Breaking Rap: JAY-Z is the Hip-Hop Gus Fring

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JAY-Z Breaking Bad

You couldn’t tell by looking at the exterior of his drug empire, it was easier to believe he owns a chain of fried chicken business before assuming he's a prominent methamphetamine distributor. A dapper dresser that was never seen without a tie and drove a modest 1998 Volvo V70, he had the calmness of a Buddhist priest, DEA agents, and murderous snipers couldn’t uncoil his cool. He spoke with eloquence and politeness, the charisma of a magician that silently cast spells from behind his oval-shaped spectacles. Gustavo Fring, one of Vince Gilligan’s masterpieces.

If you believe the lyrics, he sold kilos of dope before selling CDs. If you had no prior knowledge of his rap career, there would be no traces of his drug dealing history now. Only Fox News dwells on his past, dismissing his every endeavor, overlooking his transition into a businessman. He’s always in control, the unbreakable composure that you only see in lion tamers. An outraged sister-in-law throwing haymakers and raging critics couldn’t shatter his impenetrable barrier of calmness. He speaks with ardor and charm, the charisma of a matador that’s never been mauled by a bull. From Marcy Projects to Opera's couch, President of Def Jam to White House walkthroughs, Shawn Corey Carter is the hustler that could sell fire in hell.

These are two men that believe in the power of their presence. Gustavo was everywhere, supervising Los Pollos Hermanos employees, touring Albuquerque DEA’s field office, meeting with the Cartel, he only appeared when necessary. He considered himself “a careful man,” calculated, the king on a chess board. Jay isn’t accessible. When he tweets, it’s to make a statement. Some called his update this weekend an outcry due to the recent Tidal criticism, but it’s a well-orchestrated PR move. When he speaks, it will erupt discussion. Jay has branded an unkempt fro as a signal that an album is in the works. There’s never a superfluous tactic in his arsenal of maneuvers. Even during his short retirement, it never felt like Jay was out of sight, out of mind. It took a calculated man to go from the corners of Brooklyn to a partnership with the Brooklyn Nets.

When Gus was introduced, we knew nothing of his history. We saw a businessman that had a secret, he wasn’t like Tuco, someone that wore their mercilessness like clothing. It wasn’t until we saw him turn a box cutter into a murder weapon did we finally see him remove the faux George Jefferson mask and see him for the merciless kingpin that lays dormant underneath the business attire. With Jay, it was the opposite. He documented street struggles in his music, the triumphant and regrets, he didn’t get tangled in the concrete jungle but escaped and found a place in the corporate world. Gus' vendetta against the Cartel was his downfall. That immense hatred is what brought him to Hector that fateful day. Jay doesn’t seem to have any enemies that can stir up feelings that will make him revert back to the guy that rapped, “my crew and me commit atrocities like we got immunity.” What happens if that barrier is broken?

Men of power aren’t trusting. Misplaced faith turned Caesars’ kingdom into Brutus’ palace. Mike was the only character that Gus trusted to handle business justly. He played an immense role in the overall operation, he’s the muscle and trusted comrade. He handled mundane pickups and stealthy murders, whatever Gus needed. In that sense, Young Guru is Jay’s Mike. How many times have we heard Jay ask Guru to turn his headphones up? Get the levels right? More than anyone, Guru’s magic is almost in every song, remix, and album. He was more than an in-house engineer, but an invaluable asset since the two came together for "The Dynasty." Jay trusted him with Roc-A-Fella albums, Def Jam albums, even his wife. He had the belief that Guru would always deliver, the same trust that Gus put in Mike.

Doing business with Walter White is what ultimately brought the downfall of Gustavo Fring. He lost control, he failed to sever the ties between teacher and student, and fatally paid for it. Dame Dash is JAY-Z’s Walter White, except in this reality, Jay/Gus won. Jay needed Dame’s business savvy to take his career to the next level. The ties were cut when Jay realized he could stand on his own two. It was a move that Gus couldn’t make, he risked to lose too much if blood was spilled. Jay pulled the trigger, accepting the consequences of such an action. When a trusted ally becomes a foe there will only be one that comes out victorious. Gus needed Walt, Dame needed Jay, not vice-versa.

Jay Z and Gustavo Fring will be immortalized in pop culture. Powerful men that built empires on an underworld foundation. Despite a chain of restaurants and other businesses, Gus couldn’t detach himself from methamphetamine. He was hooked, high on the money, addicted to the power, confident in his secrecy, a full proof organization. That’s similar to Jay’s inability to retire from rap. No matter how much currency he receives from his countless ventures, he’s unable to remove himself from the recording booth. No amount of business suits and investments will remove his background as a rap artist.

Gus' final scene on Breaking Bad is a gruesome one. Half his face is blown off but he’s still walking. The kind of image you expect to see in The Walking Dead. Before he passes on to the next world, he adjusts his tie, the kind of suave move I expect from Jay. Two gentlemen, one with too much power, the other not enough. Apple may be the bomb that blows away Jay, but I wouldn’t count him out. Remember, he survived "Ether."

By Yoh, aka Better Call Yoh, aka @Yoh31