Jay-Z’s Unseemly Takeover of Brooklyn’s Central Library

Jay-Z’s Unseemly Takeover of Brooklyn’s Central Library

Occupying a wedge of land between two main Brooklyn arteries, the landmarked Central Library (1941) of the Brooklyn Public Library is designed to resemble an open guide. Since mid-July, the constructing’s concave limestone facade has been coated by white panels emblazoned with lyrics—decidedly not NSFW—from Brooklyn-born rap celebrity, billionaire entrepreneur, and cultural pressure Jay-Z. 

If this vaguely recollects, say, Christo wrapping the Reichstag, the latter’s purpose, in keeping with the artist’s biographer, was “revelation by way of concealment.” This reifies an icon. If just a few observers grouse on social media a few “darn temple” or “an enormous advert for Jay-Z,” most are enthralled by “The Book of HOV,” a multimedia “tribute exhibition” created by Jay-Z’s firm, Roc Nation. 

It occupies 40,000 sq. toes of library area, in eight “chapters,” mounted by way of December 4, the birthday of Jay-Z, born Shawn Carter. (“HOV” and “Hova,” quick for “Jehovah,” are nicknames for the rapper.) Visitors name the exhibit—which chronicles Carter’s journey from “the gritty streets of the Marcy Projects” to worldwide superstardom—“dope,” “dazzling,” and “inspirational.” They snap selfies in entrance of the facade or on the flashing digital dice that introduces the exhibition.

A view of the principle foyer from the second flooring.


Inside, they pose with a sculpture of Jay-Z’s diamond-style “Roc” hand gesture, see shows of the artist’s 13 albums, and discover the re-creation of his Baseline Studios. The set up, together with the handfuls of black-clad sentries, shiny brochures, and memento library playing cards, is all paid for by Roc Nation. 

The library claims “The Book of HOV” is a win-win: the free present has attracted greater than 350,000 guests. They’ve scarfed up some 100,000 particular library playing cards, one for every of Jay-Z’s 13 albums, from Reasonable Doubt to 4:44. (Only those that dwell or work in New York State are eligible.)

So what if the Central Library closed for a day to accommodate a gap celebration, stymieing common library customers, or closed a part of the day earlier than the gala? So what if the exhibit has in any other case truncated actions, area, and workflow, with no employees session (as a library employee instructed me)? 

Eight of Jay-Z’s 13 album covers.


The rationales—some addressed in The Architect’s Newspaper—are vital: “The Book of HOV” brings the Brooklyn Public Library, lengthy overshadowed by the New York Public Library, new guests, new cardholders, and new buzz. It’s delivered new donations—although, I recommend under, lower than you may think. It’s snazzier than something the library may’ve produced by itself. If it boosts a billionaire, effectively, libraries have lengthy promoted rich donors, generally questionable ones. Also, it honors a Black Brooklynite as a serious cultural determine in a distinguished public area.

So what’s to not love?

First, it’s overkill. The library may promote a Jay-Z exhibit on the outside’s largely clean partitions with out protecting the whole facade along with his lyrics, particularly since 4 of the ten track excerpts are interrupted by the constructing’s home windows, rendering them unreadable. 

Oddly, just a few songs are hits, and 5 are within the backside half of Vulture’s complete Jay-Z checklist.) Could or not it’s as a result of lots of his iconic lyrics comprise profanity, drug references, or the (five-letter) n-word?

The facade hardly confirms a poet on the order of Walt Whitman, because the scholar Michael Eric Dyson contends in Jay-Z: Made in America or, because the exhibit suggests, “Homer with a backbeat.” Why not embrace the memorable ”Lock my physique, can’t entice my thoughts, I’d slightly die monumental than dwell dormant,” from “Can I Live”? or the dazzling “I jack, I rob, I sin, Aw, man—I’m Jackie Robinson,” fromBrooklyn (Go Hard)”? 


At the doorway foyer, a forged of Jay-Z’s “Roc” hand gesture.


