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By The Numbers: 50 Cent didn't kill New York Hip-Hop, but did Kanye and Ebro?

Regardless of how vehemently you defend the 5 boroughs (and Jersey), the East Coast hip-hop hub that birthed the genre hasn't been ...

Trends JAY-Z Ended (And The Ones He Couldn't)

On 4:44 track "The Story of O.J." Jay rapped:
Y'all on the 'Gram holding money to your ears / There's a disconnect, we don't call that money over here
These two seemingly innocuous bars have sent shockwaves through the industry.  This article chronicles all of the major responses, including a passionate video by Lil Boosie, a shade-filled snap by Future, and an Instagram picture posted by 50 Cent and featuring the filthy rich Floyd Mayweather happily displaying their money phones.

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Jay probably isn't trying to "end" the practice of placing money to your ear. After all, his label manages Meek Mill, and Jay has even given the Philly rapper advice on beefs, as well as being pictured with him regularly, and Meek is one of the most avid "money phone"ers.

But just because Jay has no intention of ending this trend doesn't mean he lacks the power to do it accidentally. On 2003's "What More Can I Say" Jay effectively ended the era of throwback jerseys when he rapped "I don't wear jerseys, I'm 30-plus / Give me a crisp pair of jeans, n**** button-ups". He doubled down on the message on another track from that album, "Change Clothes", to the point where the NBA commissioner David Stern actually urged Jay to lift the curse, as throwback jersey sales took a noticeable dive after the track (and never recovered, unless Fabolous can bring them back single-handedly).

Other things Jay has managed to kill off, whether intentionally or not:
  • The Range Rover 4.0, via his outro on the track "Imaginary Player" in 1997.
  • Cristal, when in 2006 the managing director of the company Louis Roderer made the comment, with regards to rappers buying and promoting the drink: "We can't forbid people from buying it. I'm sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business". Jay found this racist, and pulled the drink from all of his 40/40 clubs. He began promoting Ace of Spades on his 2006 album Kingdom Come, and Cristal barely rates a mention in modern hip-hop (unless you count Iggy Azalea...)
  • Prodigy. When Jay performed at Summer Jam in 2001, he debuted the song "Takeover", a brutal takedown of rapper Prodigy. He also put up some pictures of Prodigy wearing a dress as a child. The beef was so damaging to Prodigy and Mobb Deep that Havoc actually claimed he had to "step my game up" because "I was like, people kept saying it, from all angles, everyone was coming down on P". While Mobb Deep experienced moderate success in the early 2000's, they quickly dropped off the mainstream radar. In 2013 on The Breakfast Club DJ Envy and Jay agreed that he had "hurt" the career of Prodigy. 
  • Iceberg Clothing. We all know Rocawear clothing sold for $204 million. But it almost didn't happen. Jay tried to link up with Iceberg Clothing around 1998, with Dash and Jay approaching the brand. They figured they promoted the brand by wearing it and through the music, so they should get some sort of financial benefit from it. Iceberg weren't having it. They offered Roc-A-Fella free clothing, but Jay and Dash wanted use of their private jet and a proper partnership. As Dash said: "The vibe with the company was that they weren't sure if they wanted to touch hip-hop. Or have us represent." So Jay, Dash and Biggs created Rocawear. And when was the last time you saw someone wearing Iceberg? Exactly
  • Gold chains. On 1997's "Imaginary Player", already credited with ending the Range Rover 4.0, Jay rapped "Wearing that platinum shit when all y'all chicks thought it was silver and shit." At the time, hip-hop had hardly evolved from the gold that chains were being forged from for 20 years, ever since the late 70s. Slick Rick was adorned in heavy gold jewellry, as was Big Daddy Kane and LL Cool J. Jay-Z himself was photographed in 1987 wearing a nice gold rope. Once Jay rapped about platinum though, the "bling bling" era took full effect. From 1997 to around 2004 platinum was being mentioned in rap lyrics more than ever before. As we will see later, Jay brought back the gold chain around 2013. 
  • The BMW X5. On 2002's "Show You How", Jay rapped: "We don't drive X5's we give them to baby mamas". It became the talk of forums and message boards, and even XXL declared them "relegated to baby mama status". How many rappers rock an X5? An X6 featured in the Desiigner video for "Panda" in 2016, a video that featured a cameo from Kanye. But that's about all...
  • Writing down your rhymes. Since his late teens and early 20s, Jay hasn't written down the bulk of his rhymes. There are exceptions; the second verse of "99 Problems" for example, but this method of "downloading" his rhymes from his mind to wax has followed him his entire career. He even referenced the method on "Smile" from 4:44. But Hov has proved influential in this manner. Ja Rule revealed during his book Unruly that, upon hearing a young Jay-Z didn't write his lyrics down on paper, he too pursued the method. And there is the classic Biggie story delivered by DJ Clark Kent, that claims Big was "mystified" when he and Jay first collaborated on "Brooklyn's Finest", when Jay went in the booth and spat an entire song with no rhyme book. Clark Kent claims Big "stopped writing rhymes" from that point. Both Chris Brown and Sean Kingston have also claimed they use a similar method because of Jay, and of course Lil Wayne
  • Baggy Clothing and Throwback Jerseys. I mentioned this in the above paragraph, when Jay rapped twice on The Black Album about changing his style to a more mature, business-like direction, but I thought hard about it, and the era of clothing that was my favourite, the ultra-baggy. I realised that Jay probably killed off baggy clothes... 2003 was when that album came out, and it seems Jay was on the wave of more "sophisticated" clothing before anyone else, but the rest of hip-hop would soon follow, to the point that by 2008 baggy clothes were basically dead. Cam'Ron and Dipset were fashion icons during the early 2000s, yet by the mid-2000s he'd abandoned the ultra baggy clothes of just a few years prior. Kanye West, so closely linked to Jay-Z during the early and mid-2000s, had already begun to move away from the ultra-baggy attire by The College Dropout and 2004. Even Eminem, a connoisseur of the XXXL tracksuit, had begun adding a touch of sophistication to his look. Diddy was on the same wave. 
  • Signing for a major label. Waaaay back before Roc-A-Fella truly blew up, Jay had a meeting with Russell Simmons. In Decoded Jay said this: "I want to be this n***, not his artist". Roc-A-Fella was independent, and Reasonable Doubt came out on Payday and Priority Records, well before Def Jam began distributing. Independent rap labels existed before Jay-Z, and artists still signed to majors well after him, but his influence on artists like Joey Bada$$ is not uncommon. We now have Shady Records, Young Money, MMG, G.O.O.D. Music, OVO Sound, Grand Hustle. All big labels owned by rappers. That's not even mentioning Roc Nation, which is beginning to turn into Jay's second Dynasty. 
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Now, let's delve into the things he hasn't been able to kill off with star power.



