Declaring that you are your own “business” — as Jay-Z famously did on the “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” remix — cuts both ways. On the one hand, it’s the ultimate hip-hop/hyper capitalism boast. You’ve transcended the station of mere worker, and are your own private cottage industry. But, on the other hand, you’re a business: cold, calculating, and corrupt. Not to be trusted, basically. And since Jay-Z uttered that now infamous line (full quote: “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man”), he’s gone out of his way to transition from a lowly humanoid to a fully functioning multi-national corporation. He bought a basketball team, started a talent management agency, and captained a digital streaming service.
So it’s no wonder that the playlist that he created in conjunction with his inclusion into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame feels awfully transactional. There’s a smattering of old school hip-hop (Grandmaster Flash, Eric B & Rakim, Public Enemy), a few tracks from his friends/collaborators/labelmates (Kanye, Eminem, Nas), and some tasteful socio-conscious tracks (Mos Def, OutKast, 2Pac). He’s developed his own canon, and that canon is a lot like almost every other fair-minded hip-hop canon. It’d be hard to argue that “Stan,” “Ms. Jackson,” or “Fight the Power” aren’t Mt. Rushmore rap, but this playlist feels like a missed opportunity. In interviews and in song, Jay-Z has displayed a more idiosyncratic taste in rap, championing everyone from Big L to Jay Electronica. There is none of this on this seemingly raked-over, corporatized playlist. Sure, if you want to hear all the hits one more time, and delivered to you by one of the genre’s most talented and transitional figures, this is great, but it’s also not particularly interesting. And, hey, where’s the Memphis Bleek?