There's a clear message about appropriation, culture and race in JAY-Z's latest 4:44 release, "Moonlight."
Picture an alternate reality where Issa Rae and Tiffany Haddish star on a hit network sitcom together. JAY-Z brought this fantasy to life with his latest music video, Moonlight, which features a star studded cast of TV and films actors including the aforementioned actresses as well as Tessa Thompson, Jerrod Carmichael, Lakeith Stanfield, and Lil Rey Howery. The music video is essentially a Black parody of the hit 90’s sitcom Friends.
You remember Friends right? The show that launched Jennifer Aniston to superstardom but was often criticized for it’s glaring lack of Black faces. In this reimagined version of “The One Where No One’s Ready,” Issa Rae plays the part of Jennifer Aniston aka ”Rachel.”
But why did Hov decide to parody Friends?
We’ll have to wait for Tidal to release the footnotes to know exactly what was going through JAY-Z and his co-creators minds. But for now, let’s break it down.
First of all, the characters were spot on. Jerrod and Rae play the part of Ross and Rachel. Tiffany Haddish and Lil Rey Howery play Phoebe and Joey respectively, while Tessa Thompson and Lakeith Stanfield portray Monica and Chandler. We really need a full 30-minute episode of this version of Friends so we can get more Tiffany Haddish.
The opening credits are a shot for shot recreation of the Friends opening, except this version features a more melanated song. Whodini’s ‘Friends’ takes the place of the Rembrandts’ song used in the original. Seeing our favorite Black actors performing the same cheesy dance moves their white counterparts did in the 90’s is one of the first indications that this is not your typical music video.
The video begins to hit its stride as Joey aka Lil Rey’s cell phone goes off and the group breaks character. Jerrod walks off set and straight into a judgmental Hannibal Buress, presumably playing himself. Hannibal and Jerrod’s dialogue about the quality of the roles they are given, along with the lyrics of the song, hint at the deeper meaning behind the video.
In the song’s chorus, JAY-Z raps “We stuck in La La Land/Even if we win, we gonna lose.” He explained that line in an interview with iHeartradio saying “It's like a subtle nod to La La Land winning the Oscar, and then having to give it to ‘Moonlight.’ It's really a commentary on the culture and where we're going."
Apparently Jay has decided to take the commentary to the next level with the Moonlight visuals. The music video concludes with Rae leading Carmichael off set onto a isolated grass field bathed in moonlight while Jay raps the lyrics “Cause their grass is greener, cause they always raking in more” We hear audio from the Academy Awards, where La La land is originally announced as the winner for best picture. It’s at this moment where we finally start to grasp the concept of the video.
Many compare the core premise of Friends to the iconic Black sitcom Living Single, which debuted over a year before a Friends episode ever made it on the air. Living Single was an original concept and a bonafide hit. But when comparing the financial and commercial success of both franchises, Friends is the clear winner. And maybe this is what Jay is trying to illustrate with the Moonlight music video. Friends became such a popular franchise that it was granted 10 full seasons and the actors were rumored to have made a million dollars per episode. Living Single on the other hand only had 5 seasons, and the actors involved never garnered salaries even close to their Caucasian counterparts.
As Jerrod Carmichael stares stoically into the moonlight, we are left with thoughts of racial inequality and lack of opportunity for Black entertainers. JAY-Z notably decided to feature Carmichael and Rae as the main characters. In real life both actors are on different ends of the Black television spectrum. Rae is enjoying the fruits of her labor in the form of a successful season two of Insecure on HBO, while Carmichael’s The Carmichael Show was canceled after it’s third season. Canceled by NBC, the network that housed Friends for 10 seasons.
Something tells me that these choices, along with the entire cast, were purposeful.
“Y’all n***as still signing deals? Still? After all they done stole, for real?”
The principal message of the music video seems to be that even when we win we lose. Moonlight won the Oscar for best picture, seemingly validating Black films a year removed from #oscarssowhite. Yet somehow La La Land still managed to steal the attention thanks to the botched announcement. And one of the most iconic sitcoms in history, Living Single, may be destined to live in the shadow of its white counterpart Friends.
But thanks to JAY-Z and his Moonlight video, we now have a sitcom with faces that look like ours. Black twitter made the fictional Lupita & Rihanna heist movie into a real project. Maybe we can get them to make a full season of Moonlight’s Friends and get all of the actors and actresses million dollar salaries, too. Here’s to making the grass greener.