Watch the all-star video for Pharrell and Jay-Z’s new BLM-inspired ‘Entrepreneur’
Jay-Z has often boasted about his business acumen, so it’s not surprising that he’d re-emerge alongside Pharrell Williams with a single about the trials and resilience of the Black entrepreneur in American life.
But such tried-and-true imagery takes on a different sheen in the era of the protests around George Floyd’s killing, COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on minorities and skepticism about capitalism among Gen Z hip-hop fans. Their new song “Entrepreneur” coincides with Williams’ guest-editorship of an issue of Time magazine titled “The New American Revolution,” which the publication describes as “a series of conversations and essays about creating a more equitable future for Black Americans.”
The Killers’ satisfying new album, “Imploding the Mirage,” features a pared-down lineup, new producers and a guest turn from Lindsey Buckingham.
The song, billed as Pharrell feat. Jay-Z, sways with Williams’ falsetto and funk synths (production credit goes to his duo The Neptunes, with Chad Hugo), but it carries some darker imagery alongside its odes to self-reliance and initiative. As Williams noted in an essay he wrote for Time, some of those earliest landings were colonists in his home state of Virginia, in search of profit from the slave trade. That makes the message of “Entrepreneur” more intentionally fraught than the title might suggest at first. The swashbuckling capitalist almost always leaves a trail of destruction, and the two depict the fallout here: “In this position with no choice / A system imprison young black boys,” Pharrell sings to kick off the first verse. “The brainwashed become hype boys ... You wasn’t supposed to make it off Sеction Eight.”
Some rappers like the late Nipsey Hussle used that self-starter ethic to make meaningful changes in brutalized communities. The video spotlights a range of Black successes, including Tyler, the Creator and “Insecure’s” Issa Rae, plus local skate shop owners, a midwife and Princeton’s first Black valedictorian (and a moment of silence for Hussle). In a summer of protest that’s seen so many images of Black death across timelines, it is a worthy counterpoint to just see people at work, doing it well, even if the lyrics sometimes turn trite (“There will be no sunny days / If Black went away.”)
Meanwhile, some critics expressed suspicion about the song even before it was officially released, responding to a snippet in which Jay-Z castigated an influential sphere of Black social media users: “Black Twitter, what’s that? When Jack gets paid, do you? / For every one Gucci, support two FUBUs.”
Black Twitter, in turn, was quick to point out that social media and online activism are some of the most effective ways to discover independent Black owned-businesses. “Jay-z told us to vertically integrate the racism away on that new pharrell song and i can’t stop laughing,” Charles Holmes of Rolling Stone wrote. “The Jay verse is like self parody,” added Complex’s Frazier Tharpe II.
Jay Z has done noble work in prison reform and civil rights advocacy recently, while Pharrell has campaigned to make Juneteenth a state holiday in Virginia. A new generation of rap fans might embrace that sort of work even more than bootstrap capitalism.
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