What the Beyonce, Jay-z rumor mill says about hip hop


“Love is dead,” a friend told me Wednesday morning. She followed the statement with a link to this Jezebel article by Kara Brown speculating on Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s impending divorce. The most “damning” evidence cited was an article from a site called Blind Gossip, which correctly predicted the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes divorce and accordingly predicts a “Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes fast” breakup for hip hop’s power couple—as soon as their joint $100 million tour ends.

Blind Gossip aside, the only other evidence seems to be the speculation that hangs in the blogosphere like a bad smell—faint but lingering. Similar to previous illuminati rumors, this gossip seems mostly indicative of people’s secret desires for the worst. 

People are grasping for clues that Beyoncé’s life is no more than a veneer covering up something dark and secret. The Atlantic tallied up Beyoncé’s lyrics in which she says she might be wrong. Rumors of Jay Z cheating on Beyoncé (provoked by Beyoncé slightly tweaking the lyrics to one of her songs) led to an editorial on powerful women like Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton sticking by their cheating spouses. And while I profess that my family has gotten into more than one fight, Beyoncé’s elevator scene took over Facebook for several days.

Why do people feel the urge to expose something about Beyoncé when her own lyrics proclaim “I’m just human”? Hip hop and rap have always walked a tricky line between autobiography and showmanship. I once met a young man at a bar who was intent on explaining to me that he knew Kendrick Lamar better than he knew his own family. “Have you heard his album?” he said. When Drake’s hit “Started From the Bottom” came out, endless cracks were made about his “bottom” being Degrassi. Both examples conflate autobiographical with autobiography. The questionable nature of this reasoning is more obvious with television—Girls or Louis CK are autobiographical, but no one would take them for autobiography. Admittedly, Beyoncé does say that honesty is the essence of her music. And you can find moments of heart-wrenching honesty in the works of each of the various musicians, actors, and comedians mentioned. But something else they all have in common is that they are marketing personas. 

People feel as though they can achieve intimacy with these personas by knowing their products as intimately as possible, and maybe that’s part of the point. But the persona is separate from the person. The result of confusing the two can be seen when Beyoncé releases a song like “Jealous.” Instead of seeing the honesty of voicing an emotion that is universal but not often discussed, many begin to speculate. Maybe it’s not just a work of art, but Beyoncé accidentally cluing us in to Jay Z’s cheating ways. 

We should know better. 

Life and art are inseparable, it is true. But it is time to stop mistaking one for the other.

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