Jay-Z’s comments calling Beyoncé “an evolution of Michael Jackson” go beyond bias
They also show us why he's still culturally relevant.
Anything Jay-Z says will make the news, but this time he really outdid himself. During Alicia Keys’s Twitter Spaces chat with Genius’s Rob Markman in celebration of her latest album KEYS, Jay-Z took it upon himself to explain why his wife Beyonce is an evolved version of Michael Jackson in a way that shouldn’t surprise anyone if they’ve been paying attention to how Jay moves through the culture.
At one point in the nearly two-hour chat, Markman asks Keys and Jay to expound on their feelings of creating music with their respective children. Each of them expressed their parental pride in seeing their progenies start their music careers at younger ages than either one of them. Jay explained their children’s early immersion into music as signs of how generations are supposed to be evolutions of the previous generations. From there, Jay made a leap in logic that somehow involved a past legend being surpassed by a present icon.
“[Beyonce]’s gonna be mad at me for saying this, but Michael Jackson never had a Coachella. ... She’s an evolution of him because she watched him at (age) 9,” he said, referencing his wife’s brilliant HBCU-inspired performance that was further immortalized in the film and concert album Beyonce: Homecoming. “Find me another concert that’s as culturally relevant and thrilling as Coachella. Beyoncé is gonna be one of the best singers we ever heard because she is such a student.”
Following this shocking proclamation, Jay seemed to intimate he will be surpassed too, claiming at some point that youngsters will always outdo up their predecessors. That doesn’t mean he’s going to let recency bias drag his illustrious catalog below the number 1 spot just yet. After months of online speculation over who could compete with Jay in a VERZUZ battle, the god MC squashed all doubt by proudly stating “no one can stand on that stage with me.” No one should be surprised by Jay revering the past while also elevating the present, because that’s essentially how he’s been able to stay culturally relevant all this time.
Ever since Jay admittedly stopped chasing Billboard chart validation and became a champion of the disruption of traditions, he’s fashioned himself as an old soul in chameleon skin, never forgetting his roots while cherishing the future fruits of his labor. The same man who denounced Twitter by rapping “fuck hashtags and retweets” has probably been on Twitter Spaces more than you have this year. He’ll repurpose the “Damn Daniel” viral sensation from Vine as a clever nod to the FBI surveillance he experienced during his years as a drug dealer his day one fans love to hear. It’s doubtful that fans are buying Jay-Z records because he says “somewhere in America, Miley Cyrus is still twerking,” but he does get endear himself to both the younger and older generations by supporting artists like Griselda who are new voices for the types of stories he’s made famous.
His Beyonce/Michael Jackson comments come from the same view on evolution as his disruptive dismantling of music industry norms. He’s championed new technology like smart contracts by elucidating their potential influence on both past and present artists. Jay used Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled sale of $110 million without the painter’s family receiving any royalties from the sale as a reason why smart contracts on the blockchain are the future due to their ability to ensure the original creators continuously receive compensation on each sale of the art. In the Twitter Spaces chat with Alicia Keys, he spoke on how the music industry’s adherence to the past has damaged its future.
“I’m sure there’s language in [Alicia Keys’] contract that was in Chuck Berry’s contract,” he said, referencing the rock and roll pioneer from the 1950s. “We still have language that’s super dated and needs to evolve.”
His understanding of the past and present is why he sold Tidal to Jack Dorsey’s company formerly known as Square, resulting in Tidal disrupting the old model of artist royalties by allowing subscribers to pay artists directly. His delicate balance between nostalgia and recency bias may put him in the news for elevating anyone over the incomparable Michael Jackson, but it also keeps him relevant in pop culture by finding harmony between the past and the present.