Give or take a few dead-enders and those who get all their opinions about hip-hop from Bill O'Reilly, we are mostly past the point of being mad at Jay Z. Yes, he is by all appearances on the downside of his career, and his transition from rapper to Cultural Icon and Multi-Platform Media Brand has, probably inevitably, been kind of grating. His newest music is increasingly not-good and lifeless and kind of offhandedly unpleasant. But none of this is really new.
Jay Z isn't putting out another Reasonable Doubt, but we've known that more or less since Reasonable Doubt came out. If his recent music has had a sort of curdled vibe and pissy aggrieved-moneyed-person tone, it seems reasonable to assume that this is because he'd rather not be putting out albums. Soon, he'll probably stop doing that. At some point, Jay Z will ascend into rapturous communion with his own brand truths and influence and become pure viral energy; he will communicate solely through Samsung-branded devices and television advertisements, his communiques become little #hashtagged management koans. (Well, that or he'll become a stay-at-home dad and invest intelligently and generally grow ever-richer in the dull way that the supremely rich do.)
We will have his music to remember, which is good because a lot of Jay Z's music is really good. Also, we will have the happy knowledge that Jay Z -- the most successful and quite possibly best rapper of his era -- is kind of a doofus. Here, for instance, is a four-year-old picture that BuzzFeed Sports tweeted today. It's Jay Z at some basketball event -- judging by the look on his face, it's The Walter Matthau Classic, which benefits jowl and chin study -- spinning a basketball on his finger, sort of.
This is not what you'd call important, really, and on a day with actual sports news happening, it wouldn't even be worth the tweet. But this is not that day, and this is not the only photo of Jay Z looking contorted and awkward and human while doing sports things. To wit:
He falls off a boat next to his beautiful wife. Give him a football and he looks like a janky Dwight Gooden doing a Bernie Kosar imitation. Give him a bike and he appears as unsteady as a foal and somehow both too large and too small for said bike. We've been over the basketball bit. This is not how Jay Z would like to be photographed, probably -- he didn't ride that bike around in his shoot for Time's 100 Most Influential People cover, after all. But these photos are... well, again, not important. But there's something great about them all the same.
Jay Z the musician is disappearing into self-parody -- ridiculous songs about spending too much money on Jeff Koons sculptures; throwaway puns about his fabulous vacations; tough talk as piping hot and flavorless as a TV dinner. The Jay Z we have now -- rising billionaire, poker-faced dispenser of TED Talk-y wealth platitudes -- is the one we will see more and more often as time goes by.
Which is fine, insofar as all this is Jay Z's choice to make. Performers try on different personas over time, and the one Jay Z wore so well for so long may not fit anymore, or he may just not like the way he looks in it. Jay Z may in fact be more of a GoogleGlass dude these days, or he may try this Global Impresario thing on for a while and ditch that, too. But as he fades further out into abstraction, it's nice to remember that there's still a dorky human in there, nearly spinning a basketball off his face and wobbling around on a bike and otherwise doing the sort of things that people do.