Apesh!t or Slave Ship? The Carters, The Poverty of Wealth, and Contemporary Slavery 

The Carter’s latest video “ApeSh*t” makes waves for its feature of hip-hop’s most revered couple Beyonce Knowles and Shawn ‘Jay-Z’ Carter. Though not their first collaboration, this project marks their first joint album. Their newly released joint album marks the first project after overcoming Jay-z’s very public infidelity. While Lemonade intertwines personal and collective anger, this joint project is anchored in love. Or what the Carters giphy12and their team would have the black collective believe, black love. Evidenced in their lyrics and visual accompanying, the love the album speaks of is a love of whiteness and all its tokens.  The contents of their song and video “Apesh!t”  expose the Carter’s anti-black agenda amidst ancient European art that foreshadows contemporary motives.


There is an eerie vibe to the video. The evilness of capitalism and the materialism births, makes the video as haunting as the look in Beyonce’s eyes. The video also encompasses the repetition of the infamous number six, in a video that is exactly six minutes and six seconds long.  

giphy7The European art featured in the video functions as a means to connect contemporary pop culture to the enlightenment period, seeking to rewrite or insert the black family into “his” story. The Carter’s positionality to the paintings counters both the attempt to connect and insert their bodies into an excluding his story. Particularly, the Carters are beneath all the pictures of European art. This depicts them as what they are, subjugates. The Carters are the color in a hegemonic painting that features their hue but denies their personhood. This point is perhaps most resonant in Jay-z’s position below the painting of a slave ship. Particularly, in acknowledging the video’s attempt to bridge the past with the present, Mr. Carter’s position beneath the picture would place him in the water. Given the physical and lyrical performance in the song, it is easy to align both with manifestations of drowning. 

Monalisa, The Centerpiece 

Perhaps one of the most disturbing recurrences of this video was the recurring image of the Monalisa. The whitegiphy5 woman as the backdrop to hip-hop’s first couple is not accidental. Beyonce, easily regarded as one of the most beautiful women in the world, attains this accolade in her adoption and promotion of European aesthetics. Despite her prodigious talent, she is successful because she functions to steer black women to be more like the Monalisa than their African foremothers. Jay-Z, a caricature of the black male body, also functions to arouse the fantasies of the white woman, who do not wish to marry black (unless he’s wealthy), but who admires the black male persona from afar.  So just as their lyrics of materialism, objectification, and capitalism lead directly to the white bodies featured in this video, both Jay-Z and Beyonce are roads that lead to the white woman. This portrayal allows the white woman
to silently scream “#metoo” in the midst of what is supposed to be a portrait of black love. 


We Ain’t in the Booth, we in the Back Seat

Essentially, what the Carters demonstrate is a move beyond music into message. Ofgiphy3 course music is always a message, but at the “height” of their success Beyonce and Jay Z no longer create music. What they create is specially programmed messages to control the masses. “Apesh*t” in song and video are a practice of hypnosis. The lyrics are fast, retrievable only in small doses, doses that speak of spending, vanity, and other tokens of superficiality. Viewers are invited to praise The Carters who “made it,” and make the crowd go “apesh*t” in their success. I admit that I found myself remixing the hook “watch the crowd going ape shit” with “Slave ship” as the Carters, despite their boasting, exhibit a contemporary form of bondage. 

The image that begins the video, where a number of black bodies lay like corpses in a giphy6coffin, evoke the conditions of a slave ship. The bodies are still, then move in congruence to that of a wave. Their faces are obscured and otherwise insignificant. It is their function that matters. These bodies later line up as if on an auction block. There faces are in plain view but their bodies are what captures the attention of viewers who are given no context, time, or encouragement to value the faces of the bodies. Faces, that to the black viewer, are very much like their own.  Instead we are coerced into anticipating what these bodies can do with or to the beat. This objectification is of course not new, but takes on a new form of evil given that those who engender said objectification are  of the melanated faction.

This act exposes the Carters as the house n*ggers of a plantation called Hollywood, where they are lauded for their social reproduction of the slave master. Thus, their mimetic function depicts the performance in the video, and their function in Hollywood as literally ape sh*t, epitomizing “monkey see, monkey do.”

Monkey Business

It also worth mentioning the recurring primate imagery that has proved consistent in giphy1hip hop. Rapper Nicki Minaj’s recently released song “Chun Li,” includes a lyric in which the songstress references herself as “king kong,” no wait, “Miss King King.” The line quickly proved catchy, inspiring many retweets, Twitter names, and picture captions, despite being an articulation of self-deprivation. The Carters exhibit a similar popularized deprivation with “apesh*t.” There are a mirage of other comparisons the Carters could have used. To use this one, is intentional. An intention that was most evident when viewers watch Beyonce move like an ape in the final seconds of the video. She’s beautiful, shapely, slender and a master of rhythm, so her movements inspire a mimesis which popularized this kneeling gesture of degeneracy.

Side note about Beyonce: I do not know whether to be disappointed by this watered down version of Beyonce’s tremendous talent, or impressed that she can be both full of talent and deliver such a masterful showcase of talentlessness.

All About that Money Honey

There is also something to be said about artists who flaunt their wealth to a fanbase whogiphy has either stolen and misappropriated the earnings of oppressed factions for centuries, or has had their wealth stolen and misappropriated by their oppressors for centuries. The entire song boasts of money and “things,” depicting JayZ and Beyonce as bragging about how much they went for on the auction block.  

