Russell Simmons Applauds Jay-Z’s OWS Shirts

Jay-Z‘s “Occupy All Streets” t-shirts have come under fire as of late, primarily because all the shirts’ profits are going to Jay-Z himself. He has at least one supporter in Russell Simmons, who references yogi scripture of all things to sympathize with Jay-Z’s profitable scheme. “In yogi scripture, at least, the highest form of giving is giving without expectation. Selfless. But a lot of people need incentive,” he said. “You should sell things you’re happy about. You should sell products that you’re inspired by, that promote lasting and stable well-being. Give the world something or sell the world something that you’re proud of.”

Simmons went on to say that, although the t-shirts are clearly taking advantage of OWS to profit, it somehow furthers the movement despite acting as the precise sort of thing occupiers are upset about. Simmons continued: “Jay-Z didn’t make a T-shirt [that said] ‘Fuck the Bums on the Street’. He wrote a T-shirt ‘Occupy All Streets’ – I’m happy, it furthers the movement, it inspires the movement.”

Many within OWS strongly disagree that the t-shirts further the movement. Unless one has been living under a rock the past few months as OWS has been making headlines, a bunch of timely t-shirts from a member of the 1% is unlikely to propel the participating base, just as unlikely as it is to recruit new members.

Simmons visited OWS with Kanye West earlier last month, though their abrupt presence fell short of others like Amanda Palmer, Jeff Mangum, and Crosby + Nash, who all performed free sets to bring attention to the movement. It’s doubtful that Jay-Z would ever play a set of his songs, or even freestyle, for less than $80 a pop — even if it was to benefit OWS — so it’s difficult to separate the intent of their appearance between actual sympathetic support and a trendy PR move. I defy him, or a collaborator like Alicia Keys (who milked the profits off the over-played “Empire State of Mind” by actually making an identical part two to the song), to prove me wrong.

Regardless, it seems very doubtful that the majority of OWS will support these t-shirts. The majority of sales, I’m guessing, will go to kids in middle school without any proper awareness of the movement. No prices seem set for the t-shirt, but it won’t be surprising if they exceed $15 despite a $1-2 distribution cost. Business is business, sure, but when an artist attempts to sympathize with a movement he so clearly doesn’t grasp, he is bound to isolate people.

What do you think about Jay-Z’s latest venture, or the act of profiting off OWS? Is it all fair game? Like Graham Nash and David Crosby, do you think artists have an obligation to support movements like this? Share in the comments below.

MP3: Jay-Z – On To The Next One (S.N.U.S. Ghetto Remix)


Mike Mineo

I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound, which was formed in 2006. Previously, I wrote for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine.

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