More essential, the “tribute” cedes curatorial authority to its topic. The present emerged, the New York Times defined, after library CEO/President Linda Johnson proposed that Jay-Z be honored at its gala. Instead, Roc Nation Chief Executive Desiree Perez sought a spot to show Jay-Z artifacts. 

So Roc Nation, treating Jay’s greatness as a given, displays journal covers, platinum records, Super Bowl credentials, press clips, tickets, setlists, grasp recordings, and trophies. Visitors can watch movies of interviews and performances and—in a restricted alternative—play vinyl records at two turntables. It’s deep fandom meets auto-hagiography.

Some of Jay-Z’s many awards displayed, from Billboard at left.


While that delights followers, it sells Hova quick. If Roc Nation had rented an empty division retailer slightly than claimed central public area, they may have performed it their manner. For these not steeped in Jay-Z nor stirred by his talismans, it’s a missed alternative. The exhibit comes with little or no annotation, with track snippets out there solely on-line. How have his music and persona developed? As Adam Serwer wrote in The Atlantic in 2017, his most up-to-date album, 4:44, “represents a profound shift” in Jay-Z. 

Screenshot from Brooklyn Public Library web site.


Without Genius-ing Jay-Z’s lyrics, what’s he saying? So a lot is in regards to the drug sport, which will get quick shrift in “The Book of HOV.” This exhibit, the information states, is “an inspiring reminder that, irrespective of the place you begin, with expertise, arduous work, and slightly little bit of that ‘Empire State of Mind’”a track that place-checks drug dealing—“you possibly can change the world.” Unmentioned: Well earlier than Jay-Z’s debut album, he’d made financial institution as a seller, as dream hampton, later Jay’s collaborator on Decoded, wrote in a memorable 1998 Vibe cowl story.

Jay-Z’s celebration of hustling has turn into extra introspective, however we’re not instructed that. Consider: MSNBC host Ari Melber’s breakdown of Jay-Z’s intricate “God Did,” which takes on “the failed and the customarily racist warfare on medication,” was insightful sufficient for the artist to repurpose the phase as aHOV DID” observe. That’s not a part of the exhibit, although we do study of his work as Founding Partner of the Reform Alliance to rework probation and parole. 

Highlighting Jay-Z’s work with the Reform Alliance.


Nor has the library produced studying lists, although Dyson’s guide, Jay-Z’s personal Decoded, and Zack O’Malley Greenburg’s Empire State of Mind, amongst others, discover his life and work. The exhibit shows main articles about Jay-Z, however they’re largely unreadable underneath glass or on-line. (Omitted: incisive articles that handle the strain between staying cool and going massive.)

Portraits of Jay-Z, together with by Henry Taylor (left) for the quilt of the New York Times’ T Magazine.


Also, by outsourcing the exhibit to Roc Nation, the Brooklyn Public Library has ceded skilled authority. Yes, the deep-pocketed firm has produced a generally dazzling multimedia present, commissioned new paintings, and delivered nifty souvenirs. The exhibit does remind us how Jay-Z has made hip-hop mainstream. One video highlights his triumph at UK’s Glastonbury Festival in 2008, the place Jay, the primary rapper to headline the occasion, defused native disdain for hip-hop, particularly from Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher, by opening with an Oasis hit.

The press protection has been rhapsodic. “The exhibit is totally paid for by Jay-Z’s Roc Nation,” NPR reported, “as a result of cash ain’t a thang.” That cleverly quotes Jay-Z, however ignores the difficulty. 

A New York Times music author steered that “its architects are aiming to convey aspirational superstar extravagance to a free public haven only a few miles from the Marcy Houses the place Jay-Z grew up.”

Honoring Jay-Z’s first album, Reasonable Doubt, for going platinum (promoting 1 million records).


But meaning questions on Jay-Z’s profession—from his drug-dealing previous to earlier homophobic lyrics to his function promulgating hip-hop’s “prosperity gospel”—get ignored or downplayed, although he has addressed these points, in interviews, his lyrics, and his guide.