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50 Cent

It's fitting we start with 50, because he was pictured with Floyd Mayweather seemingly responding to the "money phone" line on Jay's new album. Waaaaaay back at Summer Jam 1999 Jay performed "It's Hot (Some Like It Hot"), and the line "Go against Jigga your ass is dense / I'm about a dollar what the fuck is 50 cents?" The line was a response to 50's track "How to Rob", in which 50 Cent claimed he knew how to rob Jay-Z (among plenty of other artists and executives). Jay revealed his intentions with that 1999 line on 2009's "A Star Is Born", rapping: "50 came through like hurricanes do / I thought I'd finish his ass at Summer Jam too". But 50 Cent was far from finished, a fact Jay again acknowledged in 2013. And Jay would end up collaborating with 50, first on a sneaker line, a joint tour, and two songs ("Reebok (Interlude)" and "I Get Money Remix"). 50's career was actually most damaged by the unlikeliest of all rappers, Kanye West, when in 2007 West's Graduation outsold 50's Curtis by almost 300,000 copies first week. 50 had earlier said he'd retire if West won. He may as well have.

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Auto-tune

In 2009, we'd just heard Lil Wayne's "Lollipop", Kanye's incredible 808's & Heartbreaks, and a bunch of great features from T-Pain utilising auto-tune. Jay quickly identified it was a trend that was in all likelihood about to take hold of the industry, and he set out to end it prematurely. "In hip-hip our job is, once a trend becomes a gimmick, to get rid of it. We've done that since the beginning of time." He even had Kanye on the track yelling out "It's too far!". Jay also uttered the line "My raps don't have melodies".

This attempt was a spectacular fail. At first, it looked like he may have stopped auto-tune in its tracks. It wasn't really until Future emerged in 2012 that the method exploded into the stratosphere. It's now 2017, and the sheer volume of artists that are bubbling using auto-tune almost defies belief. Young Thug, Travis Scott, Migos, Lil Wayne, Future, the list is endless. Jay's words seemed to have the exact opposite effect.

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Nas

Jay tried to take Nas down with the same song that cut Prodigy down in his prime. "Takeover", as originally performed at Summer Jam in 2001, only had 2 verses on it. The final bar was "Ask Nas, he don't want it with Hov, no!", an ominous warning.

The seeds had already been sown in August 2000 though. Memphis Bleek, mistakenly believing Nas had called him out on a track, rapped on his single "Mind Right": "And only a few fit in, your lifestyle's written / So who you supposed to be, play your position". Nas didn't take kindly to this, and released "H to the OMO" as a response. This clearly took major shots at Hov, "And from there I said the beef was on". As Bleek tells it: "Nas did another freestyle where he went at Jay, Freeway, everybody, so he basically opened the floodgate for himself. So once he did that, Hov was like 'Don't worry about it lil bro, I got you'". Young Guru explains that Jay recorded the final two verses to "Takeover" in a single afternoon.

But Jay didn't end Nas, not by a long shot. What he said about Nas' waning popularity was true, people weren't checking for him quite as much as Jay, who was beginning to carve out the "King of New York" crown for his own. But then Nas dropped "Ether", off his 2001 record Stillmatic. The track was a monster, as disrespectful as possible, designed for maximum damage. Jay would respond with "Supa Ugly", which was criticised for being too disrespectful, and lost in a "Battle of the Beats" on Hot 97.

