‘I’m a Business, Man’

By Tina Jordan


Hustling is, as the sociologist Michael Eric Dyson puts it, “the central motif of American history, the dominant measure of the American character,” and he thinks the rapper and entrepreneur Jay-Z embodies every element, good and bad, of hustling culture.

“Jay-Z is always looking for his next deal, his next scheme, a new invention,” Dyson says. “He started out selling drugs, and then he mastered the record industry,” and from there he branched out to “clothing, alcohol, sports agencies, you name it. Hustling is the central motif of his life.” That’s the theme of Dyson’s new book, “Jay-Z: Made in America,” which enters the nonfiction list this week at No. 13, and of the course on Jay-Z that he has taught for the past 10 years at Georgetown University.

Jay-Z is the subject of the sociologist Michael Eric Dyson’s new book.
Michael Eric Dyson says that Jay-Z is “Robert Frost with a Brooklyn accent.” Credit…Nina Subin

“There’s a lot to dig into,” Dyson says of the class. “We spend the first few weeks looking into the Brooklyn projects where Jay-Z grew up, the effect Robert Moses had on the neighborhoods, on what it meant to grow up as a black or brown kid in a crack-cocaine era. It takes a few weeks before we even get to Jay-Z.” No surprise: The class fills quickly, and there’s always a wait-list of students eager to take it.

Dyson calls Jay-Z “Robert Frost with a Brooklyn accent,” saying that their prose shares “meter, pace, cadence, simple energy with chaos beneath.” He makes his point by quoting a few lines from Frost’s most famous poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”: “Whose woods these are I think I know./ His house is in the village though; /He will not see me stopping here / To watch his woods fill up with snow” and then seamlessly shifts to lyrics from Jay-Z’s “What More Can I Say”: “God forgive me for my brash delivery/But I remember vividly/What these streets did to me….”

With holiday book-buying well underway, things are in flux on the fiction list, though there’s no surprising, out-of-the-blue best seller to celebrate. David Baldacci’s “A Minute to Midnight,” which was No. 1 last week, has fallen to No. 5; Nora Roberts now commands the top spot with “The Rise of Magicks,” the final book in her Chronicles of the One trilogy. And James Patterson’s latest adult thriller, “Criss Cross,” enters the list at No. 4. (He’s got a twofer this week; his new middle-grade novel, “Ali Cross,” enters that list at No. 2.)