Since 1996, Shawn Carter has consistently established himself as a master of the chess game we call life. The results of that mastery have played out like a how-to guide for the accumulation of respect, wealth, power, and influence, in that particular order. That how-to guide is ever so appropriately named The Blueprint.
At face value, most people look at the blueprint as a guide to creating a fruitful career in the rap or entertainment world. This is true, following JAY-Z’s steps can bring the success and riches coveted by those searching for that level of prosperity and notoriety. However, the true beneficiaries of the blueprint are the people who understand that there’s a bigger picture. Most of us are born into this world at the bottom of the metaphorical totem pole.
We start with nothing, and unless we make the conscious decision to obtain more, we typically let life happen to us instead of happening to life. The blueprint is more about strategically following intuition. It’s for those of us who are conscious of our innate ability to directly influence the world around us on a very basic level. Along with being aware of that ability, comes the need to answer the call to harness that power and use it at will. Similar to The 48 Laws of Power, the Blueprint is truly meant for certain thinkers. The true genius of the blueprint is that it is not a document, it is a series of actions that if studied correctly can serve a purpose for anyone who chooses to follow it. Your intrinsic intent dictates your results.
“You ain’t havin it? Good, me either / Let’s get together and make this whole world believe us / At my arraignment screaming, all us blacks got is sports and entertainment, until we even.” – JAY-Z, "Can’t Knock The Hustle"
In 1996, Jay-Z made his intentions clear on the intro to his debut album. What we see over 20 years later is the result of a carefully planned approach to infiltrating the establishment that made billions off of the skill and culture of Black America. As a people, our excellence was limited to the realm of entertainment, minus the ownership. Shawn planned to be the one who changed that. Throughout his career, he's led by example and we've been enamored with his ability to seamlessly transition into new phases of his existence. As time passed, he left building blocks behind for those who were paying attention to join his quest for bridging the gap between black culture and generational wealth.
“So much depends on reputation – guard it with your life.” – Law 5, '48 Laws of Power'
Prior to dropping Reasonable Doubt, Shawn worked tirelessly to perfect his craft as an MC. His vision was beyond rap, but he knew that it was his entry point into building an empire capable of shifting the societal paradigm. With that in mind, he was also aware that to be a cultural leader capable of reshaping industry, it was necessary to gain trust from the same entertainers he would expect to later support and follow his lead. Trust is a byproduct of respect, and to earn that respect he would have to develop a near flawless reputation. Reputation is governed by perception, so Shawn had to carefully craft a narrative of excellence. His peers would have to respect him on the mic, otherwise the power and influence to come would lack full effectiveness.
“Court attention at all costs.” – Law 6, '48 Laws of Power'
By 1994-1995, Jay had earned his respect in raps toughest proving ground: New York City. He held his own in legendary battles with elite wordsmith’s like DMX and Big L. The reigning king Biggie Smalls gave him a cosign as well when the two collaborated for “Brooklyn’s Finest.” During this time, he joined forces with Dame Dash, and founded Roc-a-Fella Records. Unlike their predecessors in Def Jam, Uptown, and Bad Boy, the Roc had no investors or powerful connects within the industry before their launch. The only way to gain attention was to make noise. Roc-a-Fella would crash concerts, showing up in limos as Jay would steal the show. Their street team rolled around in Benzs branded in the Roc-a-Fella logo. Eventually, they established a reputation for a high-class, Cristal-popping lifestyle that didn’t stray too far from the streets. Roc-a-Fella had a rare blend of flashiness combined with mystique. We knew they were dope boys, but we had no proof.
Identify Key Moments & Execute The Exchange of Power
Big Poppa ruled as king of New York without dispute. Tragically, his life was cut short in Los Angeles and hip-hop lost one of the greatest to ever do it. Biggie’s death left a vacant throne for the East Coast, specifically in New York. This fact was not lost on JAY-Z, although he shared in the heartbreak over the loss of his friend and colleague. He recognized the opportunity to own more real estate in the kingdom of rap. He spent years establishing credibility as an artist, and for his label as a whole. The only thing left to do was solidify his seat at the round table, without any "reasonable doubt."
