How Jay-Z went from Street Corner to Corner Offi ce: book discussion

The book of choice this semester from the Diversity Engagement Center book discussion is an unofficial business biography of Jay-Z.

Image via Barnes and Noble.

The book of choice this semester from the Diversity Engagement Center book discussion is an unofficial business biography of Jay-Z.

Milena Martinovic, Reporter

The UNO Diversity Engagement Center holds book discussions each semester on the book of their choice. This semester, coinciding with the Black History Month, the book of choice was “Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went From Street Corner To Corner Office.

Erin Sutherland, an academic counselor for the Honors Program, led the book discussion by asking “What is the first thing you think of when you hear the name Jay-Z?”

“Rich.” “Musician.” “I didn’t know who he was,” admitted Peggy Gaffney, who works for the college of business administration.

This is an unofficial business biography of Sean Jay-Z Carter. It was written by Zack O’Malley, a regular contributor to Forbes magazine who wrote articles about Jay-Z in the past. Everyone thought the book was entertaining and enjoyed the storytelling, journalistic aspect of it. His personal life wasn’t discussed much in this book, but there are other books which detail his biography.

“I would like to hear more from him,” said a student, as the book consists of many interviews from people who knew Jay-Z, but not the man himself.

One thing that struck readers was his strong motivation and entrepreneurial spirit.

One student talked about Jay-Z being constantly told growing up, “you can’t be this, you can’t be that,” but that “He kept doing it and never gave up. I get discouraged. It made me motivated a lot,” she said. Ultimately, everyone in the discussion agreed that the book was about growing.

“He’s a risk taker,” said Ms. Gaffney.    

Two words mentioned to describe Jay-Z’s business model were “winning” and “quality.” He likes to only make sure to have “the winning” brand, and only brings people who want to be “winners.”

A descriptive example of this from the book is the New York basketball street tournament. Jay-Z had a team that played in the tournament and he had arranged publicity for it by bringing hip-hop artists and sponsors. He also hired filmmakers to create a documentary about the team and the tournament. However, on the day of the finals, there was a huge blackout across NYC and the game had to be cancelled. Since it was impossible to reschedule all the music artists, or for Jay-Z to be there on another date, he called the game off and cancelled the whole documentary because his team didn’t come across as winners. Sutherland pointed out what a shame it was to lose the footage of young LeBron James playing.

Another great entrepreneurial story has to do with Jay-Z and Cristal champagne in the late nineties. In his lyrics and music videos, Jay-Z spoke and used bottles of said champagne often. As a result, the company’s sales skyrocketed, becoming the staple of the high-end hip-hop drink of choice.

However, when Cristal was asked how they felt about their champagne being used in hip-hop videos, the head representative said “Well, we can’t stop them.”

As a response, Jay-Z created his own fake brand of champagne and used that one in his videos instead.

The Diversity Engagement Center still has a limited number of free copies available at University Center room 201B. There will be another discussion of the book on Wednesday, March 12 from 12 – 1 p.m. at the same location. “Life of Pi,” “The Joy Luck Club” and “Alexander Hamilton: the Graphic History of an American Founding Father” were some of the books discussed previously.