“I never had nobody to talk to,” Jay-Z mumbled Tuesday while in one of the few quiet rooms in Chicago’s Marshall High School, in the midst of a brief cross-country tour of schools. Each school won a contest entitling students to a personal appearance by the rapper, who acts as principal for a day. “I wanted to let them know that whatever you want to do, you can do.”
Located on the west side of the city, Marshall has enough security problems without one of the world’s most popular rappers dropping by for a visit. This afternoon, the school’s in-house security team is particularly strict. Chicago’s inner city schools usually miss out on opportunities such as this, out-participated by the bigger and better organized halls of education in the suburbs.
Marshall’s 1,200 or so students roared as they poured into the school’s auditorium, jumping over chairs, dancing in the aisles, and causing something just shy of chaos. The teachers struggled for some semblance of order. “The longer it takes you to get in your seats, the longer it will take for this to start!” said a patient teacher over the barely audible loudspeaker. Enough students settled down to satisfy her demand, and after a rousing intro, Jay-Z strode out from behind the curtain.
The kids immediately surged forward to the lip of the stage, climbing over everybody and everything in their way. A fight quickly broke out right beneath where Jay-Z is standing. “Hey, hey, calm down. Take it easy,” he implored in a soft voice. “Sit down! Get back in your seats!,” shouted the head of security in a far sterner tone. Most students sat, or at least backed away from the stage. A few Chicago cops waited in the wings, at ease but watching.
“Yo, I’m not much of a public speaker,” said Jay-Z, absentmindedly looking down at his ringing cell phone. “So I’m just going to open it up to some questions.” Another mad rush ensued as students lined up at a microphone to talk with the MC. A girl asked who Jay-Z looked up to in high school (“Big Daddy Kane and Rakim”), and a parent asked the rapper about how to get the school off of academic probation (he can’t hear her over the constant roar of excitement). Then it devolved into aggressive requests for pictures and autographs. A girl hopped on stage for a hug. After about half an hour of craziness, Jay-Z is ushered back behind the stage, through the school’s boiler room, and back to the principal’s office.
“How do you like my stuff?” he asked, a goofy grin spreading across his face as he points to the phone, computer, and errant piles of paper surrounding him at the desk where he’s sitting. Does Jay-Z even remember the name of his high school principal back in Brooklyn? “Nah,” he admitted with a chuckle. “No, man.”
“I’m letting them know that I was the exception to the rule,” he stressed, explaining the reason for his school tour. “There’s not too many Jay-Z’s. I’m one in a billion. That’s not happening every day. You got to have something to fall back on, and try to protect yourself.”
Jay-Z struggled for a good example as his attendants get his attention for a photo op, marking the end of his whirlwind visit. “If you want to be an accountant, that’s cool.”