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‘The story of OJ’ is one of Jay Z’s best music videos in terms of art. He utilises irony and satire in a black and white Sambo-inspired cartoon to reveal the reality of racism in America. In the songs refrain JAY raps ‘light nigga, dark nigga, faux nigga, real nigga, rich nigga, po’ nigga, house nigga, field nigga…still nigga.”, simply reminding us that racism doesn’t care for hue(Dark , light), class(House/Field), politics(Real/Fake), or wealth(Rich/Po’).

The Image

The video is inspired by early American racist cartoons, these images were once used to degrade Black people and their physical features using big red lips and lazy-sluggish poor characters to reinforce stereotypes.This imagery is flipped on it’s head, as Jaybo (the caricature which plays Jay Z) defies stereotype with his intelligence he manages to climb the steps of wealth.

The symbolism

Jaybo with his Daughter and his Cotton scene

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Cotton was the economic foundation of many American states and the wealth of the US on a whole up until the 30’s, the commercial value of cotton prolonged the enslavement of Blacks who couldn’t own or benefit from what they produced.

The Bags of cotton in this clip symbolises the fruits of Black labour during slavery,  this becomes an extended metaphor for the Hip Hop industry and American society in general, where Black Artist and Black people have historically been used and conned out of their masters and their belongings, respectively, by White establishments. This image of Jaybo driving with a high stack of cotton symbolises the repossession of Black labour, in the music industry where JAY Z has been the face of ‘do it yourself and reap the rewards’, firstly with his Rocafella Label now with Tidal. On top of the bags of cotton sits a young girl, probably representing Blu Ivy, this adds to what Jay Z says about intergenerational wealth throughout his album and in the final verse ‘I cant wait to give this shit to my children’, her being so high up represents her hugely benefiting from the labour of her parents, something which couldn’t have happened in the antebellum South.

 The mill turns cotton to the Klan Scene

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on the other side of the coin, seconds later a different set of cotton goes into a mill one way and comes out as manufactured Klan members. This could be referencing how the music industry [the ew cotton]corrupts black music and perception of Hip Hop.  We finally see one of Klan members unmasked and it turns out to be our conscious homie Jaybo. Suggesting that he survived/kept his field nigga-ness even through the industry.  or as the hook says he’s “still nigga”

Jaybo on his yacht ‘Oceans’ Scene

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This part of the video is probably the most disturbing yet one of the most powerful scenes. It shows Jaybo walking from what seems to be the dark bowel of a slave ship turns out to be beautiful yacht named Oceans(this name is important). The Black slaves in the vessel bop their heads while their wide eyes glare at each other, seemingly hypnotised, this represents the delusion of Black society who haven’t lost their chains of mental enslavement, Jaybo  fortunately isn’t in chains or under the delusion, as he heads through the door to the front of the ship he is saluted by all white sailors under his control – this is Jay Z boastfully saying he isn’t the typical nigga. This scene alludes to his 2011 song ‘Oceans’ Ft where his final verse ends with

Line 1:’Aww, whole world in awe

line 2:I crash through glass ceilings, I break through closed doors

line 3:I’m on the ocean, I’m in heaven

line 4: Yachting, Ocean 11′

Jay Z explains that the Oceans song was about “duality” recognising his ancestry coming from slavery, and on a more personal level him coming from the streets, to being a major force in the business world. The same ocean that “drowned his family”  now carries his yacht while he pours champaign to his victories; breaking through the glass ceilings(covert structural racism) and like Jaybo walking through closed doors. Line 4 is particularly important because Oceans 11 the original film is about a heist of a casino where the characters who rob the casino are played by actual Musician, alluding to Jay Z acquisition of Tidal, the streaming platform where musician take back control and ownership of their work.

If wanna read a breakdown of Jay Z lyrics by Jay Z himself, check out his Book  Decoded by Jay Z (2011-11-03).

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