Jay-Z name checks Atlanta in diss track about Cuba visit

April 12, 2013 7:51 am

by George Chidi · 68 comments

Jay-Z has released a diss track … on two congress-critters sweating him over a state-approved trip to Cuba. The first lines?

“I done turned Havana to Atlanta / Guayabera shirts and bandanas”

As in, Havana is a tourist destination now where I shop like a capitalist for local stuff.

Florida GOP lawmakers Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have criticized Jay-Z and his wife Beyonce for making the trip in apparent violation of sanctions, and are calling for an investigation. Jay-Z’s song responds to that criticism.

The song itself is a masterwork of lyricism and political commentary that appears to have been thrown together in an afternoon in a fit of pique. He notes that communist China is both unsanctioned and one of America’s largest trade partners, but Cuba remains theoretically off-limits. Those limits only exist of course for people without real means. The doors are open if you’ve got the cash for a Treasury department pass and can fly through a third country.

The White House pushed back this morning against the suggestion that President Obama had anything to do with approving the trip — the line “boy from the hood but got White House clearance” drawing attention. Jay-Z thrives on the use of double meaning in lyrics; he’s saying he had government permission, but also that he’s close enough to the President to visit the Oval Office.

The track calls attention to the ridiculousness of accusing a guy like him — a millionaire poster child for modern capitalism — of supporting communism. “Got an onion from Universal, read it and weep / Would’ve brought the Nets to Brooklyn for free / Except I made millions off it, you f–kin’ dweeb.” An onion is slang for a brick of cocaine, with the double meaning of his record company paying him millions.

The “onion” double meaning has a deeper layer as well. In one line, Jay-Z says that if they’re going to consider sentencing him to jail and a fine, he should commit a real crime instead, like flooding the streets with cocaine. Jay-Z has said he was briefly a juvenile crack cocaine dealer before turning to music, and his success is a testament to the redemptive power of both music and entrepreneurial industry. Jay-Z is arguing that a hypocritical political assault on his flamboyant lifestyle by supposed defenders of the free market suggests that his detractors in Congress would prefer people like him to remain poor criminals instead.

Jay-Z redeems the art form, again.

The track can be heard on Soundcloud.

Patrick Mayer April 12, 2013 at 8:07 am

You can add those to other lyrical gems from Jay Z like:

Uhh, uh-huh-uh-UHH
Uh-huh-uh-uhh, uhh
I spit the murder-murder-murderous
Mur-mur-ma-murderous S**T
I keep the gangsta-gangsta-gangsta
Gah-gah-ga-gangsta beat, feel me? Uhh
I spit that Brooklyn-Brooklyn-Brook
Uh-uhh, uh-huh-uh-uhh, uh-uhh

Yep, one heck of an art form.

George Chidi April 12, 2013 at 8:26 am

Way to cherry-pick, Patrick.

I would like to claim that I’d be the first person to say that most modern rap is infantile, exploitative garbage, but in the time it took me to type that some rapper somewhere completed an entire track saying the same thing. Most rap sucks. Reggie Watts has a fantastic take on it — I’d link it, but it’s pretty off-color.

Jay-Z is immensely successful precisely because he’s the exception to that rule. Lumping him in with the rest demonstrates a lack of meaningful familiarity with the genre.

Ed April 12, 2013 at 8:32 am

A-well-a everybody’s heard about the bird
B-b-b-bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a bird, bird, bird, the bird is the word
A-well-a bird, bird, bird, well the bird is the word
A-well-a bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a bird, bird, bird, well the bird is the word
A-well-a bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a bird, bird, bird, well the bird is the word
A-well-a bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a don’t you know about the bird?
Well, everybody knows that the bird is the word!
A-well-a bird, bird, b-bird’s the word

Yep, one heck of an art form.

Patrick Mayer April 12, 2013 at 9:17 am
Ed April 12, 2013 at 9:20 am

You link to “Family Guy” and want to have any credence on cultural commentary? Wow.

Patrick Mayer April 12, 2013 at 9:32 am

They are mocking just as you are… Right?

Ed April 12, 2013 at 8:33 am

Anyway, your post is bad, its lookin’ like a bag of money.

