Editor’s Note: The following article is an editorial and the opinions expressed are those of the author. Learn more opinions on theGrio.
There are some crazy ideas floating around on Black TikTok right now, but for me, the most cringe-inducing one stems from this question: Would Jay-Z still be relevant if he wasn’t married to Beyoncé? This is certainly a leading question, but of course, several millennials said yes. I saw this and said to the pop culture gods, forgive them for they have sinned. Of all the Beyoncé shots on the internet these days, this one might be the hottest.
Let’s step back for a second. I consider myself Beyhive-adjacent. I love Bey and I’m a huge fan. I was on the Renaissance tour and Renaissance was my favorite album last year. It’s the album I’ve listened to the most. I interviewed her. But I’m only Beyhive-adjacent because I don’t know the lyrics to every song, I don’t know the timing of how fans are going on “Heated,” and I don’t believe the world revolves around Beyoncé. . I know this is news to my friends at the Beyhive, but it’s real. You would have to think that the world revolves around Beyoncé to think that Beyoncé makes Jay relevant.
Now there is some out there (but not enough). But yes, Bey improves Jay’s image. She humanizes him and elevates him – you look at him and say, hey, if an amazing, brilliant, charming woman like her likes him, then he must be a good guy. He’s certainly enjoying being with her – their whole pairing of Black Power musical royalty is magnificent. But you know what? This is part of what most women give to their husbands. A great wife makes people look at her man differently. If she is smart, beautiful and charming, you think that if she loves him, then he must be a solid man. In Martin Scorsese’s iconic film “The Departed,” Alec Baldwin’s Captain 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 someone can handle this son of a bitch.” ” It’s real.
Yes, Beyoncé is America’s biggest pop star today (sit down, Swifties). But – and I can’t believe I have to write this – Jay-Z is a huge star in his own right and has been for decades. When he releases 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 of “God Did” because he’s Beyoncé’s husband. When he’s at the Super Bowl, Wimbledon or the NBA Finals, the cameras aren’t on him because he’s Beyoncé’s husband. He is a major figure in pop culture. He’s big enough, on his own, to meet with presidents, to release a song that will play straight to major radio stations and shape the NFL halftime show without her. It’s big enough for me to do an entire episode of “Star Stories.” He produced films like “The Book of Clarence” and published a huge book about himself, “Decoded,” not because of her. Yes, Beyoncé is part of Jay’s image, but she’s not the one who makes the difference between his relevance or not.
I think part of the problem is that Jay-Z has quietly gone into semi-retirement. He’ll release a verse here or there, but he hasn’t released a solo album since “4:44” in 2017. It’s the longest hiatus of his storied career. But it’s not that he’s failed; it’s that he chooses to move on. So, as Beyoncé reaches new heights, he moves toward voluntary retirement. But he remains relevant enough that if he released an album or announced a tour, it would be huge.
I think ultimately we need to stop basing our arguments on the vague and very subjective notion of “relevance.” I never know what people really mean when they use the term relevance, and when you ask if Jay-Z is relevant, then we know the word has no real meaning. Additionally, superfans of a given artist might consider not looking at the world as if it revolves around their favorite artist, thereby blinding them to the reality of pop culture. I remember Kanye fans saying he made Taylor Swift a pop star when he interrupted her at the MTV Awards. This is crazy talk. When he cut her off, she was a multi-platinum global superstar. It didn’t make her famous except to Kanye fans who didn’t know who she was. But if you think the world revolves around Kanye, 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 Jay, perhaps the greatest rapper of all time, is relevant.
Touré is host and creative director at Grio. He is the host of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and the animated show Star Stories with Touré which you can find at TheGrio.com/starstories. He is also the host of the podcast “Touré 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 e-book The Ivy League Counterfeiter.
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