So it’s unhealthy precedent: Should libraries, in change for buzz and donations, turn into vessels for displays equipped by celebrities? By sports activities groups? By firms?

Though Roc Nation claims this was a shock for Jay-Z, which appears uncertain, both manner it may be the last word hustle. Consider: two months into the exhibit, someway a Lexus with a “JAY-Z” vainness plate appeared on the library’s exterior garden, full with safety. The caption presents no rationalization, however followers know the Lexus was the younger rapper’s journey of alternative.

A Lexus outdoors the library, with safety guard at proper.


Is the Lexus the last word objet d’Jay or an car promotion? Maybe each. So a style celebrating conspicuous consumption claims extra public area. If the library’s a helpful vessel, it’s a clumsy match. “This is a profession that was constructed on the written phrase,” CEO Johnson instructed PBS, someway forgetting that, because the exhibit crows, Jay-Z “did all of it and not using a pen,” composing lyrics in his head.

“Roc Nation and BPL,” a library spokeswoman instructed Brooklyn Magazine, “are hoping that Brooklyn youth will probably be impressed by this story and in addition find out about all the things the library has to supply.” But there’s nothing—as critic Theodore Hamm identified in Hyperallergic—“about any books, world leaders, and even musicians that impressed younger Shawn Carter.”

There’s little proof the exhibit has fueled use of library supplies. (The library reported an almost 10% enhance in check-outs on the Central and Marcy libraries throughout opening weekend.) The visitor guide within the foyer reveals Jay-Z adulation, not library enthusiasm. Of the library playing cards distributed, what number of have been prized as souvenirs or hawked, with the free exhibit information, on eBay

One of a number of compilations of Jay-Z images.


“There’s simply not a lot … to have interaction with except you’re a Jay-Z superfan,” wrote critic Adlan Jackson for the online publication HellGate. But superfans are legion. After all, Jay-Z has offered 140 million records and, in 2012, opened the Barclays Center with eight reveals. 

“The Book of HOV” is very well-liked with Black guests, who specific appreciation and awe for this mainstream endorsement of hip-hop, Black tradition, and a son of Brooklyn. (This 12 months is the fiftieth anniversary of hip-hop.) As one middle-aged lady exclaimed, trying on the Jay-Z album covers, “These are my albums proper right here. I like these freaking albums.” Jay-Z, State Sen. Zellnor Myrie instructed Brooklyn Magazine, “supplied the soundtrack” to his youth. “And I’m simply actually geeked … that the show’s in my district, and that we get to rejoice that sort of greatness. We get to see ourselves in that.”Salon columnist D. Watkins recounted how mates traveled to go to the exhibit: “That is a testomony to the ability of Jay-Z’s music.”

No doubt. But it presents little elaboration or complication. Inside that predominant foyer, festooned with  big Jay-Z photographs, a show case accommodates an indication, “Welcome to the Marcy Houses,” the Bedford-Stuyvesant housing undertaking the place Jay-Z was born.

A re-creation of the signal for the Marcy Houses.


It’s a missed alternative to tell guests how public housing is underfunded or how circumstances evaluate to these Jay-Z described. Rather, Marcy is the place Jay-Z, who’s “certainly one of one,” as exhibit narrator Angie Martinez intones, is from. 

In the library’s predominant foyer, additionally with out context, is a distinguished mannequin of the Barclays Center, from SHoP, the structure agency that wrapped the sector in its distinctive brown steel pores and skin. Missing are company logos and promoting screens. (Arena developer Bruce Ratner, by the way in which, is married to library head Johnson.) 

Also absent: the three towers that now flank the sector, containing flats far much less “inexpensive” than promised when Jay-Z—the “resident Brooklyn-credibility totem” (to quote David Roth)—helped Ratner get his bigger undertaking, referred to as Atlantic Yards, authorised. A number of seconds of video, each outdoors and upstairs, present Jay-Z, triumphant, on the area.