Essentially, the song and video are as without substance, as the Carters are without riches. All the Carters have is what has been given to them. They have what can be taken away in an instant, making them more impoverished that their ignorant, capitalistic display wants anyone to realize. The Carters have been bought and sold, their integrity turned to gold and placed on the ears of those most likely to steal this song and album in observance of a privilege the Carters only pretend to have. .     

In the song “Boss” on the Everything Is Love album, Beyonce sings/raps that her “great great chirren already rich” overlooking that Whitney Houston once stood on the mountaintop she believes to be upon. They built Houston up to break her down in the worst way, and she now has no great great grand children—her money pulled from her palm, the palm of her offspring, and placed right back into the hand that poisoned her. This is not to cast a cloud of doom onto the Carters, but to suggest that we as a people realize that haughtiness  too often heralds a cycle so many have been bamboozled to perceive as linear.

All Lives Matter?

The Carter’s feature of historic paintings alongside images of black men kneeling and the giphy4one photo of a newly freed slave (toward the end of the video), suggesting a message congruent to the one articulated in their carefully curated lyrics. A message that paints the Carters as a bridging factor, as a means to connect the past with the present, the rich with the poor, the powerless to the powerful, and the black with the white. In short, though supposedly representative of the black matriarch and patriarch, the underlying message of the video is that all lives matter. This image then, is not progressive, but representative of the role of black female and male bodies as dictated by their oppressors. Blacks are consistently handed the burden of bridging factions they did not divide—which is precisely what we see in the visual representation of Apesh*t.

The bridging seen in this video is solely for the benefit of the white overseers to Bey and Jay’s career. Despite their claims of independence, and the portrait they attempt to paint of their “lavish” lifestyle, The Carters are the property of white hegemony. If not, then why, I ask you, use their title as the first couple of hip hop to concern themselves with his tory and not our story?     giphy2

The District of Columbia recently debuted their highly anticipated African American History museum. This seems a proper setting for a black family supposedly invested in blackness. There is also the Black Wax museum in Baltimore, that would have provided depth to an otherwise shallow song. These options were not selected because lyrics that speak of capitalistic dreams basked in materialism, appear far more dissonant to the thoughts and memory a black backdrop might provoke. These images would foment thoughts past diamond rings and large homes. The images could suggest how far we’ve come to the mentally enslaved, but to the intellectually curious, placing the Carters in the settings of their foremothers would illustrate that we haven’t come far at all. That despite a change in date, the last name “Carter” traces back to what neither spouse has been able to escape in their imaginary giphy10consummation of western whiteness.

It would have been a formidable backdrop to focus on the name Carter. To expose the white supremacist wrath that physically produced the lineage Jay-z shares with wife Beyonce, and passes on to his three children. This feature though would not incite the masses to purchase this album. To feature a past contemporary culture desperately tries to make sure the black collective forget, would not have received approval from the record label. What the white gaze seeks from Jay-z and Beyonce, is what they seek from all subjugates— that they will act in the best interest of the republic in their fabricated form of freedom.

That, they did.

Black Power ❤


9 Comments Add yours

  1. Insightful post CC! You covered a lot of ground. Great breakdown of the Carters. Thank you!

  2. Did you hear about this? I guess paying tribute to black women is offensive. I lost all respect for DJ Sway Calloway. A self hating coon to the highest degree!

    1. Thanks for the link!

      There is an interview he did with Bellamy young and Tony Goldwyn from Scandal a little while back that really turned me off from him. He was uncomfortably groveling at Young’s feet and seemed almost offering of black Women to Tony Goldwyn. It was disgusting and I’ve been adversarial to him ever since. Nevertheless, this does not surprise me. I’ve had this discussion with a few of my black female students who think there is a woman struggle that does not discriminate, as they continue to be shut out of gender conversations. That’s why Chimamanda Adichie is especially problematic. A good portion of my dissertation is on this topic, because a lot of black People do this without even knowing it. Very dangerous.

      1. I used to be a fan of Sway. I liked his radio program The Wake Up show. But that was years ago. Way before he got mainstream famous. Now he’s a complete sellout. He’s become a professional groveler to these celebrities. I remember seeing his ex wife years ago. She’s Asian if I remember correctly. They have a daughter together. So we shouldn’t be surprised that he’s offended at a tribute to black women.
        I’ve never understood why black women would be shut out on gender discussions. They definitely should be involved. Makes no sense to me.

  3. Jackie says:

    Thanks for your sharing your perspective on this video. I enjoyed your thoughtful insights of the various parts.

    1. Thank you so much for reading Jackie!

  4. This initially feels close being worthwhile criticism and analysis and then quickly goes off the rails. This reads to me like the work of someone who has taken a BA degree and had a few undergraduate courses in political history and cultural studies, and then imagined that all cultural productions can be reduced to the particular tropes and themes that one learned in those classes. It’s obvious that Jay-Z and Beyonce are materialistic and concerned with status, but you haven’t come close to explaining this video in terms of the ongoing conversations about the place of people from the African diaspora in European and US art institutions, and in the related discourses. What you read as kowtowing to European values and status hierarchy might also be about an attempt to democratize the museum and demonstrate the pertinence of black bodies to the narratives being offered.

    This piece is simplistic, and won’t be taken seriously unless you update your references and sources for your analysis. Kneeling isn’t always about degeneracy; how do you know her gestures are “ape-like”?; just because an image is situated above a figure doesn’t mean that the figure is subordinated to the image. This isn’t it. You don’t have it, and won’t unless you are able to imagine counter arguments to the castles that you’ve built in sand and incorporate them into your arguments.

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