jay-z-wembleyI remember, like it was yesterday, hearing one of my favorite rap records of all time, “Aint’ No N*gga,” while sitting in office and talking about the “Nutty Professor” soundtrack with Kevin Liles.  He told me about Damon Dash, who wasn’t looking for just a record deal, he wanted a label.  He and Jay weren’t looking to make hit records, they were looking to make history.  I knew immediately that I was hearing greatness.  But I wasn’t clear on who was greater on the record.   I loved Foxy Brown at least equally as much. What I definitely didn’t know, back then, is that Jay-Z would surpass Elvis Presley with the most number one albums as a solo artist of all time! It just happened, so naturally…it was like breathing, watching Jay put up number one albums. Damn. 11 in a row.

Looking back at his amazing career, it suddenly dawned on me, that in a hundred years from now, we’re gonna be talking about Jay-Z.  When we think of hip-hop, we will think of Jay. But what is even more important than his album sales, is his affect on American popular culture. Let us not forget that all the other “kings” didn’t come from the culture that created the music that they played. Hip-hop is the first cultural phenomenon represented by a face in the community where the culture came from. This wasn’t possible for rock n’ roll or blues or jazz…it was Elvis and Mick Jagger and Benny Goodman who were always considered the best. But, now the king of rap is confirmed black. And that means a lot.

Chuck Berry, as great as he was, couldn’t do it. It took a few kids from Hollis, Queens to integrate MTV. It took a bunch of MCs from Brooklyn to integrate popular radio. It took hip-hop to the change the face of America. It changed racial politics. Kids in Beverly Hills now understand the plight of kids in Compton.  It changed the way kids dressed in Brixton and Johannesburg. It gave a voice to the voiceless. It became so powerful, that it gave us the President of the United States. Without hip-hop there is no Barack Obama. And without Jay-Z, we wouldn’t be where we are today.  I love Eminem.  I love the Beasties…I will love the next Indian, Italian, Spanish, Asian rapper as well.  But the king will be a NYC African-American, just like the founders Bambaataa, DJ Hollywood, Grandmaster Flash and a few others.  So I lift  a glass to the King and look forward to the day when he passes the Beatles with the most number one albums of all time! Cause, damn, he already crushed Elvis and his blue suede shoes.

God bless you Jay! Hip Hop loves you!

-Russell Simmons