A 2012 mannequin of the Barclays Center, by SHoP.


While Jay-Z’s “market-friendly picture of racial distinction and oppositional cool” could have generated assist for Ratner’s undertaking, as scholar Amanda Boston wrote, it “additionally promoted a colorblind narrative of neoliberal urbanism in service of capital.” Today, Jay-Z is serving to pitch a on line casino for Times Square. That’s not within the exhibit, both.

“Roc Nation helped the [NFL] form social and prison justice reform efforts,” the exhibit states, citing how the league, amongst different issues, gave greater than $250 million to social justice organizations. Jay-Z and Roc Nation, we’re instructed, “brilliantly produced” the primary Super Bowl halftime present headlined with rap.

But Jay-Z’s alliance with the league, as Nation columnist Dave Zirin contended, was a method towards workforce possession himself. Jay-Z then “was blessing [a league that] nonetheless resists hiring black coaches, and blackballs Colin Kaepernick.” 

Still, it’s arduous to withstand Jay-Z’s jubilant, compelling, and triumphant songs. So even for a critic of rap capitalism, as Duke University professor Mark Anthony Neal acknowledges, “the artist who lives most in my head is Jay-Z.” 

Some of the numerous Jay-Z journal covers.

“The Book of HOV” salutes Jay-Z’s monumental entrepreneurial success, controlling “his personal monetary future by constructing generational wealth,” together with Rocawear attire, 40/40 Club sports activities bars, and the streaming platform Tidal. Again, it’s extra difficult.

The exhibit positions Jay-Z’s champagne, Armand de Brignac, as a story of entrepreneurial triumph, because the star, recoiling from racist feedback from earlier favourite Cristal, constructed a brand new model. Unmentioned: as biographer Greenburg wrote, Armand de Brignac is a triumph of selling, since a bottle that prices maybe 10 euros to supply has been remodeled right into a luxurious object retailing for $300.

Jay-Z’s champagne model, Armand de Brignac.


The exhibit additionally features a Che Guevara t-shirt; the caption states “Shirt Worn During the Filming of MTV Unplugged.” Missing is author Elizabeth Mendez Berry’s Village Voice critique of his accompanying platinum chain: “Jay-Z is a hustler.” Also absent: Jay-Z’s response, in his track “Public Service Announcement”: “I’m like Che Guevara with bling on, I’m advanced.”

“The Book of HOV” hails Jay-Z for “us[ing] his pen to sentence the warfare on medication” and says it reveals “how he morphed from a street-smart hustler to a globally revered music mogul.” That downplays the gangster tradition he has glamorized, monetized, and lamented. Yes, in a 2017 interview with the New York Times’ Dean Baquet, Jay-Z mirrored, “Because figuring out what I do know now, you understand, you possibly can’t sacrifice others in your life.” At the library, although, you simply see the Times journal cowl.

An set up in the principle foyer options two pages from Decoded and a basketball hoop, referencing the trackWhere I’m From,” which tells tales of Marcy. But the show, created for the guide’s publicity rollout, is bowdlerized to inscrutability: asterisks substitute for 11 phrases, obscuring hammers (weapons), weight (medication), grams (medication), boosters (shoplifters), and a number of situations of niggas. (“Oprah … nonetheless can’t get previous the n-word situation,” Jay-Z wrote in Decoded, “To me, it’s only a phrase, a phrase whose energy is owned by the consumer, and his or her intention.”) 


From a 2010 promotion for the guide Decoded.


The exhibit is stuffed with sly citations to Jay-Z’s catalog, together with, after all, “Business, Man.” A piece known asHov Did That” recounts his enterprise {and professional} successes, reminiscent of being welcomed on the White House or taking part in Carnegie Hall: “Hov escaped the tradition’s stereotypical headlock so he may educate the tradition to transcend its detrimental views.”