Regardless of who won the battle in your eyes, Jay's attempt to end Nas was unsuccessful. In a 2013 Breakfast Club Interview, Charlamagne and Angela Yee both told Jay that the beef actually helped Nas. The fact that he was able to lyrically duel Jay-Z, who was seen as somewhat untouchable at that stage, and actually win the battle (at least the battle between "Ether" and "Supa Ugly") was a massive boost to his career. Stillmatic was well received critically and ended up going double platinum.


Molly

When Jay rapped "I don't pop molly I rock Tom Ford" on 2013's "Tom Ford", he was aligned with another top-tier lyricist, Kendrick Lamar, who said in May of 2013 "Sometimes you have the trends that's not that cool." These statements were seen as a backlash for Trinidad James' only hit "All Gold Everything", which dropped December 2012 and featured the oft-repeated and oft-memed line "Popped a molly, I'm sweatin', woo". Jay had already referenced the drug on 2009's "Empire State of Mind", but by 2013 the drug had achieved new levels of popularity that extended past 2015. In 2017 it's certainly not dead, but it's a rarer sight compared to Lean, Adderall, and especially Xanax. Jay may have had no intention of killing the trend off, but his track "Tom Ford" certainly didn't signal a downturn in the use of Ecstasy in rap lyrics.


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Making It Rain

On "The Story of O.J." Jay rapped "You know what's more important than throwing money away at a strip club? Credit". This isn't his first attempt to modify the late-night activities of the hip-hop elite. On 2006's "30 Something" he rapped "I don't buy out the bar, I bought the night spot", and on the Drake-assisted 2009 cut "Off That" Drake raps "N****s still making it rain and we off that". Just like Jay's attempts to kill off auto-tune, his advice here was ignored almost unanimously by the younger generation. Drake is still so enamoured with the practice he wrote an entire song with Future called "Plastic Bag", devoted to making it rain on women in the strip club. Poor Meek Mill, already a target because of the money phone line on the same track, is a massive fan of making it rain in clubs. According to the Genius RapStats engine, the term "make it rain" experienced huge growth in the latter part of the 2000s, and continues to remain a large part of rap lyrics. The term "rain", which is regularly used in various sentences to mean throwing money at a strip club, also remains in the mainstream lexicon. Jay might have diversified his income stream with his chain of 40/40's, it's usually restaurants that rappers invest in, although often these are spectacularly unsuccessful, the exception being Rick Ross with Wing Stop and Styles P & Jadakiss with their Juices For Life chains in New York.

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Everything Mentioned in "Off That"

Only Jay can tell us what he was thinking with the 2009 Drake collaboration "Off That". The concept is not foreign to JAY-Z fans; the idea that he's moving on from a trend and trying to drag everyone else with him, but the execution was horrible on this track. Here are a list of things Jay (through Drake's hook) claimed to be "off", and evidence that he wasn't off them at all, and thus by extension, no-one else was really off them either. In fact everything on this list, Kanye was rocking post-2009 as well.
  • "You about to tell her you love her we off that". Jay married Beyonce in 2008, and on 2017's "4:44" he raps "Our love was one for the ages". Post-2009 he was significantly more open about his relationship in his music, especially on 2013's Magna Carta, Holy Grail
  • "Oversized clothes and chains we off that". No doubt, Jay was off oversized clothes, but oversized chains? In 2013 Jay was pictured in Vanity Fair rocking an epic 5kg gold chain made by Rafaello & Co. He would be regularly seen in this link throughout 2013 and 2014.  And we don't need to show examples of other rappers rocking huge chains. It's an industry standard. 
  • "Timb's we off that". Jay did not stop rocking Timberlands after this song, far from it. 2009, 2010, 20112012, 2013, 20142015, 2016, 2017. No-one else has stopped either. 
  • "The only time I deal in past tense / Cause I'm past rims, and I'm past tints". Jay certainly lost his penchant for new rims, that peaked in the mid-2000's with his very own Blue Yukon. But tints? That's all Jay has been rocking since 2009. Here is his Escalade, Tesla Model S, and a tinted up Range Rover. He doesn't seem too concerned with tinting the Maybach though. 

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Spotify, Apple Music, and Youtube

When Jay purchased a large share in Aspiro, which became the streaming service Tidal, in 2015, he was mocked, criticised, and most in the media predicted it wouldn't last long at all. Well, that $56 million investment is now worth $600 million, despite the press and media relentlessly gunning for it at every single opportunity. In 2015 Jay played 2 concerts in New York to help promote the service, titled "Tidal B-Sides". He dropped a freestyle mid-show entitled "Stream of Consciousness", in which he called out Spotify, Youtube, and Apple Music. Again, it's unlikely Jay sought to end these platforms, and in interviews he said his goal is merely to properly pay artists and everyone involved in the making of music via his Tidal platform, rather than world domination. Although Tidal continues to improve despite the best efforts of the media, Jay hasn't managed to put even the slightest dent in the fortunes of Spotify, Apple, or Youtube. In fact, Jay has returned to Youtube with two videos from 4:44, the first time he has appeared on the website legally since 2011, and he's also offered 4:44 for streaming on Apple Music. Not Spotify though, they seem to be incurring his full wrath. 





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