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Textaufgabe - Aufgabe II: "Just business: Jay-Z" by G. Packer


Hinweis: Die Prozentangaben in Klammern zeigen die Gewichtung der einzelnen Aufgaben.

You are taking part in an international project with the title “Stories of success – today’s idols and the American Dream.” The project focuses on the biographies of celebrities who seem to represent the American Dream and the question whether these should serve as role models for young adults around the world. As your contribution for the project you write a blog entry commenting on Jay-Z’s story as presented by George Packer.

1. To prepare your entry, you

1.1 describe Jay-Z’s guiding principles, his career and his lifestyle

1.2 examine how Jay-Z is presented by Packer.

 2. With reference to your findings, write your blog entry commenting on whether Jay-Z fulfills the American Dream and whether he is a suitable role model. Also refer to materials studied in class. (50%)




Shawn Corey Carter, better known as Jay-Z, started his career in the Marcy House Project in Brooklyn, a predominately African-American neighbourhood in which poverty, drugs and violence dominated life. At the age of 15 he started selling drugs, which he stopped doing in 1994 when his ambition to become a musician took over.

Following his guiding principles, Shawn Corey Carter became the famous rapper and millionaire Jay-Z. His first and foremost goal is to be as competitive as possible, trying to become more successful and richer by, for example, changing his lyrics so that a wider audience can relate to them (cf. l. 9; ll. 11,12). He also promotes his lifestyle as a brand, which secures his wealth; for instance, he designs and sells his own line of clothes, shoes and perfume (cf. ll. 15-17).

Furthermore, he sees selfishness as a rescue from the reality on the streets, and follows the principle of being selfish in a selfish world. This also includes the attitude of not being affected by critics calling him a materialist (cf. l. 18). Because his life on the street has taught him to compete and not to be satisfied with being second best, he made becoming rich his only goal (cf. ll. 3,4; ll. 6,7). All this is propelled by his strong wish to escape the poverty he experienced in his youth.

Concerning his career, the text clearly states that he developed from being a drug dealer in a poor neighbourhood to a megastar. To achieve this change, he used different marketing strategies to expand his wealth and fame: He “launched a clothes line {…}. Started his own movie studio, got his own Reebok sneaker, distributed his own vodka {…}, cross-promoted everything.” (ll. 15-17).

In addition to that, he openly displayed his life story that “{…} a black kid from a single parent house made it from the Marcy projects about six minutes from here.” (ll. 35,36).

Not only did he succeed as a rapper, but Packer also states that he “became a lifestyle brand” (l. 21) which is exemplified by him opening a bar, meeting other famous people, and marrying another superstar.

Even though he grew up in poor circumstances, he now lives his life to the fullest, and publicly displays his wealth and influence.

Focusing on his wealth, the author affirms that Jay-Z is registered on the Forbs list of rich people (cf. l. 23). To further stress the rapper’s open display of his wealth, the author mentions that Jay-Z bought his wife an island for her birthday (cf. ll. 24, 25) or that he “rented a wing of a maternity ward” (l. 25) for the birth of his daughter.

Regarding his influence, Packer claims that the musician “put his name to philantrophic causes” (ll. 22, 23), hence, using his celebrity status to help people in need.

Another aspect of Jay-Z’s lifestyle is to socialize with other rich and famous people, like the singer Bono or the producer Quincy Jones (cf. l. 22.). It is also claimed that he “hung out with presidents” (l. 23), probably referring to his meeting the President of the United States, Barack Obama. This also shows that his influence is not limited to the world of celebrities.

During his concerts, he additionally motivates the audience by addressing them personally, encouraging them to follow their dreams and telling them not to let criticism or obstacles stop them (cf. l. 39).

Lastly, through his behaviour and his excessive lifestyle, Jay-Z sets standards. His career, wealth and influence are widely admired by people (cf. ll. 29, 30). In his conclusion, Packer summarizes the different facets of Jay-Z’s life by calling him “a mogul and a revolutionary, an icon and a thug” (l. 31).


