Money’s always been a popular topic in hip-hop, but mostly in in the boastful, “look-how-much-cash-I’ve-got” kind of way. There are some exceptions, though. For example, Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” won our attention a while ago as a tribute to frugal shopping. And, of course, there are other financial lessons to be learned from some hip-hop songs, even if they aren’t specifically about money.
Jay-Z’s “Holy Grail” and Kanye West’s “Clique” are examples of songs that offer some useful insight on how to keep your mind on your money and your money on your mind. I used the lyrics-and-explanations website Genius.com to dig a little deeper into the money messages of these two songs.
Exhibit Jay: “Holy Grail”
Jay-Z is undeniably successful and rich (which aren’t always the same thing). But Jay is also keenly aware of the history of rappers getting rich and then losing it all. In “Holy Grail,” he reminds his listeners of what happened to 1980s rap superstar MC Hammer:
Caught up in all these lights and cameras
But look what that s*** did to Hammer
Hammer thought his money would last forever. (Spoiler: it didn’t. Hammer filed for bankruptcy in 1995. The chastened Hammer is now living a more modest life as a minister and music producer).
Jay’s underlying message in “Holy Grail” is that fame and fortune are fickle. No matter how much money he brings in, he knows that it’s always possible to lose it all. Even though he feels invincible now, Jay-Z is aware that ensuring long-term financial security means being a lot more careful than Hammer was.
Exhibit K: “Clique”
Kanye West—who is younger, brasher, and more willing to just straight up burn money than Jay-Z—provides us with a stark contrast in term of his approach to money. K says he isn’t interested in investing, or being careful or prudent. In “Clique,” he brags about spending money recklessly:
… they get money, buy a business
I rather buy 80 gold chains and go ign’ant
I know Spike Lee gon’ kill me but let me finish
Blame it on the pigment, we living no limits
Kanye knows that his peers, mentors, more mature artists like socially-conscious filmmaker Spike Lee will shake their heads at him in dismay, but he simply doesn’t care what they think. In “Clique,” Kanye rejects the idea of “get money, don’t spend it.” Instead he celebrates “living no limits” by enjoying his money now—while he’s got it.
Of course, both artists are exaggerating for effect. Jay-Z isn’t really all that worried about pride coming before the fall, and I’m sure no one is worried about Kanye going broke any time soon. Both of them are invested widely in other businesses—Jay-Z in a mix of fashion, sports, and nightlife, and Kanye in restaurants and fashion. They both must have plenty of money set aside in the unlikely event that dubstep edges out hip-hop in the hearts of music fans everywhere, right?
Exaggeration or not, it’s worth asking yourself a couple of questions while you listen to these lyrics, like:
Would I be OK if I had a financial setback, or am I living a little too close to the edge?
Am I a financial mastermind, or am I “going ignorant” and spending foolishly?
Has Kanye West ever given anyone good advice? Share your favorite money lessons that you’ve learned from pop culture in the comments!