This is a well-deserved salute to two global icons of hip-hop culture. Two successful Black men who transcend race and social division have attained the pinnacle of worldwide impact with their artistic genius and empowerment consciousness. Jay-Z and Kanye West, with the release of their latest album, “Watch the Throne,” are revealing the sustainable power of hip-hop not only in America, but also throughout the world.
At a time when the prevailing commentary about Black people in America, Africa, the Caribbean, and throughout the Pan African world is too often focused almost solely on the pathology and the negative statistics and realities about our socioeconomic plight, it is refreshing to witness two brothers from different neighborhoods in the United States work together to produce the next level of music and international consciousness. But their recent achievement, in my view, goes way beyond the success of selling millions of music albums. Jay-Z and Kanye West together represent an evolving genre of new entrepreneurial giants that are helping to sustain a new economy and philanthropy for our communities that pushes the envelope on advancing African American economic development.
Knowing and affirming one’s own self-worth is a fundamental key to career success. Everyone is blessed with different skills, talent and opportunities. I am not encouraging everyone to try to be a rapper or poet. But I am encouraging that we all should strive to identify what are your skills and special talents or interests. It is good to a have a career goal and the self-determination, dedication and proper education to attain and fulfill your life goal. The inventiveness and creativity within the hip-hip community continues to be outstanding for those who know the benefit of hard work, study, practice, preparation and diligence. Jay-Z and Kanye West are still on their grind and their productivity is inspiring a younger generations of poets, rappers and other performing artists, designers, videographers, producers, financial managers, entrepreneurs, and developers to take full advantage of all the opportunities at hand.
Jon Caramanica in The New York Times characterized Jay-Z and Kanye West as “two titans” that “share the seat of power.” Caramanica observed, “Making relevant socially themed songs in an age of financial and political unrest is a challenge these two artists at least pay lip service to. Like a charitable donation, it’s a combination of maturity and duty.” Jay-Z and Kanye West have become “brothers in the struggle” for freedom, justice, equality and empowerment. Their artistic grind gives rise to a generation of young people throughout the world who are impatient with poverty and injustice, but who have the audacity to speak out and speak up with a bold creativity that will be welcomed by a billion youth across the globe.
Empowerment first takes place in your mind and consciousness. Hip-Hop is about not only having high aspirations or goals and objectives; it is also about having the courage, work-ethic, and the capacity to attain to fulfill your dreams and aspirations. Jay-Z and Kanye West know firsthand what overcoming poverty is all about from the streets of the hood to the corporate suites of power without losing your soul, spirit and sense of self-worth. In this unique collaboration, there is a certain cultural dignity and integrity that penetrates and lifts up all people who cry out for a better quality of life. “Watch the Throne” is an album that shatters the complacency and hopelessness that is currently undergirding the worldwide cynicism of those who prefer to acquiesce to the status-quo of do-nothingness and apathy.
I personally know these two young men. They represent the best of hip-hop and will encourage others to continue to bring to the forefront more gems of creativity as they both “take back responsibility” to give back to their respective communities the best gift of all: transcendent hope and self-empowerment. As we prepare to mobilized the largest youth vote in history for the 2012 elections next year, “Watch the Throne” will help all of us to “Watch the White House” again with massive voter registration, turnout, and civic revitalization. As an OG, I am grateful to Jay-Z and Kanye West for paying the path for generations to come.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is Senior Advisor to the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) and President of Education Online Services Corporation and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network.