Examining the way how Jay-Z is presented by George Packer in the text “Just Business: Jay-Z” published in 2014, it becomes obvious that the author’s attitude towards the famous rapper is biased.

Already in the title “Just Business. Jay-Z”, a prejudgment is apparent because it solely refers to Jay-Z’s economical achievements. By designating him a business, the author seems to deny the rapper’s qualities as a human being. The guiding principles assigned to him - being competitive, selfish and not being content with the second best - accentuate this assumption. As proof for his competitiveness, the author writes that Jay-Z “dumbed down his lyrics {…} to hit a bigger audience and double his dollars” (ll. 11,12). Concerning the star’s selfishness, Packer states that “selfishness was a rational response to the reality he faced” (ll. 18,19). Already in his youth, when he was a drug dealer in Brooklyn, Jay-Z realized that “{s}econd best wasn’t worth the ultimate price on the street” (ll. 6,7) and therefore, in his later life, he was never content with the second best.

Furthermore, the author uses an underlining criticism, which is illustrated when he describes the development of Jay-Z’s success. His behaviour is characterised rather matter-of-factly with a hint of criticism or even disapproval when Packer, for example, mentions that people call Jay-Z a materialist (cf. l. 18). At the end of the text, Packer states that Jay-Z “looked around at his life and thought he was getting away with murder” (l. 41), a quote which blatantly shows the author’s biased attitude towards the rapper. The author insinuates that Jay-Z might feel infallible enough to commit a crime. Thus, Packer potraits the rapper here as arrogant and as a megalomaniac.

Another aspect which shows that the author criticizes Jay-Z’s attitude can be found in a juxtaposition of contradictions in his life and values.

On the one hand, Packer mentions the rapper’s engagement in charity work (“put his name to philantrophic causes” ll. 22,23) and, on the other hand, gives an example of Jay-Z’s exaggerated gifts to his wife when he informs the reader how he “bought her an island for her birthday” (ll. 24,25). Even though he uses his celebrity status for a good cause, he also shows off his wealth by buying disproportionally large presents.

Another contradiction is evident in the way he openly displays his wealth, for instance by becoming an investor in the Brooklyn Nets (cf. l. 133), but not paying his employees properly; as a result, he “got sued by his workers for back wages” (ll. 21, 22).

In different examples, the author highlights Jay-Z’s behaviour. Hence, he states that “he was always about the money” (l. 6) showing that the star forced himself to stay focused on his goal of becoming rich and famous. In addition to that, it seems obvious that his family is precious to him, which is shown by his renting a hospital wing for the birth of his daughter (cf. l. 25), or by his publishing a song about her shortly after she was born (cf. ll. 26-28).

As mentioned above, he publicly displays his wealth, and enjoys flouting his fame in public by, for example, interacting with his audience in the basketball stadium (“Jay-Z held up his middle finger. Sixteen thousand middle fingers answered him”, ll. 39, 40).

Another aspect which underlines his behaviour is how he made his music easier to understand so that he would become more successful, thus neglecting his ambition as an artist (f. ll. 10-12).

“There were times when he looked around at his life and thought he was getting away with murder.” (l. 41) is a quote which Packer uses to show Jay-Z’s conceit and presumed infallibility.

All in all, one can say that even though Packer does not openly criticize Jay-Z’s behaviour and attitude towards life, he still manages to include underlying criticism in his remarks, either by showing the contradictory aspects in his life, or by rather matter-of-factly listing his achievements without a hint of praise.


Jay-Z – a role model for the American Dream?

While researching our project’s topic “Stories of success – today’s idols and the American dream”, I found the text “Just Business: Jay-Z” by George Packer, published in 2014, in which the author describes the famous rapper’s story of success. But is Jay-Z a role model for the American dream?

Before deciding whether Jay-Z can be regarded as a suitable role model for the American dream or not, one has to define what the American Dream consists of.