There will be personal loss and even tragedy on the road to excellence, but its imperative to maintain focus on the objective at hand. It does not mean that you should move without compassion, but it does mean that you must check compassion at the door in favor of seizing rare opportunities. Sometimes success demands the type of tunnel vision that results in being numb to certain circumstances.
In 1996, Jay-Z’s iconic debut album Reasonable Doubt was released, chronicling the life of a hustler who made his money and was trying to get out of the game. No one told a hustler’s story from that angle. Nas painted a vivid picture of the ghetto; Biggie provided a snapshot of the internal frustrations of a kid trying to survive the hood; Jay-Z provided the birds-eye view of a gangster whose moral compass clashed with the actions necessary to see a better life. Standing out as a leader requires a perspective that was never introduced before you spoke it. Jay did this with music the same way Steve Jobs did it with Apple.
“If everybody in your click is rich, your click is rugged / Nobody will fall cuz everyone will be each other’s crutches.” – JAY-Z, "Feelin’ It"
Think bigger than the concept of your crew driving a fleet of foreigns. Wealth is circulated in America. The movers and shakers in industries such as agriculture, information, politics, and health parlay together. This is how regimes stay in power and keep one another in position to execute a larger vision for society. Agriculture raked in $159.9 billion in added value to the economy in 2016. The information industry which includes tech, publishing, software, and broadcasting contributed $886 billion to the economy. Education services contributed $207.3 billion. Federal & state government brought in $2,391.6 billion, and the health industry contributed $1,368.7 billion.
When Hov acquired Tidal to set the precedent for artists owning their work (performing arts contributes $109.9 billion to the economy), it was a microcosm of the bigger issue at-hand. Black America holds little to no stake in the billion dollar industries that run the country, but we have the heaviest hand in fueling them. We're doing the grunt work as employees, and buying most of the product. Black buying power is on pace to reach $1.4 trillion by 2020. At that rate, Black America will become the 15th largest economy in the world in terms of Gross Domestic Product. By investing in each other, and circulating that money between each other, imagine the power and influence we'll have to change the circumstances plaguing our communities today. F--k a piece of the apple pie, we should want our own cake. Financial freedom is our only hope.
“Industry is shady; it needs to be taken over / Label owners hate me; I’m raising the status quo up / I’m over charging niggas for what they did to the Cold Crush / Pay us like you owe us for all the years that you hoed us.” – JAY-Z, "Izzo"
The monetary success that Roc-a-Fella saw was the tip of an iceberg that Jigga was looking to expose. Roc-a-Fella signed a partnership with Def Jam, and went on to sell millions of records. Hard Knock Life would sell $12 million worldwide. The Hard Knock Life Tour stamped Jigga as the leader of the pack, spearheading the first all hip-hop nationwide tour, grossing $20 million in revenue. That’s when Jay smartened up, and opened the market up. He and Dame launched Rocawear. By 2000, the clothing line generated $50 million. In 2007, Rocawear would hit $700 million in yearly revenue. The Roc boys were rolling in dough, but what's a couple million to a few billion, right?
By the year 2004, Jiggaman had transitioned from gifted rapper to a respected businessman. While many were content with fame and fortune, he wanted power. At the time, tensions were running high between the Roc and Def Jam. As the story goes, Dame made a few business moves unbeknownst to Jigga, along with building a reputation for ruffling feathers in the industry with his less-than-gentle approach to communication.
Jay was the hottest rapper in the game worth millions of dollars, but he hadn’t reached a point of influence in the rooms where industry shifting decisions were made. The Lyor Cohens, LA Reids, and Jimmy Iovines of the industry held true power over the culture. In order for Jay to obtain that level of power he had to hold as much weight in the boardroom as he held on stage. Dame Dash's behavior began to damage relationships that were integral to Jay's plan of becoming a linchpin in the industry. There comes a time in life where we all must move on from relationships that no longer serve our purpose, especially if maintaining them can harm the long-term goal.
“Infection: Avoid the unhappy and unlucky” – Law 10, '48 Laws of Power'
The Roc-a-Fella breakup was painful for the hip-hop community to witness. They were heroes to us, but it was a necessary move. It’s important to point out a calculated decision on Jay’s part. He distanced himself from people who were creating negative and unsuccessful energy around themselves. You are the company you keep, and you are guilty by association.
