IN THE LAST couple of days the internet has been pondering a rather delicious hypothetical question: would you rather take $500,000 in cash or dine with Jay-Z? Many have weighed in on X and TikTok, with some taking the cash, others the dinner with Hov (one of Jay Z’s many nicknames, just FYI).
Radio personality Rickey Smiley, for example, said he would take the dinner to talk to the rapper and learn from him. “That’s something you just can’t buy.”
Earlier this month, a viral video emerged of Jay-Z fist bumping a fan who told him he’d rather take the $500k.
The question actually has a long history on socials with the first recorded instance dating back to an Instagram user in 2017. It has since bubbled away on X, going viral every so often, particularly when a user makes an argument for the dinner, which usually results in a slew of comments ridiculing the choice. Trolls take note: arguing for the dinner is a reliable way to provoke people and get a post to go viral.
The reason the question has seen renewed interest in the last week is because the man himself seemingly settled the debate during an interview with CBS.
“You got to take the money,” said hip-hop’s first billionaire, who’s worth a reported $2.5 billion. Hov’s logic, of course, was impregnable, citing the fact that his wisdom has already been distilled in his body of work.
“You got all that in the music for $10.99,” said Jay-Z, seemingly taking the question seriously and answering it with an earnestness that immediately made me want to break bread with the man, though perhaps he was just pushing his back catalogue, players always play, after all. “Take the $500,000, go buy some albums and listen to the albums. If you piece it together and really listen to the music… it’s all there. Everything I said was going to happen, happened. Everything I said I wanted to do, I’ve done. There’s the blueprint. The blueprint to me and my life and my journey is there already.”
As a man who has had an aspirational rise from selling drugs on the street as a 13-year-old to selling over 140 million records, it’s perhaps natural that Jay-Z should assess the question through the prisms of finance and self-improvement. In the calculus of the streets from which Jay-Z emerged, wisdom is earned, the pursuit of wealth a means of escape. Commodifying these tools is a natural progression of his life’s work. This is a man wise enough to know that 99 problems is a lot of problems to have but if you don’t have either girl problems, issues with police canines or beefs with rap critics, depending on your lyrical interpretation, you’re sweet.
But I would argue framing dinner with Jay-Z as a get-rich, self-help seminar does a disservice to his lived experience and that by doing it you are probably debasing yourself. No dinner is worth half a million dollars and Jay-Z knows it. If you asked this question to 13-year-old Shawn Carter you can bet he’d take the cash. Case closed.
But what if we remove self-improvement as motivation for the dinner, as I think we should—I wouldn’t take a dinner with Michael Jordan hoping to become a better baller . . . or more of an arsehole of a teammate, for that matter.
That leaves three other possible reasons for turning down the cash and sharing a meal with the rapper. First, you just love his music. Fair play, bar for bar, Jay-Z’s one of the best to ever do it. If $500,000 is spare change to you, listening to your hip-hop hero detail his process could make for an illuminating and enjoyable evening. But if that’s the case I personally would be asking him to drop bars over the entrée and main course. The dude has God-given talent as a lyricist and sturdy pipes. As an interlocutor, however, he’s not the same guy. His speaking voice, for one, is far higher than you might expect and is something I’ve always found difficult to reconcile with the vocal heft he manages to conjure in the studio. Do you want to listen to that squeaky voice over three courses? Me either. No, one of the conditions of the dinner is that he has to be rhyming otherwise there’s no reason (see what I did there? Get me in a studio) for you being there.
The second reason you might take meat and potatoes over money, is that you think Jay-Z is impossibly charismatic. There is a case to be made that he is a natural raconteur and bon vivant. The man has lived a life and he will have stories to tell. But again, for my money, or the money I’m giving up for this experience, he’s got to sing for his supper, otherwise what are we doing here? Also, and this is just a small thing, but if I have dinner with somebody, I like there to be a decent amount of back and forth. The difficulty of dinner with Hov, or any celebrity for that matter, is that the dynamic is wholly unequal. You’re going to spend your whole night nodding and smiling. You think Jay-Z is going to ask about your lived experience, where you went to school, your hopes and dreams, that novel that’s sitting on your hard drive? Well, he may ask, but trust me, he won’t listen. That’s not a great dining experience.
A third reason you might dine with the rapper over half a mill in cash, is that you are a starfucker. You cannot help but be drawn to fame’s elusive flame. Hov is as famous as they come and his wife even more so. If that’s your motivation, it’s easy to see you ignoring Jay-Z (who can prattle on a bit) once Bey comes to check on you guys. You’re always going to be drawn to the most famous person in the room and when she retires to the bedroom to “leave you guys to it” you’re going to look back at Jay-Z with barely disguised disappointment. The guy’s used to it, he’s married to one of the most famous women in the world, but it’ll still be awkward. For Hov’s sake, it’s better if you take the cash.
Taking the celebrity component out of the equation for a second, there is also the question of the food and overall value for money. I think we’ve established that Jay-Z isn’t worth $500k. And I don’t care if you’re eating ortolan, which knowing Jay-Z, he might get his chef to prepare special for you, it ain’t worth the remainder of whatever dollar value we’re assigning to Jay-Z’s company. Realistically, Hov is worth about $1,500, maybe $2,500 if he’s dropping bars (that’s probably the charity auction starting price but you can count on some dick-swingers driving it up). Whatever delicacy that’s put in front of you isn’t worth $498,500. The intangibles, the conversation, the brush with fame, the pearls of wisdom, a brief interaction with Bey, the gawk at his art collection, the chance to hold his rare samurai sword, none of it makes up the rest.
So, Jay-Z’s right: take the cash, buy yourself a nice dinner and mainline the dude’s back catalogue. Yes, you’ll wish he was there with you. But then you’ll think about that $500k in your bank account. And you’ll still have a story to tell about the time you turned down dinner with Jay-Z. It won’t be the same as telling someone you once ate dinner with the man. “Oh what’s he like?” “Peculiar fellow. We had to eat ortolan”. But trust me, it will still be a story you can dine out on.
The best and worst celebrity dinner companions
You get the goss on Trav, which you can sell to the tabloids. Win-win.
Dude is precise! You saw him preparing dinner for the fam in the doco. Becks takes care with that shit. You’ll be well fed.
There will be cognac and cigars but don’t bring up the GOAT debate. Dude holds grudges.
You’ll be entertained by masterly oratory and soaring rhetoric but ‘Baz’ does like the sound of his own voice. Don’t ask about Obamacare if you want your dessert before 11. Does know how to compile a playlist, though.
This will take place in a cloud of weed (sorry chronic) smoke, which could stimulate your appetite. Thankfully the man isn’t bad in the kitchen, either.
The food will be good and, on the table, in under 30 mins. He does have a lot of energy though and can be exhausting company. And if you don’t like a dish it’s going to be awkward.
The problem with this guy is that he’s just too damn pretty. You’ll spend the night gazing at those sublime cheekbones and miss the goss he spills about the Dune set.
Johnson is as friendly and charming as they come but he treats food as fuel, so you’re going to get a lot of protein and a lot of steel-cut oats.