Rick Day April 12, 2013 at 9:33 am

This music is not for people like YOU to consume, be entertained, or even comprehend, Patrick. Brothers don’t mock country music. Demographics: google it.

Double Entendre: conceptualize it.

Lea Thrace April 12, 2013 at 8:25 am

I look forward to watching how much of your insight goes over many commenters heads. Commenter #1 already has us off to a good start…

Patrick Mayer April 12, 2013 at 9:11 am

Oh, I understood it, I just think rap sucks.

Rick Day April 12, 2013 at 9:36 am

Oh that was not your point and you know it, Patrick. Man up.

Patrick Mayer April 12, 2013 at 9:41 am

Actually, it was… Ask anyone that knows me.

John Vestal April 12, 2013 at 8:48 am

I knew we shoulda’ changed the city’s name to ‘Orange’.

xdog April 12, 2013 at 9:02 am

I think Georgia should be allowed to sell chickens, peanuts and Kias to Cubans. Also, the Braves should train in Havana and invite me.

saltycracker April 12, 2013 at 9:15 am

” a millionaire poster child for modern capitalism….”

You mean the kind that functions outside the boundaries of laws and accountability and consequences to prey on others ? Like drug dealers, eco/societal terrorists and self-serving public leaders and corporate heads ?

Being an apologist for bad/illegal behavior and snobbery in translating code communications is serving the beast that keeps the masses in their place.

Thanks, I’ll stick with the regulated, responsible capitalist and political/social leaders that positively serve their constituents.

Rick Day April 12, 2013 at 9:40 am

Like drug dealers, eco/societal terrorists and self-serving public leaders and corporate heads ?

Universal Studios™ attorney’s would like to know which one of these labels fits their financial relationship with this performer.

Performance: “pretending” to be real life.

Good grief, you guys just can’t get past the fact this particular couple ‘who coincidentally happen to be be african american performers’ could buy and sell your family. This is class envy at it’s ugliest, a hallmark of the GOP.

George Chidi April 12, 2013 at 10:11 am

Corporate head, actually. Jay-Z was president of Def Jam for a while.

saltycracker April 12, 2013 at 11:01 am

Check the adjective -self serving – as in controlled the board to reap substantial personal benefits weakening the company or misrepresenting to customers – see examples in Michael Lewis books.
Don’t know if that shoe fits his record producer or him but if it does…..

sockpuppet April 12, 2013 at 10:20 am

You mean like the companies run by Bush campaign contributors and cronies that bilked the taxpayers out of hundreds of billions in Iraq reconstruction money? Companies like those?

saltycracker April 12, 2013 at 11:43 am

Business is clever and tries to manipulate the politicos in power. Today it is the too big to fails, Goldman-Sachs, unions, Eco-causes, big pharma….and an admin so blindly arrogant as the one today that will assure the public is fleeced.

When the public demands equal treatment across the board in lieu of hiring lobbyists and activist to win for their side we might see progress.
Until then we’ll manipulate as best we can.

Simplify the tax code? Not a chance.

Harry April 12, 2013 at 9:21 am

Jay-Z has absolutely no redeeming social value and is a bad role model. The same thing can be said of his girlfriend Beyoncé.

Rick Day April 12, 2013 at 9:43 am


they used to say the same thing about Johnny Cash (who also sang ‘blackfolk’ music about murder, drugs and outlaw life).

Ergo, unless it is a ‘color’ thing, you should feel the same about Mr. Cash and his role modeling.

Go outside, Harry. You need a fresh perspective.

saltycracker April 12, 2013 at 10:55 am

Bad comparison as to quote a source “Much of Cash’s music echoed themes of sorrow, moral tribulation and redemption”

Bob Marley had some positive messages.

Lea Thrace April 12, 2013 at 9:52 am

“his girlfriend Beyoncé”

his WIFE and the mother of his child. FTFY.

MattMD April 12, 2013 at 5:34 pm

He’s actually one hell of a job creator. I’m confused as to why you are not kissing his ass. Oh wait, let me think….

Harry April 12, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Really? How many jobs has he created outside of rap?

Rick Day April 12, 2013 at 9:44 am

I want to congratulate George on this brilliant fishing expedition to figure out just who is the salt of the earth..

and who are the kneejerk Saltines™

Now you know the lay of the community. Well played, sir!

