The work Michael Eric Dyson has produced deserves respect. JAY-Z: Made in America is an ambitious piece which covers the career of the Brooklyn-based rapper, while tying in broader concepts of systemic racism and race relations, toxic masculinity, and black success in a white world.
Each one of these topics can be covered endlessly and the book aims to simply entice readers to continue scholarship. However, this simplified scope is still a missed opportunity.
Presenting the world as a power struggle between constituents of black and white ethnic communities and JAY-Z as the revised rendition of the archetype marginalizes the struggles of countless other cultures chasing the American dream. The reader is left with little concept of where other groups fit which are not in the mold of crack dealer-to-C-suite legend.
Admiration for a folk hero is what Dyson expresses best. Therefore, his sweeping comments about the legal world and systemic oppression should have been edited out (to say nothing about the tone-deaf, problematic, and unproven statements about J. Edgar Hoover’s cross-dressing.) As an example, (at page 166) Dyson explains how the flawed criminal justice system can’t be helped even by JAY-Z’s lyrics themselves, and how it will not erase an awful cash bail system. He fails to mention that the system corrected the system in JAY-Z’s home state when lawyers (many of whom are black women) worked to pass a bail reform bill. We need more black lawyers, not defeatists.
This is an example of Dyson’s rhetoric inadvertently perpetuating misinformation and leaving the reader with a sense of apathy about problems that are improperly diagnosed. Dyson presents logical fallacies to make broader points about JAY-Z’s otherworldly rise to success at the cost of perpetuating disinterest and potentially narrowing avenues for black readers. Dyson answers a question never asked. HOV needs no help in massaging his image, after all Dyson evokes the reader to admire that he once sold crack to get by. What of the community where that crack was sold?