Forget Harry Reid: 'Esquire''s Jay-Z Profile Is the Real Racial Scandal

Perhaps writer Lisa Taddeo, thinks that if she shoves enough purple prose into her Jay-Z story in Esquire that we won't be able to deduce that she thinks Jay-Z is a pandering, Uncle Tom sellout who'll do anything for a buck. We'll spend so much time trying to decipher her tortured metaphors that we won't realize she has set up a false dialectic between gangster and "corporate, carpeted America." I've managed to get through nearly a week of the Harry Reid "Negro dialect" flap without getting offended by anybody except Liz Cheney. But this Taddeo made me want to jump out of my seat and yell "Stop talking about black people stuff you know nothing about" at the first white person I saw.

Perhaps neither Taddeo nor her editors know how offensive it is to have blackness defined by whiteness or, as August Wilson put it, "a situation where whites have set themselves up as the custodians of the black experience." I mean, how else to explain Taddeo's insistence that Jay-Z lives in an impenetrable world as different from the white suburbs as Mars and Venus?

Despite the fact that just thinking about reading this story again could cause me to jam out my eyes with my thumbs, I'll quote a small section for you:

Jay-Z is black black. He is old-school double-dark-chocolate-chunk black. He is black the way Labatt is blue. He is not white black, Barack black, like our president. Or the kind of black that doesn't curse and deplores the n-word, the genteel black, like Oprah. He is, arguably, the first black-black guy to cross over into Oprah-land and Bill Clintonworld without making the Oprah-sized no-look-back forward flip that means you're selling not necessarily your soul but perhaps something fleshier, a little more external.

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Yes, I know, it somehow manages to comes off as both showy and dim-witted. Her prose really does remind me of the poetry I wrote in my early teens, so it can be hard to make out what she's saying. I think Taddeo seems to be making the case that Jay-Z is risking his authenticity and artist integrity for money, fame, and the approval of his white fans. First of all, that's a shockingly unoriginal point and second, her case is damaged not just by the fact that at no point does Jay-Z represent himself but also because she doesn't talk to anyone who is in a position to tell her the truth. Scorned business partners don't count. (For more on some of the problematic issues in this article, check out this Village Voice post).

Shout out to Slate for finding this article, since I usually find the excess of testosterone at Esquire offputting. And let me add that they were exactly right when they described it as "writing so baffling and incomprehensible that I hesitate to guess what the writer or her editors were thinking." I suspect they were thinking this story would work kind of like Gay Talese's "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold," in which Talese produced a brilliant profile despite not being able to speak to Ol' Blue Eyes. But no, no, no, it's nothing like that—in Talese's story, you get a sense of what it feels like to live in Sinatra's orbit, but Taddeo's profile reads like it was written by a drunk college freshman with three weeks of Journalism 101 under her belt, and who thinks that just because she likes jazz, she's Billie Holiday. As my Dad would say: "Not good."

Kelley is a senior writer for NEWSWEEK.

Forget Harry Reid: 'Esquire''s Jay-Z Profile Is the Real Racial Scandal | News