Baker April 12, 2013 at 10:10 am

I commend Jay-Z for his calling out the China question. It does make absolutely no sense that we blow the doors off of trade with China but Cuba remains a pariah. Clearly it’s not consistent policy. Either open ’em both up or they should both be closed.

My problem with this whole thing is that, as George mentioned, it’s yet another example of the two sets of laws in this country. One for the rich and one for the rest of us.

And before Rick jumps on me, I’ve actually discussed this with friends several times and we’ve come up with four sets of laws in America.

1. Poor/minorities law
2. Law of the citizenry
3. Rich people law
4. Politician law

There’s pretty much no arguing it and it’s ridiculous.

sockpuppet April 12, 2013 at 10:16 am

I am sorry, but folks who single out rap music while ignoring the trash that the rest of Hollywood puts out are hypocrites. Look at any R rated movie, or for that matter most PG-13 movies, including the comic book superhero movies and Michael Bay movies that are purposefully marketed to young kids (hey 7 year olds, watch Tony Stark swear and bed as many groupies as possible, and watch Wolverine shred “bad guys” – who in some cases are military servicemen and police officers – with his claws!), and even a lot of the content on free television (if not cable).

You want prostitution? Movies and TV have it.
You want drugs? Movies and TV have it.
You want violence? Movies and TV have it.
You want misogyny? Movies and TV have it.
And there is, you know, “sex, drugs and rock and roll.”

If anything, rap music is influenced by what these guys grew up watching on TV. Most rappers were never criminals – or were small time criminals at best – who use gangster movies, westerns and cop shows to influence their works and create their music characters. Many of them even name themselves after mafia characters or other criminals glorified in movies and TV.

So why focus only on rap music while ignoring everything else? Only the conservative family value groups focus on the rottenness of entertainment culture IN GENERAL so at least they are consistent. Everyone else just bashes rap music while heading out to go see their next zombie dismemberment sequel. Again, justify the blatant double standard or abandon it.

Charlie April 12, 2013 at 10:18 am

I miss Sir Mix-A-Lot

Ed April 12, 2013 at 10:20 am

Did he adequately express your courtship ethos?

Baker April 12, 2013 at 10:35 am

Things were simpler back then.

You know what’s kind of wild is as “explicit” as that song is, you watch the video and it practically looks G-rated compared to some of the Lil’ Wayne, 2 Chainz and others productions.

sockpuppet April 12, 2013 at 10:38 am


Kind of like how PG-13 movies now are worse than a lot of R movies were 20 years ago. As well as a lot of stuff being put on network TV today that years ago would have been rated PG-13 if they were in movies.

Baker April 12, 2013 at 10:52 am

Yeah, you’re exactly right. You’re post above is dead-on. Unfortunately, you can only scream about how f-ed up pop culture is for so long before society starts to see you as the old man on the corner shaking a fist at cars going too fast…or something like that.

And I’m probably that guy.

But seriously, all that pop-culture/ Hollywood garbage is what we, as a society, put out across the world as an expression of American-ness and we don’t think people are gonna view us badly or that it’s going to have negative repercussions?

George Chidi April 12, 2013 at 11:02 am

Notably, a lot of the worst crap we’re seeing on the screen is produced for a foreign audience. The target audience for the latest Die Hard film isn’t American. Neither is most of the dumbed-down nonsense in the Transformers movies, or the G.I. Joe sequel. The filmmakers use dialogue, acting and concepts that will translate without a lot of cultural context required.

Major-label music does the same thing these days, usually. Overproduced pop from Ke$ha and … yes … Beyonce is crafted to work as well in Moscow, Rio and Seoul as is does here.

Harry April 12, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Notably, that’s BS. Everything produced – good or bad – these days is for a global audience.

George Chidi April 12, 2013 at 10:39 am

I was a Digable Planets guy. The KLF, also known as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu. De La Soul. PM Dawn. The Beastie Boys. I’m pretty old school.

