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10 Lifelong Fans Explain What JAY-Z Means For America

Hours before his return to the Budweiser Made in America festival stage.

Photographer Colin Kerrigan
September 07, 2017
10 Lifelong Fans Explain What JAY-Z Means For America

This feature was produced by The FADER and Budweiser.

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At JAY-Z’s music festival, you hear one name spoken far more than the rest: naturally, his own. As creator, curator, and headliner of the sixth-annual Budweiser Made In America festival, JAY-Z casts a shadow of influence not only over the performers who graced the stages, but on the thousands who came to witness the rapper in person.

There's a lot to be said about how one man's success in art and entrepreneurship can inspire the betterment of fans who look up to him. To those among the crowd, JAY-Z is revered for his lyrics, his ambition, and most importantly, his impact on his nation's culture. Whether they wear homemade t-shirts bearing his face or have spent years internalizing his messages, being a JAY-Z fan feels personal.

Leading up to his festival-closing performance, The FADER connected with festival attendees to explore their thoughts on what JAY-Z's legacy and career has meant for both the music world and America as a whole.


Chad Williams-Bey, 32, Baltimore, MD
10 Lifelong Fans Explain What JAY-Z Means For America

What does JAY-Z's story mean for America?

It tells a story of what America tries to prove. You can be from anywhere and come here and make it -- the American dream. When you’re talking about a young black male who grew up in Marcy Projects, who sold drugs and defied the odds and being a billionaire and marrying a person who is economically his equal, it truly tells you what the possibility is in America. For him, as a 40-something-year-old black male, it’s empowering to know that you can do that. You didn’t necessarily have to had sold drugs, but [to have done] something out of the norm, and turn your life around be be better than what you were, you can defy the odds and get more economically and socially.

Do you think he represents a new American dream?

No, I think it’s an anomaly. It looks new because when you think about rich African Americans, you look at Oprah. It looks different, which is why we might call it new.

Tyler Pride, 29, New York, NY
10 Lifelong Fans Explain What JAY-Z Means For America

What does JAY-Z's story mean for America?

It’s truly about, for me as a black man, black empowerment, upward mobility. America has not been for us, but now we have to band together and go get it and build a legacy. There’s old money and a lot of black people don’t have old money. If you listen to 4:44, there are tracks on it about building a legacy. For me, that is the world.

Do you think he represents a new American dream?

I think he represents the American dream. It’s not new, but it’s more encompassing for those who had not been the archetypical American dream.

Priya Patel, 31, Richmond, VA
10 Lifelong Fans Explain What JAY-Z Means For America

What does JAY-Z's story mean for America?

He’s the epitome of my childhood. At the end of the day, he’s a legend in his art. I don’t think there's anyone in this day that can surpass that.

Jay is a great businessman. Is there another company or industry he should buy into?

He has taken over apparel, music, this concert. I don’t know what more he can do, but I look forward to that!

Varonda Varnado, 32, Waxahachie, TX
10 Lifelong Fans Explain What JAY-Z Means For America

What does JAY-Z's story mean for America?

JAY-Z’s legacy for America means the city we’re in: Brotherly Love. He’s embracing every culture out here. It crosses all genres, all colors. No matter what’s going on in the United States, everyone comes together and it’s all about love.

How important is it for someone like Jay to be vulnerable in his music?

When he’s vulnerable, it’s relatable because we’re all going through something and to see him vulnerable it makes him seem human.

Gerald Brown, 28, Philadelphia, PA
10 Lifelong Fans Explain What JAY-Z Means For America

What does JAY-Z's story mean for America?

I think JAY-Z’s the god. Ex-drug dealer, just the shit he’s been through since the ‘80s, JAY-Z is the pinnacle of black excellence.

Jay is a great businessman. Is there another company or industry he should buy into?

What else is he into? He could run for president if he wanted to. He seems sensible enough.

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Kareem Clarke, 28, Brooklyn, NY
10 Lifelong Fans Explain What JAY-Z Means For America

What does JAY-Z's story mean for America?

I’m a young man from Brooklyn, New York who comes from a background not that different than his. I went to a high school down the block from the Marcy Projects. His legacy means you can do what you want to do if you’re willing to devote the time and effort into doing it. He’s special but he’s not that different than anyone else. You can do it if you really put your brain to it.

How do you view his career progress from where he started until now?

It seems like a natural progression in a very innovative way. You’re going to get better and work with different people but at the same time you have to grow with the culture. JAY-Z’s grown with the culture, he’s grown over his over 20-year career. He’s Brooklyn and I’m Brooklyn, too.

Brandon Owusu, 21, Yonkers, NY
10 Lifelong Fans Explain What JAY-Z Means For America

What does JAY-Z's story mean for America?

It means coming from a struggle. It means succeeding with all the odds against you. We came all the way from New York to see JAY Z -- at his own festival, at that.

Do you think he represents a new American dream?

Yes, at the time that we're facing right now [in America], he definitely does.

Londyn Powell, 29, Elkridge, MD
10 Lifelong Fans Explain What JAY-Z Means For America

What does JAY-Z's story mean for America?

For him, coming up in Brooklyn and being able to make a way for himself and his people -- and when I say people, I mean his black people. He has a line that says “How dare I drink any other vodka or any other champagne if Puffy has a champagne?” Puffy is a big, huge star but he’s also a black star. Us being able to make a name for ourselves is absolutely phenomenal. What he’s teaching our men and teaching our youth is hustle how you are, but hustle for your people. Don’t just hustle and throw shit away, be able to make a name and something for your people.

Do you think he represents a new American dream?

Absolutely. It’s the American dream of being able to be whoever you are and being able to still to have [the same] privileges as white privilege would have. Being able to have the same rights as everybody else has but being able to represent for his own people.

Bhavesh Mehta, 33, Richmond, VA
10 Lifelong Fans Explain What JAY-Z Means For America

What does JAY-Z's story mean for America?

It was cool that he basically came from nothing to be this superstar. He’s married to this other superstar. It’s really cool.

Do you think he represents a new American dream?

It’s not really the new American dream, it’s the American dream from the beginning: to make something of yourself from nothing.

Mary Varnado, 31, Lancaster, TX
10 Lifelong Fans Explain What JAY-Z Means For America

What does JAY-Z's story mean for America?

JAY-Z is the definition of hip-hop and hip-hop is America. It doesn’t get bigger than that.

How important is it for someone like Jay to be vulnerable in his music?

It makes you feel closer to him. Like that’s your cousin.

These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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10 Lifelong Fans Explain What JAY-Z Means For America