Abstract: Hip Hop Genealogies and Black Entrepreneurship in the Worlds that Marcus Garvey and Jay-Z Made

Simone Drake


Focusing on Marcus Garvey and Jay Z (aka Shawn Carter), this paper analyzes how these men fashioned businesses through various forms of nationalism that enabled them to reimagine blackness in socially empowering and financially lucrative ways. Garvey and Jay Z both registered the bleak opportunities offered to them to become businessmen, so instead, they made themselves the business. They branded themselves as businesses that were raced and gendered, blending it with a propaganda that over the course of time manifested as the ''swagger'' of contemporary hip hop. This paper analyzes the nuances of how what I refer to as a ''hip hop genealogy'' infuses how these men imagine black entrepreneurship as a nationalist site of redemption that would literally position them at the helm of empires. A distinctive difference between the advocating by Garvey for black economic empowerment and that of his most prominent contemporaries, Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois, was Garvey's separatist stance and his establishment of a business conglomerate that included the masses and instilled in them a nationalist business ideology: any redemption from the past or true citizenship was linked to their ability to produce their own goods and services and own property. The self-help business model that Garvey designed and employed through the Universal Negro Improvement Association serves as a compelling lens for thinking about how black entrepreneurship could become a new space for black empire building over fifty years later through the birth of hip hop in the Bronx. There are two connections then that create a genealogical link between Garvey and Jay Z. The first is a nationalist framework that critiques racial inequalities and supports a subculture within which resistance can take place; Jay Z does this through his lyrical aptitude. The second is Jay Z's capitalist enterprises that Garvey heralded. The nationalist-oriented art coupled with the capitalist pursuits situate Jay Z as uniquely modern, because he takes an indigenously black art and culture and uses it to literally turn himself into a product that can be marketed and consumed. Like Garvey, then, Jay Z amasses a global black empire, but unlike Garvey, Jay Z is successful at rooting his empire in both ideology and commerce—something he is able to accomplish due in large part to the crossover appeal of hip hop (Garveyism was adamantly opposed to such pursuits) and due to the buying power of African Americans in the late twentieth and twenty-first century.