Made In America: Jay-Z and his uniquely American story

And why a half-a-million loss in poker is no loss at all

The rapid ascent to prominence of rapper Shawn Corey Carter, better known as Jay-Z, can only be described as astounding. Originally from the notorious Marcy Projects of New York, the Jay-Z of today is a high-flying multi hyphenate: hip-hop artist, investor, and entrepreneur, among many other things. His is a story which reflects America’s national ethos in which success and prosperity can be attained by anyone with a dream, a latent genius, and the backbone and perseverance to make it all happen.

Director Ron Howard has now recounted this story through Made in America, a documentary and Toronto International Film Festival premiere on the eponymous two-day music fest in Philadelphia organised by the rapper-slash-mogul. Jay-Z himself has top billing in the festival which features artists across different genres and cultural backgrounds getting together in the name of good music.

A behind-the-scenes narrative, the film sees Jay-Z speaking of his early years in the perilous projects, his survival by taking on a lucrative yet dodgy drug-dealing lifestyle, and his eventual 180-degree turn (aided by his cousin) to concentrate on the musical talent he had already developed yet overlooked. By then, Jay-Z already knew his potential, but refused to “tap into the things that I was good at” because of the distractions from his chosen lifestyle. Triumph quickly came his way once the rapper closed his eyes to those distractions, and therein started his distinctly American story of success.
Today, Jay-Z has a net worth of $550 million. Aside from being the former president of Roc-A-Fella Records and Def Jam recordings, he also had sizeable ownership shares of the New Jersey Nets and the 40/40 club.

The hip-hop artist’s affluence can perhaps be illustrated in his blasé demeanour during nosebleed-stakes poker matches which he has a reputed fondness for. There have been talks, although unconfirmed, about the rapper being taken for more than half a million dollars at a high-stakes poker game in Las Vegas. Of course, as an artist living the genuine hip-hop royalty lifestyle, it’s safe to assume that certain loss hasn’t fazed him at all. In fact, regularly roaming Las Vegas casinos seems to be a significant part of the bling-bling culture. Fellow rapper and contemporary Ja Rule (of Murda Inc. fame) is fast friends with poker legend Phil Ivey who has won one World Poker Tour title and nine World Series of Poker bracelets.

While the running theme of race, beliefs, and any other class division being insignificant in America has been rehashed for a long time now, Made in America still presents a refreshing take on the subject by portraying it all so candidly.

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