Jamaican American poet and essayist, June Jordan said once that “Poetry is a political act because it involves telling the truth.” Setting the stage for some real grown-up talk between two Black men about what really is “Economic Freedom” and what are the journey ways available to our people.

This could be a conversation had on any college campus, think tank or in the most profound space for intellectual exchange the barbershop. But alas, this back and forth was done in the 21st century digital age and was done via email and social media.

Poet Saul Williams shared a private email between him and JAY-Z regarding “Economic Freedom.”

A few days ago, the Morehouse graduate posted on Instagram a clip where he was critiquing JAY-Z’s lyrics on The Black Album stating:

“Somebody had made the mistake of equating money with freedom or money with it being the ultimate power… So then you hear an artist like JAY-Z say on The Black Album, ‘Well, I couldn’t help poor people if I was poor.’ Correction: the majority of our leaders and people that have helped over time have not been able to help us because they have money, they helped us because they had vision and desire to do so.”

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“Correction.” #blackfriday #robeson #fbf

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In response to this video, JAY-Z (who goes by “sc” in this email exchange) took a stab at correcting what his position, one that he thought that Williams got twisted.

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I wouldn't characterize our fight for economic freedom as "new". There have been wealthy black Americans in every generation since the 1600's, and in Africa since forever. During segregation accumulated black wealth and black-owned business were at a peak. Black newspapers, magazines, schools, record labels… Yet psychological freedom from hard taught capitalism is hard to earn. African billionaires, for example, have brought little relief to the continent of Africa. The seduction of power and the systemic constraints of white supremacy will take more than money to burn. The root of the market economy is still almost entirely based on the sourcing of rare minerals where the exploitation of African miners and land is the analogue reality of the our modern-age technological advances. Thus, we push for essentially socialist measures which provide healthcare and education to all. Money can be disappeared, but the lessons you learn along the way are yours to keep. Whether we learn from the streets, schools, in prisons, or by playing the game, it is that hard-earned knowledge that allows us to understand how to spend what we earn in ways that can truly make a difference. Even as we push against the systemic structures in criminal justice, housing, etc. we know that it is not simply a question of money being used against us rather it is the ideology that negates our worth as human beings that seems to justify the constant exploitation of our worth and work. Thus the attack is largely against belief systems, philosophies empowered by money and a corrupted rule of law. Guggenheims, Rockefellers, Fords, Nobels, and the great philanthropists and supporters of the arts are all in recompense of the oil, the factory work, the mining, the weaponry, the staple crops, the plantations… that profit off the design of the system, after which the charitable hand is the only one left to give. I challenge the messaging through music when I feel it supports the system primarily because I see art and music as tools or weaponry that can be used to destroy it. The truth bangs harder. We learn that the more we tell it.

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JAY-Z asserts that the fight for economic freedom is a new phenomenon. However, Byron Allen, who is currently suing Comcast/ Charter regarding contractual discrimination safeguarded by the Civil Rights Act of 1866, would disagree. In this case that is actually before the Supreme Court, the statue that found its footing during Reconstruction after slavery was over, is up for debate. This entire conversation is about economic freedom. This whole convo lifts the historicity of economic freedom for Black people since legally we could advocate for ourselves.

And Saul Williams just could not let JAY-Z’s uber slick Marcy turned Wall-Street logic seep through without challenge.

Williams noted:

“I wouldn’t characterize our fight for economic freedom as ‘new’. During segregation accumulated black wealth and black-owned business were at a peak. Black newspapers, magazines, schools, record labels… Yet psychological freedom from hard taught capitalism is hard to earn. African billionaires, for example, have brought little relief to the continent of Africa. The seduction of power and the systemic constraints of white supremacy will take more than money to burn.”

What do you believe? Which poet actually represents your perspective? Let us know in the comments.