“Money, Power and Respect! Well, one out of three ain’t bad.”
My best friend, John, and I have been having an argument about the meaning and impact of Jay-Z’s protest of Louis Roederer, in general, and the Cristal brand in particular. John supports Jay-Z’s efforts. I think it’s the most insignificant protest I’ve ever heard of. I decided to make a post of excerpts from our exchange because our debate has brought up a few more points that I want to make.
John: "The bottom line is that you are reading too much into it [my view of Jay-Z’s hypocrisy]."
ACT: See, I think the bottom line is that you AREN'T reading enough into it. The fact that Jay-Z actively supported and marketed for a company about which he knew nothing - for FREE – is bad enough. The fact that he was doing it to celebrate his status is even worse. The fact that he does this with (despite hip hop being consumed, in large part, by whites) urban black youth is inexcusable. Frankly, I think it's cause for celebration when something like this comes back to bite him, and others, in the ass.
John: "..saying that the average black man can't afford the stuff is pointless."
ACT: The point, my friend, is that this tacky, gluttonous, hyperconsumerized culture that Jay-Z revels in doesn't consider the wants and needs of those of us who live paycheck to paycheck. Therefore, why should we give a damn about him or his absurd "protest?"
John: "He [Jay-Z] took a stand purely based on the racist comments from the company's president."
ACT: We may just have to agree to disagree here. What you see as a stance I see merely as reactionary. If someone decides to boycott Walmart because they underpay their workers or force small area business to close, that's a stance. If someone boycotts Walmart because the Walton children say they don't want their business, that's just, as I've said before, plain common sense.
John: "Hip Hop is a MULTI-BILLION dollar industry and that economic power should be wielded."
ACT: I agree with you here. In this case, though, I don't really think it's being wielded at all. Wielding power means making impactful changes to a community, industry, group of people, system, etc. If this boycott leads to Louis Roederer establishing some sort of scholarship for urban youth or developing a diversity sensitivity program within the company I'll be the first one to applaud Jay-Z's efforts. As of yet, it hasn't even led to an apology.
John: "Just because you or I can't afford a bottle of Cristal doesn't me we shouldn't support him."
ACT: Aaaaah. See, this is, fundamentally, where you and I differ. This is how I see it. Jay-Z wanted people to think he's important and was desirous of flaunting his wealth so he bragged incessantly about what he could afford - implying, btw, that others could NOT afford it. He bragged about diamonds despite the fact that the diamond industry is a corrupt, murderous monopoly. He bragged about expensive cars and clothes despite the fact that much of his black listening audience can barely afford to eek out a living. He boasted, on every single record, of his history in the drug trade despite the fact that drug use has crippled the "black community" for decades ("Hov did that so hopefully you don't have to go through that" was just a stupid attempt to sound conscious). He continued the unfortunate trend of objectifying women, most of whom are black. Then, one of the companies that he's been celebrating - an alcohol manufacturer! - rejected people of his ilk and suddenly he's Jesse Jackson. I have a major problem with someone actively participating in their own exploitation, as well as that of others, and then turning around and looking for support when they realize they've been played for a fool.
John: "What are you talking about!? You are out of your mind if you don't think what black folks mean to Cristal isn't significant. Do you KNOW HOW MUCH money the Hip Hop industry and movement behind it brings to Cristal annually?!?"
ACT: Maybe I'm deluded. But I DO know that Louis Roederer hasn't been in business for 230 years on the strength of the black dollar. They'll be just fine without the hip hop crowd. Plus, I think one of the things that we have to consider is that Cristal had panache among its clientele long before rappers started buying it. It was considered the choice of the ELITE. That's why these rappers started drinking it. They didn't make the brand hot. They just jumped on the bandwagon. A bandwagon that whites own.
John: "Seriously. It is what it is. A very powerful black man using his influence to attack a company that doesn't support where he came from and his people. Period."
ACT: Money doesn't necessarily equal power. Purchasing power perhaps. But you can be rich and own clubs and market sneakers with your name on them and not be powerful. Power is the ability to get your way in society despite the objections of others. In that regard, the Bush/Cheney crew is powerful. The military is powerful. Microsoft is powerful. The tobacco companies are powerful. The NRA is powerful. Jay-Z is just a rich retired rapper whom those with real power don't even have to acknowledge.
ACT: One final thing: Have we considered that perhaps Frederic Rouzaud just might know what the hell he's doing? Maybe he realized that he might well have to choose between maintaining the loyalty of his wealthy white patronage and establishing the brand among the hip hop Nouveau Riche. Maybe whites who have enjoyed the brand amongst themselves for the last 230 years don't want to drink the same champagne as tasteless Negroes. Maybe Rouzaud was reacting to that when he was interviewed.