OK, however the quote referenced, from “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” reveals the artist critically reflecting on his previous:

Like I instructed you promote medication, no, Hov did that

So hopefully you gained’t must undergo that 

Roc Nation spent “tens of millions” on the exhibit, certainly its largest expense. Jay-Z’s willingness to be honored on the gala earned the library $1.5 million from ticket consumers. A very good haul? Last 12 months’s gala grossed $1.3 million, earlier than $425,000 in bills, so this 12 months’s adjustment is probably going related. (The library’s working assist and income final 12 months totaled $209.3 million, together with $138-million  from town. A just-announced 5% funds discount will reduce Sunday service, supplies, and extra.)

Per week into the exhibit’s run, Jay-Z’s Shawn Carter Foundation and Robert Kraft’s Foundation to Combat Antisemitism gave the library $1.5 million for its Books Unbanned initiative, which presents teenagers nationwide entry to digital collections. (It’s a great wager that New England Patriots proprietor Kraft, who’s needed to rebuild his status, contributed all or many of the cash.)

Outside the library, at night time.


Roc Nation additionally donated greater than 300 books, echoing Jay-Z’s personal assortment—largely heavy tomes in artwork, trend, and structure—to each the Central Library and the Marcy department. (That stated, after I requested at Marcy in regards to the books, the clerk was dumbfounded.) At Central, I counted a stack of 59 copies of Decoded.

Some of the books donated, reflecting Jay-Z’s private assortment.


All instructed, wouldn’t Roc Nation must spend much more to lease such a distinguished public area, together with the library facade?

                                                                                                                             * * *


At the Central Library’s Major Owens Welcome Center, after accumulating my memento Jay-Z library card—not usable except I deactivated my present card—I requested the clerk if that they had any details about Major Owens. “Unfortunately, we don’t,” he replied. 

The line for playing cards on the Major Owens Welcome Center.


That was a misplaced alternative. Because Major Owens, because the library suggests on its web site, was “certainly one of one” himself. A Black librarian who moved from neighborhood outreach work to antipoverty efforts within the administration of Mayor John Lindsay. Owens later served in Congress, the place he was dubbed, resulting from his distinctive standing, “the librarian in Congress.” Owens, too, may very well be an “inspiring reminder,” an instance of “betting on your self.”

Though commentator Melber and CBS host Gayle King, within the current JAY-Z and Gayle King: Brooklyn’s Own particular, saluted the facade set up, the obeisance to Jay-Z obscures two exterior aphorisms which might be, primarily, the library’s mission assertion.

So lyrics to “Things That U Do” (#271 on Vulture’s checklist) obscure the incised eloquence of former Board Chair Roscoe C. Brown: “The Brooklyn Public Library by way of the becoming a member of of municipal enterprise and personal generosity presents to all of the individuals perpetual and free entry to the data and the considered all of the ages.”

Jay-Z lyrics obscure the incised phrases within the library’s facade.

Opposite, lyrics to “Justify My Thug” (#228 on Vulture’s checklist; it samples Madonna’s “Justify My Love”) cowl one other Brown epigram: “Here are enshrined the longing of nice hearts and noble issues that tower above the tide, the magic phrase that winged marvel begins, the garnered knowledge that has by no means died.” 


From an utility to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to allow facade modifications.

That stated, the library’s exterior may use an replace. Over the middle doorways, not coated by Jay-Z lyrics, are 15 bronze sculptures of characters and personages from American literature. Some are classics (reminiscent of Meg from Little Women) and others fusty. But Brer Rabbit, from Tales of Uncle Remus, a part of a “romanticized snapshot of plantation life,” as one critic put it, awkwardly counterpoints the letters BLM, appended above after protestors gathered outdoors the library in response to George Floyd’s 2020 homicide by Minneapolis police.

After all, there are not any authors of coloration nor up to date American tales. Once that Roc Nation-provided facade is eliminated, the library may take into account periodic, restricted, exterior modifications to share the “magic phrase that winged marvel begins.” But not if it’s a company “tribute.”

Photos by the creator. 


by way of Common Edge http://commonedge.org

November 21, 2023 at 02:04PM

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