An open letter to Politico's Donovan Slack about your misinterpretation of Jay-Z's "Open Letter"
Hey, Ms. Slack, I couldn't help but notice the mini shit storm you caused yesterday at the White House press briefing when you misunderstood and misrepresented the lyrics of Jay-Z's "Open Letter." Real talk, that shit ain't cool. Have we learned nothing from the Nicki Minaj Romney-gate last summer?
Okay, I take that back. Maybe you knew exactly what you were doing -- I mean, here I am bringing this up and all. It's a hard story to miss, though. Did you really take the time yesterday during a White House press briefing to ask Press Secretary Jay Carney to confirm what you understand as Jay-Z's suggestion that "he got White House clearance for his trip to Cuba and that he spoke to Obama personally?" -- a conclusion you evidently came to based on this line from "Open Letter": "Boy from the 'hood but got White House Clearance."
That phrase in the context of the song is clearly Jay contrasting his humble beginnings to his current status as a Presidential friend. A riff on the old "from nothin' to somethin'" trope in rap music. Jay's rapped several times about the unlikely idea of a "cat from Marcy" or a "boy from the 'hood" having "Obama on the text" or "White House Clearance," but somehow you overlooked that. Maybe you also neglected to take note of how stupid it would be for Jay-Z to rap something that's not true, especially when he stakes his rep on only rapping about things that actually happen.
I guess it's unrealistic to expect you to have an intimate knowledge of Jay-Z, his lyrics or common rap tropes because, you know, "White House Press Corps" and all that. But realistically, a White House journalist with a working knowledge of poetic structure should have nailed this. Isn't it erroneous to conclude that Jay's "White House Clearance" line refers to his trip to Cuba because structurally it comes five lines after he mentions "turning Havana to Atlanta?" Thematically, the line comes after he has shifted his focus to bitching about being rich but still not feeling free. (See the line "You get too much bread, they try and jam ya'/Ballin' til they ban us.")
Lyrical interpretations aside, you already knew that: A), the White House doesn't clear trips to Cuba; the Treasury Department does -- you knew this because the Treasury Department made a statement as such before yesterday's press conference -- and B), "White House Clearance" usually means a person has clearance to go to the White House. (Jay-Z has visited the White House before; he even took a picture). As a member of the press corps, you have "White House Clearance," too, right?
Continue reading for the rest of our take.
But forget those are the facts. Who needs those. You asked the White House to corroborate your version of events which you knew were not true, because, well, "YOLO!" (ask the interns to translate). And before you could say "started from the bottom now we here," news sites like CNN and Fox piled on with the same lazy interpretation of the line. Did the interns in your office direct you to rapgenius.com for their annotation of the lyrics?
If they did, then you know you fucked up, right? Rap Genius is notorious for their wrong headed readings of rap lyrics. They depend upon a community of weeded out rap fans to edit their entries to "perfection," which often means "completely fucking wrong." It's kind of like Wikipedia, except, well...actually wait, it's exactly like Wikipedia.
But, hey, I get it. You gotta keep your blog game tight! Fact is, though, you missed a golden opportunity to ask some real questions based on some serious statements that Jay-Z made in the song. How fly would you have looked if you had asked "Does the President agree with Jay-Z's statement that: "This communist talk is so confusing/When it's from China the very mic that I'm using"?
Think about it: If you really wanted to stick it to the President while putting your formidable rap knowledge to use, you could've asked something like, "Does the President agree with his friend Jay-Z that it is 'confusing' that Cuba is considered our enemy when we do so much business with the largest most powerful Communist country in the world?" I know. That's a little boring, right?
And really who cares about hard hitting questions and furthering the dialog about the Cuban trade embargo, which costs the U.S. upwards of $3.6 billion dollars a year. This is the Age of Transparency, where the pursuit of truth has been pushed aside for sensationalism, and the veracity of claims may or may not be proven later.
Either way, it doesn't matter. Put plainly, on the internet it's perfectly okay to yell "FIRE" in a crowded theater. All that matters is if there's a crowd. So maybe next time ask the Press Secretary: "Who are you wearing?" That'll generate some headlines.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.