I interviewed the eminent wise-man of rap, KRS-One, in 1999 while a radio news reporter in college. He described how the shift from the Darwinian culling of bad rap at the neighborhood level had been breaking down, even then. Once upon a time, rappers had to establish leadership in their building, then their block, then their neighborhood, and then win some club rap battles before a label would risk a contract. In the early days, this had been keeping bad music off the radio and out of the clubs, but mid-90s that really stopped happening.

He named a few artists that he expected to endure. Busta Rhymes. Snoop Dogg. And Jay-Z.

George Chidi April 12, 2013 at 10:52 am

One more thing: I’m going to talk about the entertainment industry in Atlanta from time to time as the city’s cultural cachet continues to build a profitable cluster of film, music, video game, television and other media production.

I don’t think it’s possible to make intelligent policy decisions about how to nurture growth in Georgia’s media industry without understanding the cultural forces at play. And rap music is in the center of it. We’re living in the equivalent of Detroit in the motown era or Jazz Age Chicago … with all the attendant socially-disordered tomfoolery accompanying it.

Baker April 12, 2013 at 11:09 am

Dear G-d, does this mean RHOA is going to be making Peach Pundit appearances? That is some trash.

Although apparently I’ve always liked Kandi Burrus’ songwriting. I had no idea about any of them until I saw this little tidbit from when Coco was in Atlanta last week (bit of a language warning):


But seriously, I like the idea George. What you’re talking about is how Atlanta is viewed by plenty of folks across the country and good to know.

….for me to poop on.

George Chidi April 12, 2013 at 11:18 am

Man, I hate RHOA. I thought the Hunger Games filming here was very cool, but I try not to be a fanboy. And rap in Atlanta is a cesspool; Young Jeezy is a straight-up criminal, if Creative Loafing’s excellent investigative work on the Black Mafia Family bears citing. No, I’m not generally going to pollute Peach Pundit with the comings and goings of the Hollywood elite or the reality television fools or the clown parade of Atlanta rap stars … unless there’s a clear public policy or political angle.

Harry April 12, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Ed, Rick, and George,

Could one of you please explain to me why in God’s name these loser rappers are held in such respect by the youth? This seems counter-intuitive and counterproductive. Maybe not counter-intuitive because I do understand they suffer from multi-generational low self esteem, but don’t you see it’s a vicious cycle. Is the appeal due to peer pressure? Mass media marketing? In any case, it’s certainly counterproductive because it’s not about self-improvement and putting oneself in a position in society to support themselves and others. Rather, the message is to aspire to the thug lifestyle where the end result is a wasted life, giving back nothing of value. What am I missing here?

George Chidi April 12, 2013 at 6:33 pm

You’re missing quite a lot. Almost everything, in fact. You’ve wrapped a half dozen erroneous assumptions — much of which appears entwined with your overall worldview about race, if the thug reference is a giveaway — around the music.

“These loser rappers” is a gross generalization. Jay-Z is to most rappers as “The Beatles” are to most rock groups. Many rappers — most, frankly — suck. This is widely acknowledged, even by rap music fans. No one respects a “loser rapper,” although honest effort will be noted. Not with approval, mind. Just not ignored.

“Multi-generational low self esteem” is not a term I see applied broadly, to most of youth culture, not while we’re still talking about helicopter parents, social promotion in schools, “enrichment” activities for kids with wealth, and the rapidly-deteriorating myth that effort equals achievement. I suspect you’re referring specifically to black youth without having the stones to say it out loud.

If I were to adopt your dismissive conclusions, then I couldn’t possibly conclude that there’s an interesting artistic or cultural message intrinsic to the music. It’s gotta be a trick, right? Clever marketing, peer pressure, commercial overkill. But play along with me and set aside your impulse to argue back for a moment.

Rap is fair.

Musical appreciation is unusually (small-d) democratic in this country. If the song is good, people will listen. Some might buy it, or show up to a concert. Quality draws an audience, and that audience can come from almost anywhere. The suburban white kid buying hardcore gangsta rap from black rappers has been a cliche for 20 years. The artist becomes culturally valuable as a result, and there are endless ways to convert cultural value into cash.

