From website Vigilant Citizen: “Further in the song Jay-Z says ‘I’m in Maison, ugh, Martin Margiela’ which is an upper-end fashion store. English-speaking people usually pronounce the French word ‘maison’ to sound like ‘mayzaun.’ Jay-Z, however, says it to sound like ‘mason,’ as in ‘Freemason.’ There is an obvious double-meaning here meant to catch the ear of the listener. He basically says ‘I’m in Mason’ to make people say ‘Huh, did he really say that?’ as ‘I’m a Freemason.’
Is Jay-Z goading his detractors, stoking the fires? Is he even aware he’s doing it, running the oldest play in the book to dazzling perfection?
The countless breakdowns online reek of a certain paranoia, one that might seem familiar to anyone who remembers the Hells Bells: The Dangers of Rock ‘n’ Roll documentary of the 1980s, which basically herded every rock group ever into Devil’s camp, comically even making the case that John Denver was working in legion with Lucifer to corrupt your children’s souls.
“Jay-Z and some other people who these accusations have been thrown at, I think they’ve done a brilliant job of using the media, from a pop-culture standpoint, to the best of its ability,” says Tayyib Smith, co-founder of Two One Five magazine.
“Whether it’s using those references in the videos or lyrics—it’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Because the people who don’t believe it are going to laugh, and the people who do are going to be that much more into it.”
To be sure, “Next One” wouldn’t have 15 million views if it weren’t for the talk about it, or if, say, Jay-Z were standing on a yacht sipping champagne instead of hanging out with po-faced omens of death. Jay just planted the seeds. Conservative boogey man aping grew them into a giant tree of intrigue.
“People who embrace Illuminati fear mongering are often ignorant of its far right roots,” says Talib Kweli over email. “They often mistake religion for God. So when they hear someone either bad mouth religion or talk about it in its proper perspective, they feel like God is being dissed. This allows them to accept the ridiculous concept that Kanye acknowledging Satan’s influence in his life makes him a Satan worshipper. But if you call yourself a spiritual or religious person and you don’t acknowledge that the devil is around you, you are a hypocrite. Kanye is just doing what brave artists do, which is paint the picture. Same thing Jay did on ‘D’evils’ and ‘Lucifer.’”
“This is Jay-Z, so we’re more apt to believe it,” Hill says. “No one is going to look at, say, a Soulja Boy video and look for symbolism in that because no one thinks Soulja Boy is part of Illuminati. No one is going to look at a Beanie Sigel video, because he doesn’t have any money. It’s not plausible that Beanie Sigel could be in the Illuminati. With Jay, he’s crossed over to such a degree that the discussion is even possible. In some sense it’s honorific to be called Illuminati, it means you’re successful and powerful enough. Ten years ago, the only person in hip-hop anyone could’ve dreamed about saying this about is Russell Simmons. Now, it’s Jay, and he’s riding it. ”
The growing power and influence of Jay-Z as he swells beyond being a hip-hop elite and crosses over into the mainstream elite is why this particular set of rumors has stuck. That and the fact that Jay-Z feeds them, and feeds off them. They are now permanently woven into his narrative, and it bolsters his image. With the world believing he is a Freemason or part of the Illuminati, he becomes the undisputed most powerful rapper breathing.
His background helps. Born Shawn Carter on Dec. 4, 1969, the last of four children of mother Gloria Carter, he famously caused her no pain at birth. That’s how she knew he’d be special. He lived in one of the 27 six-story buildings of the Marcy Projects in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. When his father left, Carter’s world fell apart. He began selling crack.
Today, he’s an art collector. He tours with U2. He brunches with Warren Buffet. He talks Basquiat. He owns more than a dozen businesses, one of them an NBA team. He’s worth an estimated $450 million. Forbes magazine predicts it won’t be long before he’s a billionaire. He has more No. 1 hits than Elvis. He’s the definition of the American Dream people have stopped believing in. He must be in the Illuminati.
What does Jay-Z think about the rumors?
“I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know where it started,” he answers sleepily during an interview back in January with Hot 97 DJ Angie Martinez.
“People are really buying into this that you are some sort of Illuminati, devil- worshipping, Freemason, something—what are you up to that I wasn’t aware of?” presses Martinez. “There are all these images in videos that people say are deliberate. My question to you is, are you messing with people and doing this on purpose?”
“Why would I do that?” Jay-Z asks, voice barely containing at a laugh. “That’s retarded. I really think it’s really silly. For the record, I of course believe in God, but I believe in one God … I don’t believe in religion. I don’t believe in Christians or Muslims. I think all that separates people … I don’t believe in Hell. Am I a part of some sect or cult? That sounds stupid to me.”
Of course, the interview—that answer—has been parsed to death. Doesn’t believe in Hell? Doesn’t believe in Christians? Why’s he wearing a cross? As is the nature of this story, the rolling stone just gathered more moss.
Perhaps Jay explained it best in his new book, Decoded, when he talked about how good rappers elevate hip-hop to an art form. “Art elevates and refines and transforms experience. And sometimes it just fucks with you for the fun of it.”
“[Hip-hop] is meant to be provocative—which doesn’t mean it’s necessarily obnoxious, but it is (mostly) confrontational, and more than that, it’s dense with multiple meanings,” he writes. “Great rap should have all kinds of unresolved layers that you don’t necessarily figure out the first time you listen to it. Instead it plants dissonance in your head.”
“The idea that Jay-Z or Kanye are members [of the Illuminati] is beyond ridiculous,” says Kweli. “I remember watching Jay-Z grind as an artist, and I was there for Kanye’s grind. Their grind is too much for the laymen, so the mysteries and the stories start to overtake reality.”
PW's Music Issue 2014