him “a little more conservative,” the lyricist said that he cares more about voting in the interests of the masses rather than for his own personal gain.

I believe in people. I want what’s best for people. I love people. You know, so I don’t have that sort of thing, like, I want to vote Republican just to save more money.

That’s not the endgame. It’s not about who got more money and who got more houses. Yes, you know, you’ve earned it, buy what you want.” He added,  “don’t forget what’s important. Without people, being rich would be very boring.”

Lesson: Never compromise your values.




The Anti-Defamation League released a statement last July accusing Jay-Z of reciting an anti-Semitic lyric in the song “The Story of O.J.” off of his 4:44 album. In the song, he raps:  “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.”

In the interview, the business magnate rejected the accusations of anti-Semitism and suggested that critics who found the lyric offensive are being “hypocritical” for not taking offense to the stereotypical words and images he portrayed about African Americans in the song and accompanying music video, which features racist cartoon characters and a caricature of a black man eating watermelon.

I felt it was really hypocritical. Only because it’s obvious the song is, like, “Do you want to be rich? Do what people got rich done.” Of course, it’s a general statement, right? It’s obviously a general statement, like the video attached to it was a general statement. And if you didn’t have a problem with the general statement I made about black people, and people eating watermelon and things like that [the animated music video for the song, which references racist cartoons, includes a caricature of a black man eating watermelon] — if that was fine, [but] that line about wealth bothered you, then that’s very hypocritical, and, you know, that’s something within yourself. ‘Cause basically, I was saying, you know, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, is a great basketball player. He trains in the off-season. If you want to be great, train in off-season like him. That’s basically the statement. You can’t miss the context of the song. You have to be like 5 years old or something.

Lesson: Focus on the bigger picture and message at hand.