The American Dream is about discovery, individualism and the pursuit of happiness. The American Dream became famous in the 1920s, also called the “Roaring Twenties”. The United States was very rich in these years. Because of the First World War, other countries owed it a lot of money. Because of the abundance of resources and factories, its national income was very high, and the growth of industry made many Americans well-off. During these times, the expression “from rags to riches” was established, meaning that everybody could become rich, regardless from which background they came. In addition to that, everybody had unlimited opportunities if they were willing to work hard.

These are all qualities which can also be seen in Jay-Z’s development: He discovered a way to make his music suitable for the masses without losing his individualism. For him, the pursuit of happiness meant escaping the poor living conditions in which he grew up. Because he promotes his life story of a kid that grew up in a poor neighbourhood, the saying “from rags to riches” is an appropriate comparison. At the beginning of his life he was very poor, and by working hard and solely focusing on his wish to become rich and famous, he achieved world fame and enormous wealth.

Therefore, it can be stated that Jay-Z fulfils the different aspects that make up the American Dream, but can he be viewed as a role model for others?

Because he managed to rise up socially and financially, people admire him; he has famous friends like Bono or Quincy Jones, and is in contact with influential people like presidents.

But having a closer look at his moral standards and attitudes, one begins to doubt that he is really a suitable role model for the American Dream.

Even though he supports charity, he does not pay his employees’ wages properly. With this, his morality exhibits a double standard. Furthermore, family values are important to him, which can be regarded as a positive aspect in his attitude. But he also uses his family, especially his daughter, for publicity, such as when he published a song about her shortly after she was born (cf. ll. 26-28). Furthermore, he states in this song that she was his “greatest creation” (cf. l. 27), which underscores his arrogant attitude.

Therefore, it can be stated that throughout his life, he was very selfish in achieving his aims. Openly displaying his wealth and thinking that he deserves to be celebrated are quite negative features for a supposed role model.

All in all, Jay-Z’s qualities as a role model for the American Dream are blemished. His hard work, the devotion to his family as well as his charity work are arguments in favour of him being a role model, but his double standards, his selfishness and his arrogance speak against his exemplary qualities.

By comparison, financial and social success coupled with dubious moral standards can also be found in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”. Like Jay-Z, the protagonist Jay Gatsby also comes from a poor background, having grown up as the son of poor farmers. Furthermore, he also had a strict focus on becoming rich and famous, climbing the social ladder without remorse. Additionally, both show off their wealth. Jay Gatsby throws debaucherous parties in his huge house with New York’s high society as guests. Jay-Z buys his wife an island for her birthday and also rents out a whole wing of a hospital for the birth of his daughter.

In contrast to Jay-Z, Gatsby attained his goals by using criminal methods, which reveal his dubious moral standards. Even though Jay-Z also has a criminal past as a drug dealer in his youth, he left criminality behind, and gained his wealth merely by hard work and devotion.

In conclusion, one can see several parallels between Jay-Z and the character Jay Gatsby, but even though both fulfil the American Dream, Jay Gatsby’s criminal methods deny him from being called a suitable role model, whereas Jay-Z’s criminal past does not seem to have a lot to do with him pursuing the American Dream.

Jay-Z’s path to success can also be compared to Mark Zuckerberg’s life story. The founder of “facebook” and the rapper have a similar motivation: Zuckerberg wanted to escape his position as an outsider of contemporary society, and he wanted to become rich to impress girls. Jay-Z wanted to break free from the poor living conditions he grew up in. Both triumph over opponents and critics by openly demonstrating their wealth. Zuckerberg, for example, gets sued by his former colleagues and friends, and finally pays them off. Similarly, Jay-Z’s critics call him a materialist, but this does not stop him from becoming a so-called “lifestyle brand”.

To come back to the question of whether Jay-Z is a suitable role model for the American Dream or not, one can claim in his favour that he is a prominent example of the cliche “from rags to riches”, and he also proves that a person can achieve everything when they work hard and focus on their goals. Nevertheless, the arguments opposing the proposal cannot be ignored: The exercise of dubious moral standards like not paying wages properly or having been a drug dealer in his youth do not make him a suitable role model for today’s youth.

Thank you for your interest in my blog entry!

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