An open letter to Politico's Donovan Slack about your misinterpretation of Jay-Z's "Open Letter"

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Hey, Ms. Slack, I couldn't help but notice the mini shit storm you caused yesterday at the White House press briefing when you misunderstood and misrepresented the lyrics of Jay-Z's "Open Letter." Real talk, that shit ain't cool. Have we learned nothing from the Nicki Minaj Romney-gate last summer?

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Okay, I take that back. Maybe you knew exactly what you were doing -- I mean, here I am bringing this up and all. It's a hard story to miss, though. Did you really take the time yesterday during a White House press briefing to ask Press Secretary Jay Carney to confirm what you understand as Jay-Z's suggestion that "he got White House clearance for his trip to Cuba and that he spoke to Obama personally?" -- a conclusion you evidently came to based on this line from "Open Letter": "Boy from the 'hood but got White House Clearance."

That phrase in the context of the song is clearly Jay contrasting his humble beginnings to his current status as a Presidential friend. A riff on the old "from nothin' to somethin'" trope in rap music. Jay's rapped several times about the unlikely idea of a "cat from Marcy" or a "boy from the 'hood" having "Obama on the text" or "White House Clearance," but somehow you overlooked that. Maybe you also neglected to take note of how stupid it would be for Jay-Z to rap something that's not true, especially when he stakes his rep on only rapping about things that actually happen.

I guess it's unrealistic to expect you to have an intimate knowledge of Jay-Z, his lyrics or common rap tropes because, you know, "White House Press Corps" and all that. But realistically, a White House journalist with a working knowledge of poetic structure should have nailed this. Isn't it erroneous to conclude that Jay's "White House Clearance" line refers to his trip to Cuba because structurally it comes five lines after he mentions "turning Havana to Atlanta?" Thematically, the line comes after he has shifted his focus to bitching about being rich but still not feeling free. (See the line "You get too much bread, they try and jam ya'/Ballin' til they ban us.")

Lyrical interpretations aside, you already knew that: A), the White House doesn't clear trips to Cuba; the Treasury Department does -- you knew this because the Treasury Department made a statement as such before yesterday's press conference -- and B), "White House Clearance" usually means a person has clearance to go to the White House. (Jay-Z has visited the White House before; he even took a picture). As a member of the press corps, you have "White House Clearance," too, right?

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@Lindyyr

Continue reading for the rest of our take.


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9 comments
John Trujillo
John Trujillo

He's to go and drown in his wealth and leave us poor folk alone.

Angie Valdez
Angie Valdez

I just read Phil Lords "open Letter" gotta tell ya, not cool....he could go anywhere in the world and he picks Cuba? Yeah, not a fan anymore. But that is my opinion and I'm sure me not paying $15.99 for his music is gonna make him lose any sleep unfortunatley.

303ScottFree
303ScottFree

You don't know me bro. and how do you know Castro isnt dead? you talk to him on the phone? Lames crying about castro. US couldn't kill castro and he says f@ck the world. why u mad?

303ScottFree
303ScottFree

Why all this attention for a dried up old MC? If Jay-Z was real hip hop no one would care. I think Mos Def went to cuba before and nobody say shit. Mos about the culture not the paper. Obama is bout the paper too. F@ck  him and camel man! F@CK these cubans crying about castro he's dead!

craig.w.leavitt
craig.w.leavitt

Way to work that tricky Hip-Hop 'n' politics beat, Shawn!  Good piece.  By the way, what are you wearing? 

_Evan_C
_Evan_C

Jay-Z is a dumba$$. He has no respect for Cuba or Cubans and deserves jail for committing a crime. The castros been gutting the island for years putting people in jail and starving everyone. It's time for regime change in Cuba.

_Evan_C
_Evan_C

@303ScottFree dude just stop. castro puts people in jail for saying or rapping things he doesn't like. the military abuses their power and people suffer because of that. you don't know what you are talking about.

_Evan_C
_Evan_C

@303ScottFree he's not dead. you don't know what you are talking about. disrespecting the cuban people who suffer. you disrespect me..my family is cuban decent. mos def is dumba$$ if he went to cuba. don't go to cuba. and STFU if you don't know.

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