Over the weekend, Jay-Z helped to open up the Barclays Center in Brooklyn by the playing the first of eight concerts he has scheduled at the sports arena/venue/upscale real estate development.
The concerts, which began on September 28, mark not only the anomalous opening of a sporting venue that many speculated would never get built, but also an emotional homerun for the Jiggaman. He gets to see a basketball team brought to his home borough and also gets to revel in the satisfaction that comes from being an extremely partial owner of that same establishment.
Though Jay-Z has been the public face of the Barclays Center (ensuring that the face of purportedly dickish developer Bruce Ratner remains tactfully concealed), rumors have surfaced in recent weeks that Hova only owns a negligible portion of the New York Nets, whom the venue is meant to house. Last night, Jay even went on the defensive, attempting to fend off rumors that his minority ownership stake was in fact so minor as to comprise less than one-fifteenth of the Nets’ total stock.
For this apology, Hova took the questionable tack of announcing that the night’s proceedings were really about Brooklyn’s (or the audience’s, I guess) empowerment. He has gone the route before, and while past iterations of this argument have proven conveniently irresolvable, the casting of his personal investment as a boon to Brooklyn in general smacks of self-service.
Throughout the lead-up to the Barclays Center’s opening, Jay-Z has striven to cast the venue as a moral triumph for the people of Brooklyn, as embodied in the person of Sean Carter. He and his partners remained strategically mum about the actual percentage of his ownership, and the concerts that he is playing to celebrate the Center’s completion feature no openers and no flavor-of-the-month guests. So far, the only rapper with whom Jay-Z has shared the stage is Big Daddy Kane, a pioneering Brooklyn MC whose career missed hip-hop’s commercial ascendance by mere inches.
The message behind all of this seems to be that Brooklyn has made it, despite the odds. However, a closer look at the messy history of the Barclays Center reveals that the project is the child of a prominent (white) real estate developer and that the majority owner of the Nets is actually a Russian plutocrat.
The Barclays Center might be a coup for Jay-Z as well, but he, like Brooklyn itself, has had to make some hard sacrifices to attain this victory, sacrifices whose wider effects are as yet unknown.