Is Jay Z like you and me?
Does he misplace the keys to his hovercraft? Lock himself out of his private island? Have trouble deciding what to watch now that "Breaking Bad" is over? Need a month before he stops writing "2013" on his checks?
Jay Z, who appears Thursday in concert at the United Center, is respected as a businessman and acclaimed as an artist; his wife, Beyonce — as ambitious, well-regarded and savvy as her spouse — is arguably his professional equal. Together, Jayonce are a powerful, handsome portrait of contentment. Forbes named them the richest celebrity couple in America, pegging their combined earnings from June 2012 to June 2013 at $95 million; a recent Bloomberg Businessweek piece estimated Jay Z's net worth alone at $475 million.
How many problems can this guy have?
According to his now 10-year-old signature song, Jay Z has precisely "99 Problems." And in fact, in the almost six months since Jay Z appeared with Justin Timberlake at Soldier Field, the rapper has seen actual (if relative) hardship: In September, his annual Philadelphia music festival was lambasted on CBC radio for excessive security by Queens of the Stone Age singer Josh Homme ("People never say anything bad about Jay Z, do they?"); a month later, Jay Z's fashion collaboration with Barneys New York became mired in criticism after the luxury retailer was accused of racial profiling by two African-American shoppers; then, in November, ESPN.com broke the news that Jay Z and his new Roc Nation Sports agency were being investigated after the rapper gave former New York Yankees player Robinson Cano a $33,900 designer watch (possibly violating Major League Baseball Players Association rules about pricey gifts between agents and players).
Of course, Homme and Jay Z have since rectified their spat; Jay Z's Barneys collection was said to have brought in more than $1 million for Jay Z's Shawn Carter Foundation scholarship fund; and though the watch situation remains unclear, the rapper has shown a willingness to play by sports agency rules, divesting himself of his stake in the Brooklyn Nets basketball team and its home court, the Barclays Center (receiving a reported $1.5 million for his investment).
So, 99 problems, eh?
Could it be that Hova doth protest too much? At 44, and stuck with a certain canon of songs, has Jay Z become the 21st century Mick Jagger, who, at 70, is still singing about the absence of satisfaction in his life?
Or maybe … Jay Z actually has 99 problems. With this in mind, I spoke with music critics, record store owners, culture watchers, random passers-by — and mined data from the artist's life and lyrics since "99 Problems" came out — to come up with a playfully speculative, occasionally serious compendium of 99 potential aches and pains. The following is presented in no particular order, because, well, it's a hard knock life:
1. His $33,000 watch gift to Robinson Cano "presents a problem." (USA Today)
2. (I have) so many watches/ I need eight arms. (Jay Z, "Who Gon Stop Me," 2011)
3. Fame is blinding my eyes. (Jay Z, "Hollywood," 2006)
4. "Finding a secluded vacation spot." (Derrick Brown, director of urban programming, Clear Channel Chicago)
5. "Realizing his wife makes better music and sells more records than he does." (Bob Gendron, music critic)
6. Spent all my Euros/ On tuxes and weird clothes. (Jay Z, "Tom Ford," 2013)
7. My nails get dirty. (Jay Z, "Part II," 2013)
8. Earth is boring … (Jay Z, "Lift Off," 2011)
9. Was accused of turning his back "on social responsibility" by Harry Belafonte. (The Hollywood Reporter, 2012)
10. "Proving to Harry Belafonte that he's down for the black community." (J.R. Bang, hip-hop radio personality based in Chicago)
11. "Which car seat to use in his Bentley." (Bang)