An Old People’s Guide to Jay-Z

Kevin Fallon explains who Jay-Z is, so the elderly might actually start recognizing him on the subway.

“Are you famous?”

Oh, gurl! That’s what a woman so lovingly referred to by the Internet as “Old Lady”—at least until she was later identified as 67-year-old artist Ellen Grossman—asked Jay-Z when the rap supernova sat next to her on a Brooklyn-bound subway in September, footage of which was just released as part as a mini-documentary on the hip-hop star. The whole altercation is fairly adorable and the Internet is expectedly obsessed with it.

It’s unclear what exactly tipped Grossman off to the fact that she was in the presence of a famous person. Was it the teeming entourage that flooded onto the train with him? Was it the posse of bodyguards staring her down? Perhaps it was the documentary film crew pointing a camera at his face, or the horde of gawkers trying to snap photos with their iPhones. What is clear, however, is that it was not staring into the eyes of Beyoncé’s husband, one of the most recognized faces in the world, and one of the most successful musicians of the past two decades, that clued her in to the fact she was chit-chatting with a demigod.

The Internet was alternately charmed and flabbergasted by Ms. Grossman’s ignorance. Surely, being an Old Lady should be no excuse not to recognize His H.O.V.A. Highness. This is Jay-Z! The Blueprint! “Empire State of Mind!” Barclay’s Center! In order to prevent future calamities such as this, we thought it best to offer a simple tip sheet: The Old People’s Guide to Jay-Z.

First, to answer Grossman’s question, for the love of god, yes, this guy is famous. According to Forbes, Jay earned $38 million last year, and at the top of 2012 was worth a reported $460 million. These days when people joke about lifestyles of the rich and famous, they are explicitly referring to him. His worth and notoriety, of course, exponentially increase when one considers that he is married to one of the only working music stars who is more famous than he: Beyoncé. Together, they are unfairly beautiful, unfairly rich, and unfairly famous, but so goshdarned flawless that most people only harbor faint pangs of jealousy.

In January, the couple welcomed their first child, Blue Ivy. Mass hysteria ensued. It was as if the messiah had returned; in fact, multiple news outlets referred to the child as the messiah, and, really, only half-jokingly. A Twitter record (please, you must have heard about the Twitter by now) for most tweets-per-second was set when the birth was announced, breaking the previous record set when the pregnancy was announced. This baby was a Big Deal. The frenzy surrounding the royal pregnancy is pathetic by comparison. Blue Ivy is our princess. Your princess.

Also, Beyoncé and Jay are BFFs—that stands for Best Friends Forever—with the Obamas. When the couple was expecting Blue Ivy, the president gave him advice on how to be a good dad. The internet went wild when that happened. It was everywhere. Obama even cracked once that he was just like Jay-Z: “We both have daughters and our wives are more popular than we are.” Shortcut guide to Jay-Z: he and Barack Obama are the same.

Oh yeah, he makes music, too. A lot of music. Sure, it’s the kind of music a lot of you call “noise” and “trash” and think is reserved for “whippersnappers” and “hooligans,” but using that as an excuse not to recognize one of the century’s most influential artists—yep, I said it!—is kind of as tragic as a teen these days not recognizing a photo of Elvis Presley, or knowing who Mozart is. Since recording his first record in 1995, the Brooklyn native has released 16 albums, sold 50 million copies, and won 14 Grammy awards. He’s kind of a big deal.

And his music is kind of awesome. Sure, tracks like “Can I Getta…” or “Big Pimpin,” and especially “Niggas in Paris,” contain what may be considered—OK, definitely considered—explicit language, but Jay’s best songs contain hooks as masterfully catchy as the best Beatles pop tunes and lyrics that are exquisitely clever. Besides that, his music is absolutely everywhere. Have you gone to the grocery store any time in the past three years? Then you’ve heard his anthem “Empire State of Mind,” and you’ve probably heard it more than 4,000 times. You probably know every word to it. The lyrics have been steadily embedded into your consciousness, one trip to Gristedes at a time.

Even those who are not fans of his hip-hop beats can appreciate Jay-Z, musical theater enthusiast. He single-handedly brought Broadway to the ghetto, accomplishing the astounding feat of getting teenage thugs around the country to sing a song from Annie when he sampled “Hard Knocked Life” in his own “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem).” Jay’s fondness for the precocious orphan with the hideous red afro even persists. In the summer it was announced that he would work on an updated score to the musical for a new movie set to begin shooting next spring.

But the best thing about Jay-Z, and a key part of this fame that is apparently so huge that an entire blogosphere is fascinated by an unassuming elderly artist who can’t quite place his face, is that the guy is so appealingly down to earth. He’s riding the subway to his concert in Brooklyn. Have you been on a subway to Brooklyn? It’s awful. Sure, his mere presence in the underground hellhole, massive entourage in tow, actually creates an incredible inconvenience for commuters, but it’s so cool that Jay’s down there with us plebians that no one is even remotely disturbed. Jay-Z’s not just famous, he’s cool.

Of course, this whole hullabaloo ignores the fact that this Old Lady actually did know who he is. Once Jay finally gives Ms. Grossman his full stage name, Jay-Z, she exuberantly says, “Oh, you’re Jay-Z! I know about Jay-Z.” Many of you probably know about Jay-Z. He’s Jay-Z!

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So next time you see him on the subway, give him the proper respect. Bow down. Tip your hat. Curtsy. Or, better yet, continue feigning ignorance. Because this video of An Old Lady Meeting Jay-Z may truly be the cutest thing ever.