A college education is not required to be successful rap artist. Neither is good parenting or a clean criminal record. An abundance of musical talent is helpful, but not the highest barrier. Neither is access to serious recording equipment — I would wager $100 that we couldn’t find a single neighborhood in Atlanta that doesn’t have one house with a makeshift basement studio. The value of industry connections diminishes daily with the proliferation of Internet distribution. Jay-Z signed his first record deal after selling his debut album from the trunk of his car.

All that matters is the grind. If you hustle, you’ve got a chance. The lyrics you’re hearing about dealing drugs and shooting people aren’t meant to be taken literally; they’re often a metaphor for trying to rise from the underclass, or a parable about the forces within that underclass hindering that rise. The only people who fail to see these things as figurative elements are “wanksta” wannabes, an occasional “real” gangster drug dealer who is trying to make a point … and Republicans.

This is an old debate: whether or not the music is following the culture or vice versa, how much of the theatricality of the musician-as-criminal metaphor is being drawn from real life and how much of it is inspiring events. Urban violence and social disorder predates rap music, I might remind you.

But I take issue with your argument that rap artists want their listeners to “aspire to the thug lifestyle” in any shape. They’re telling cautionary tales, Harry. Most of us have that figured out.

George Chidi April 12, 2013 at 6:52 pm

One more thing: it’s hard to deny the appeal of the antihero in American culture. Jay Gatsby. Billy the Kid. Doc Holliday. Travis Bickle. Mad Max. Snake Plisken. Raoul Duke. Jack Sparrow. I think we’ll look back on these years the way we look back on the blacksploitation era of filmmaking, with a guarded sense of nostalgia and an understanding that something fundamentally broken in society gave rise to interesting art.

Harry April 12, 2013 at 8:09 pm

You’re actually defending this social alienation. Pathetic. How will this degenerate trash advance the black race or the human race? Do you think 99% of business employers are going to hire people who listen to rap music and admire a thug lifestyle? The unproductive have to eventually find gainful employment – they can’t depend on sucking the government tit forever. It’s all going away, just take a look at history. The productive element will no longer be there to support the unproductive, and they will wither and perish. Eventually everyone has to make a contribution to society or suffer the consequences. It’s a corollary of Darwin’s Law.

I’m just trying to give you a clue, because you seem to need a clue about what causes and effects a sustainable civilization.

George Chidi April 12, 2013 at 8:22 pm

You read, but you do not comprehend. Good day to you, sir.

MattMD April 12, 2013 at 8:50 pm


Harry is a moron, there is no sense in even talking to him. Most people on this site are legit but Harry is a cartoon character.

He doesn’t even understand that Jay-Z is an established businessman. All he can see is a black guy that sold drugs. That’s it.

I agree with you that Atlanta rap is mostly awful, incidentally.

Harry April 12, 2013 at 9:14 pm

“Established businessman”….yeah, right.

Harry April 12, 2013 at 9:13 pm

I must have hit a nerve.

seenbetrdayz April 12, 2013 at 7:16 pm

I’m somewhat disappointed that the article was pretty much about Jay-Z and not so much about out-dated sanctions on Cuba.

Harry April 12, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Here’s another rapper who made a name for himself

Harry April 12, 2013 at 9:39 pm

“I am sorry, but folks who single out rap music while ignoring the trash that the rest of Hollywood puts out are hypocrites”

People who secretly despise rap while not speaking out for fear of being labelled racists, uncle Toms, or Republicans, are hypocrites.

saltycracker April 14, 2013 at 5:18 pm

The latest in the Rubio – Jay-Z thing:

One of Jay-Z’s heroes is Che Guevara, a racist.


Harry April 14, 2013 at 6:11 pm
sockpuppet April 14, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Sorry Harry. People who only criticize rap music while leaving the rest of Hollywood alone have issues. Feel free to take a guess at what those issues are. Movies, TV shows, rock music etc. promote just as much gratuituous violence, blasphemy, sexual exploitation and left-liberal political views. But hey, you aren’t posting links about all those guys who get strung out on drugs and overdose or stuff like that, do you? Rap music is part of how the entertainment complex that is destroying our culture, but only a small part. There is a reason why you are only focusing on that small part, and we all know what it is. And no deluding yourself into thinking that you are somehow being this bold principled politically incorrect conservative. That’s hogwash. It is just ignoring the vast majority of the entertainment industry to focus on the tiny minority that is controlled by people who – let’s go ahead and say it – don’t look like you.

