Check out the Mao jacket in this still from the new Jay-Z video.
Um, looks like it.
Run This Town is the second single of Jay-Z's upcoming 11th studio album, the soon-to-be blockbuster Blueprint 3 (slated to be released September 11). It features Rihanna on the hook and an admittedly masterful verse by Kanye West, who produced the song.
In the just-leaked video, there is also a quick cameo by Chairman Mao, seen as a black-and-white print on the back of a leather jacket at around the 2:54 mark.
Mr. Z often plays with communist references, some of which are commonplace in rap (bourgeois, or "bougie," plays on the overused get money motif) and some of which are unique (his line "I'm like Che Guevara with bling on, I'm complex" is famous among fans).
But using Mao imagery might be a first, as well as controversial for obvious reasons.
Maoism is blamed in no small part for the deaths of millions, in China and neighbouring Asian countries (Cambodia's Khmer Rouge were extreme Maoists, and also extremely genocidal). It's fairly safe to say that in the still Communist-panicked U.S. (have you seen those town halls?), Mao is seen as a villain, without much nuance.
Mao's Little Red Book is still widely available all over the world, but is generally bought for the kitsch factor. In Beijing, it's relegated to a tourism trinket, and less often, a source of ironic humour among young Chinese.
But the Run This Town video does not evoke much irony or kitsch, at least on a surface level. It appears as a straightforward statement, albeit probably a fashion statement than anything else.
Jay-Z ran into mild controversy with international symbols in a video for Blue Magic, off his last album American Gangster. In that video, he's seen flinging around Euros instead of the more traditional American greenbacks. Newspaper columnists and reactionaries derided the rapper for devaluing their dollar. Ridiculously so, but still.
After that, there's no way the multimillion dollar rapper, former music industry head and all-around savvy entrepreneur would accidentally place Mao in his video.
Director Anthony Mandler says he plays with rebellion in the video, telling MTV, "We live in a very orderly society in America, but when you get into Brazil, you get into the Middle East, you get into Africa, you get into Eastern Europe, when you get into places like that, there's a different sort of 'we run this town' [going on]. There's less order and more chaos."
But Mao is only only specific reference to a world leader in the entire clip.
With the aforementioned frantic (and crazy) debates about Communism in town halls across the country, is this the right time for Jay-Z to be flashing iconic images of Mao?[rssbreak]