Pharrell and Jay-Z’s ‘Entrepreneur’ couldn’t come at a better time
Pharrell Williams’ decision to feature Jay-Z in his songs like “Frontin’,” and vice versa, like “Excuse Me Miss,” isn’t surprising. Their musical partnership has spanned decades. But with the newly released single, “Entrepreneur,” their history of collaborations has seemingly reached its climax.
And it couldn’t have come in a more timely manner.
It’s here amid a pandemic that is far from over, social unrest, an ongoing election that’s still very much divisive on all fronts, and economic downturns, all of which have somehow, in their own ways, not only widened income gaps but also particularly racial ones.
Pharrell whispers with a kind of falsetto-like croon in the first verse:
“I am black ambition/ I am always whisperin’/They keep tellin’ me I will not/ But my will won’t listen”
Jay-Z later follows reasonably overtly:
“Uh, lies told to you, through YouTubes and Hulus/ Shows with no hues that look like you do.”
Chad Hugo from The Neptunes also co-produced the song with Williams.
“Entrepreneur” is a celebration of the oft-challenging journeys that Black creatives, strategists, and business owners have taken to get a spot in the light against all odds.
Calmatic, an award-winning director — though he prefers the title “artist” in lieu of director because he likes the idea of being creatively limitless, exploratory, and just always approaches everything through the perspective of “hip-hop” — was in charge of conjuring up the visuals.
He mostly did it from home.
View this post on Instagram
New music video for Entrepreneur by Pharrell ft. Jay-Z. Directed by CALMATIC. It’s hard to wrap my head around this one.To be honest this feels like a dream. Some many people and places near and dear that are out here changing the world, super humbled to be able to capture it all. If you know you know. I want to take to time to thank all the people that help make this happen. Prettybird for facilitating such a huge production and superwoman @_lolavictoria for grinding so hard day and night finding stories and helping us navigate the streets during all this pandemic madness. This piece wouldn’t be the same without you. Big love to @parallax_post coming through with the edit and making something out of nothing. Shout out to @name___date___ providing his artwork at the end of the film and big thank you to @ayindeanderson_ @samdavisdp @jaredmroyal and the rest of our international crew for helping capture this whole thing all across the globe! Lastly I want to thank @pharrell and the @i_am_other team for trusting me with this monumental song. Blessed. 🖤🌍✨🖖🏾 #entrepreneur #blackman
Producers came up with a list of Black-owned businesses and searched for the most poignant stories, and went around the country to capture their vision, even if most of it was set in LA, considering that that’s where Calmatic spent his time for the past months of quarantine.
In previous years, he worked on “Old Town Road,” which received a Grammy for 2020’s Best Music Video of the Year, with Lil X Nas, Anderson Paak’s “Bubblin,” and Vince Staples’ The Vince Staples Show.
Williams’ team had reached out to Calmatic around last year pitching an idea for a project that was supposed to be an ode to Black people in general but only recently did he decide to finally put out the song. It took two weeks to create the video that would live up to the bold lyrics.
Initially, he wanted it to take a docu-style form, but he told Complex that it became more special. It grew not into an anthem, per se, considering that the connotation for the word is “exciting,” but into something spiritual and meditative.
The goal, he said, was to appeal to people’s positive emotions; instead of adding to the “shock” that’s all-present in headlines, political debates and one-offs and Twitter and images, his intentions were grounded on sensitization.
He wanted to show the art of the Black “will” — a word that runs thematically in the lyrics — to overcome and regain what, for centuries, their ancestors had been missing: pure respect for their humanity and thus, equality of opportunity.
“It’s just like, everything is shock,” he explained. “You just wake up in the morning and you see something. That shit is shocking and traumatic, over and over and over and over and over again. So the goal was to make something that’s shockingly positive or shockingly motivational.”
Though the song quite explicitly has a refrain of “Black man,” Calmatic points out that while it’s wrong how people sometimes even refer to humankind as “mankind,” he says that in this case, “Black man” is a general term that relates to “anybody that’s Black.”
View this post on Instagram
Women of color own more businesses anyway, according to the State of Women-Owned Business report from 2019. Last year, they accounted for 89% of those who opened businesses.
Among the men featured in the video, like TyAnthony Davis who founded Vox Collegiate junior to help his underperforming school district.
Iddris Sandu who, at just 23, has already written algorithms for Snapchat, Uber, and Instagram.
There’s Issa Rae who has built her own web series empire on the same South LA blocks on which she used to make low-budget films.
There’s Angela Richardson who turned her home cleaning goods into a retail line.
There’s Chef Alisa of the vegan-soul food place, My Two Cents. And there’s Denise Woodard of Partake Cookies.
There’s also Debbie Allen, whose own experience with childbirth at a hospital wasn’t favorable, so she became the CEO of Tribe Midwifery to create a safe space for Black women (who are 3-4 times more likely to die from childbirth-related issues than white women).
The song-and-video release also comes on the heels of Williams’ curating a project for TIME, which features conversations with those like Angela Davis, Naomi Osaki, and Tyler, the Creator.
He told the magazine that he considers economic equity to be one of the most fundamental aspects of ensuring some kind of success.
“They keep saying the American Dream is about the house and picket fence, the wife and two kids,” he said. “Come one — let’s be honest. It’s always boiled down to money and an opportunity.”
Unfortunately, however, that sense of fair opportunity has been even more battered by the pandemic. Black-owned businesses benefit less from federal stimulus programs. They usually don’t have steady banking partners, access to loans, and usually not enough employees to be able to move their businesses online fully.
Most of their businesses fall into industries that have been more directly affected by shutdowns and a decrease in demands, such as nail salons, daycare centers, taxi services,
A non-profit research policy group, The Center for Responsible Lending, reported that 95 percent of Black-owned businesses are so small that most of them make up the owners’ primary source of income.
View this post on Instagram
The FUTURE. The ENTREPRENEURS. out now, link in bio. @hughaugustinemc @keepitrun100 @voxcollegiate @six.sev @comptoncowboys @trillpaws @neighborsskateshop @my2centsla @feliciathegoat @haruncoffee @iddrissandu @issarae @biablooms @nipseyhussle @blackandmobile @sirroberttakespics @purhomeclean @thirdvaultyarns @avila.diana @nailxperience @caked_and_baked @umoja_production @soulfoodhouse @dartshtajio @mio_prints @maisonchateaurouge @thehoneypotco @partakefoods @honeyskettle
According to a survey conducted by the Global Strategy Group for ColorofChange and UnidosUS, only 12 percent of those Black and Hispanic owners who applied for aid through the Small Business received what they requested and 26 percent only got a portion of what was promised.
The Paycheck Protection Program, however, mainly seems to favor big organizations, even though the Treasury Department recently promised to work more with the Small Business Administration to close the gaps and help those families whose businesses are not only on the cusp of closing permanently but who also live in areas where the COVID-19 infection rates have been some of the highest.
In June, when all of those estimations of the pandemic’s disproportionate effects were being contrived, Pharrell gave a resounding speech that addressed his home state of Virginia. Joined by Governor Robert Northam, he urged legislators to make Juneteenth, a day that celebrates the end of US slavery in 1865, a national holiday.
His words were powerful then. And they are now, in “Entrepreneur.” He doesn’t mean, and neither do those with whom he has collaborated, to spread the message of hopelessness.
Instead, the song and the video are a gift, even if he and Jay-Z are in none of the scenes.
That’s the point. To shine a light on those who need it most now, or at least on those whose tough beginnings and big successes could inspire others from similar circumstances and aspirations.
That’s the point. Uplift those who need it most now: The Black entrepreneurs.