By Hillary Crosley, with additional reporting by MTV News Staff
Back in 2001, Jay-Z joined a select group of MCs boasting their own MTV “Unplugged” performances. The show, boasting acoustic musicianship, began as a head-scratcher for hip-hop acts, but after LL Cool J dispelled the myth that MCs couldn’t play live, it was a success.
In Jay-Z’s taping, the MC worn a Che Guevara t-shirt coupled with a diamond chain which some in hip-hop took issue with, saying it juxtaposed two philosophies. Many complained that the South American freedom fighter wouldn’t have agreed with Hov’s chain, but life’s not always that complicated and the Brooklyn MC tackles that topic in his “Decoded” book’s first chapter.
” … In the studio with a reporter from The Village Voice, a young writer named Elizabeth Mendez Berry. I was playing the [Black Album ] … After we listened, [she] said the strangest thing: ‘You don’t feel funny? … You’re wearing that Che t-shirt and you have—’ she gestured dramatically at the chain around my neck. ‘I couldn’t even concentrate on the music,’ she said. ‘All I could think of is that big chain bouncing off of Che’s forehead.’
Hm … Turns out the chain actually belonged to an old friend.
“The chain was a Jesus piece—the Jesus piece that Biggie used to wear, in fact,” wrote Jay. “It’s part of my ritual when I record an album: I wear the Jesus piece and let my hair grow till I’m done. This wasn’t the first time I’d worn a Che T-shirt—I’d worn a different one during my taping of an MTV ‘Unplugged’ show, which I’d taped with the Roots. I didn’t really think much of it. Her question—don’t you feel funny?—caught me off guard and I didn’t have an answer for her.”
Around the filming of the very “Unplugged” show he mentions in “Decoded,” Hov took some time to chat with MTV News.
“I actually was talking about an ‘Unplugged’ for a while, like I know there are very few rappers that had ‘Unplugged’ and I always wanted to do it,” he said. “And then, finally when I stopped asking for it, they brought it to me.”
The show also spawned a live album of Jay’s performance backed by Jimmy Fallon’s house band. The album’s cover depicts Jay in the very t-shirt he describes in “Decoded.”
“Very few people in hip-hop travel with bands,” said Hov. “And the freedom that you … oh my God. If there wasn’t so many of these guys I’d travel with them everyday. It’s not cost effective, man, it’s hard to bring all them people around. It’s like 90 of them. But the freedom it allows you is incredible. You can do anything—stop in the middle of records, switch your records, switch back—I’d be unstoppable.”
What’s the take away? Like Outkast’s Andre 3000 once said, “Is every n—– with dreads for the cause? Is every n—- with gold for the fall? Naw, so don’t get caught up in appearance.”
What do you think of Jay wearing the Che shirt with a diamond Jesus piece? Too much? Or, not a problem? Tweet us at @MTVRapFix or tell us in a comment below!