Again, my problem isn’t going after rap music. I only say that you have issues – and you know what those issues are – if you denounce rap music while overlooking “The Hunger Games” (kids brutally killing each other), rated PG-13 or “The Walking Dead” (which sure is a cable series, but on basic cable) or True Blood. Rap music promotes drugs? Rock and roll has been doing so since the 1960s. (Not to mention devil worship and other stuff.)

Conservatives started going after rap music in the early 90s because they figured that it would be an easy way to continue the Nixon southern strategy type politics because back then pretty much only blacks listened to it. The problem is that by doing that, they – or should I say you – let the rest of the entertainment industry off the hook. To put it another way, Harry, drug use and illegitimacy has been rising in the white community too. Is that the fault of rap music, or the movies that glamorize stoners (recreational marijuana, ecstasy etc. users) and the hookup culture? Put it this way: remember 21 Jump Street? Great anti-drug TV show targeting teens and preteens in the late 80s that was outstanding for the Nancy Reagan “just say no” era. The 21 Jump Street movie that came out last year starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum? Totally glamorized drug use (and other very, very bad things) and made a lot of money off that same teen and preteen audience.

Hate rap music all you want. Just don’t single it out, because if you do, then it just means that you have problems that waving your conservative ideology around won’t fix.

Harry April 14, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Yo be easy, me crib ain’t Hollywood doe. You wack wid dat ish, don’t be in my lunch. I hates me some chanky tinseltown hoes, but be tight wid my A-town bros.

George Chidi April 15, 2013 at 5:40 am

Your response, above, borders on the racially derogatory.

I know that I’m going to get howls from people who will claim that I’m being “sensitive” or “playing the race card,” or what not, and I’d prefer to avoid the droll and interminable argument about the acceptability of white people adopting a caricature of black mannerisms for comic effect. Suffice it to say, in this context, I believe your above reply is the comment section equivalent of wearing blackface. That is a rare accusation for me to make, and I don’t make it lightly.

Lea Thrace April 15, 2013 at 7:34 am

Nope. It doesnt border. It IS racially derogatory.

But He knows this. He is a prejudiced and ignorant ass. And he revels in his jackassery.

saltycracker April 14, 2013 at 9:42 pm

Country Rap –
Jason Aldean & Ludacris did a rendition of this on a country music award program

Buzz Brockway April 15, 2013 at 7:59 am

And they had 60,000 people at Sanford Stadium the other night to see their show.

saltycracker April 15, 2013 at 8:26 am

Jason Aldean is also one of the investors in Buck Commander and a friend of some great Americans: The Robertson family…….HEY, that’s cool…..

Music in any genre can be positive or negative and the dark side is when it is a impetus to do bad things.

David Staples April 15, 2013 at 9:46 am

*sigh* Unfortunately, I’m at work, with a proxy server in Sweden. “The uploader has not made this video available in your country.” Wish YouTube could detect that I’m actually sitting in Smyrna… :-/ A quick search turned up another video of the song, which I enjoyed. :-)

There’s another mashup of country and rap in this recent song from Brad Paisley and LL Cool J that’s been hitting the news cycles lately:


Lea Thrace April 15, 2013 at 9:50 am

Though I appreciate the intent of the Paisley song. It is just plain awful. One of his worst. And this is coming from a fan.

saltycracker April 15, 2013 at 6:06 pm

It was Dirt Road Anthem but forget all that – Post some pics of blond Swedish chicks in saunas so we can judge for ourselves on what is considered appropriate behavior in foreign countries !

David Staples April 16, 2013 at 10:00 am

Here’s some blond chicks… is this what you were looking for? 😀


saltycracker April 16, 2013 at 11:00 am

Potential for an extremely controversial situation if you took that shocking pic in my neighborhood !

David Staples April 16, 2013 at 12:02 pm

You must live in Cobb. 😉

Harry April 15, 2013 at 12:11 am

As corrupt and lost as Hollywood truly is, at least the shots are just faked on screen

Romegaguy April 15, 2013 at 10:18 pm

I’m confused how this pertains to Georgia politics

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