“A wise man told me don’t argue with fools / ‘Cause people from a distance can’t tell who is who.” – JAY-Z, "Takeover"
“I tried to teach niggas how to be kings / But all they ever wanted to be was soldiers.” – JAY-Z, "Why I Love You"
To keep your face clean, you must be weary of those you surround yourself with as their narrative will become yours. As former members of the Roc did interviews taking jabs at Jay for disloyalty, he remained silent. This set him up to appear as if he was taking the high road, while others were flailing for attention. In the end, his reputation remained intact while the credibility of his former crew diminished over time. Roc-a-Fella was sold for $30 million, and Jay was named the president of Def Jam. He now had power.
“I had to get off the boat so I could walk on water.” – JAY-Z, "Diamonds Are Forever Remix"
Jay had the respect, the wealth, and now he had the power. Roc-a-Fella was sold to Def Jam, but Jay effectively became the president of the very entity the Roc was sold to. As part of the deal, he negotiated the return of his masters giving him rights to all record sales in the future. Roc-a-Fella could never truly die because it lived in Jay, and he would breathe new life into it with Roc Nation.
“Learn To Keep People Dependent On You” – Law 11, '48 Laws of Power'
Influence is a different animal than power. Power is limited to position. Power can expire with the removal of a person from their position, while influence has more to do with the person holding the position. Wherever that person goes, their influence follows. In terms of pop culture, Jay’s influence is infinite. Through Roc Nation, he’s in charge of the company that oversees the management of many major names in hip-hop and sports, both of which dictate pop culture. As a purveyor of black excellence, he continues to pass on the Roc-a-Fella chain to select dignitaries. The chain is a rite of passage, signifying transcendence into an elite category of cultural impact that Jay personifies.
“Never appear too perfect” – Law 46, '48 Laws of Power'
It’s an artist’s duty to create work that their audience identifies with, and as a billionaire Jay’s life does not mirror the average person. It becomes more difficult to lead when your followers do not see themselves in you. He’s aware of this, which is why it’s the perfect time to take his mask off and speak on insecurities that leave him vulnerable. He waited until he was at a point where any shots taken at his vulnerability would be futile against the armor of a juggernaut. Thus we received 4:44. He had to remind us that he's one of us. It's the only way to ensure that we continue to follow his example during such an important time. As black millennials, this moment in history is pivotal to our transition into taking ownership over that $1.4 trillion buying power we're spearheading.
Eighty-nine percent of African Americans ages 25–34 completed high school, compared to 77% of Black Americans ages 55 and older. Twenty-one percent of African Americans ages 25–34 have an associate’s college degree or higher, versus 17% of those who are 55 and older. From 2004 – 2014, the number of Black households with annual incomes of $50,000 - $75,000 increased 18% compared to 2% for the total U.S. And, for Black households earning $100,000+ annually, the increase between 2004 and 2014 was 95%, compared with 66% for the total population.
By 2060, the Black population will increase from 45.7 million to 74.5 million, making 17.9 percent of the U.S. population. From 2000 to 2014, the rate of African-American population growth was more than double the white rate of 8.2 percent, and 35 percent faster than the U.S. population as a whole. There is a shift happening.
4:44 is a call to action. A rallying cry to further our progress. Stop throwing money away, and establish credit. Maintain the family structure necessary to raise effective members of society. Buy property, and stop killing over land you don't own. Nobody wins when the family feuds. Most importantly, don't fear looking uncool for make wiser choices. After all, Hov looks pretty damn fly while he's doing it.
“A loss ain’t a loss, it’s a lesson / Appreciate the pain, it’s a blessing.” – Jay Z, "Smile"
Everything Hov does, is done with intent. He took a racist family's name and flipped it into an iconic black business that inspired a generation to aspire for more. There are no mistakes, only results that he deals with. The takeaway for us is to understand that nothing in life is good or bad. Everything is simply an occurrence, and because of that understanding we must take action based on desired results, not emotions. Hov never says too much, as he demonstrates an ability to make career decisions that put him in positions of power and influence, allowing him to elevate those around him. Simultaneously, he’s never been afraid to detach himself from those who pose a threat to his kingdom. One doesn’t earn the nickname Hova without cementing themselves as a deity in the culture for which they serve. The beauty in all of this, is that it was his plan from the start. He told us in ’96, he came to take this shit, and he did.