The Real Story Behind Jay-Z’s #OWS Shirt Controversy

Written by J.Monkey. Posted in Spotlight, Style

Published on November 14, 2011 with 3 Comments

You might’ve seen it hit the web a couple days ago but unless you ordered one right away the window of opportunity had closed. Now the Rocawear #Occupy shirt is back. There’s a boatload of controversy surrounding it and a lot of half stories from both those that oppose and support it, but TRU sifted through the mess to tell you what went down.

Last Tuesday Globalgrind published a snapshot of uncle Rush and Jay-Z behind the scenes in Madison Square Garden at the NY stop of the ‘Watch The Throne’ tour. The shirt became a hot item right away and went up for sale last Friday, only to be pulled from online stores in the following weekend. Reporters at Business Insider had already seen many commercial companies had already adopt imagery and slogans of the movement without any actual ties to it and had inkling this was the case again. They asked Rocawear what was up and received the following statement:

The ‘Occupy All Streets’ T shirt was created in support of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. Rocawear strongly encourages all forms of constructive expression, whether it be artistic, political or social. ‘Occupy All Streets’ is our way of reminding people that there is change to be made everywhere, not just on Wall Street. At this time we have not made an official commitment to monetarily support the movement.

This raised eybrows among casual supporters as well as protesters worldwide. TMZ reported unrest (to put it mildly) among protesters who felt insulted but by then the shirts were already nowhere to be found. Russell Simmons however, quickly defended the shirts:

[blackbirdpie url=”!/UncleRUSH/status/135891321440317441″]

Globalgrind editor Michael Skolnik went a step further and wrote a scathing piece on what he perceived to be a media-concocted false controversy.

Jay NEVER said that they weren’t going to give the money away; Rocawear said they just weren’t sure where yet. When Russell gave a donation to the Occupy Wall Street movement, there was a lot of confusion about where it should go…should it go to the medical team, the kitchen, the library, the clean-up crew, the media center, security…these were things we had to figure out. But, this isn’t really about where Jay should give the money, cause that is his decision and I respect that. It’s a lot bigger than t-shirt sales and you all know that. I challenge the media to spend as much time as they have on the made-up controversy about the sale of a Rocawear t-shirt to the real issue that there is a fast growing percentage of our population that can’t even afford a t-shirt.

They now even go as far as saying it’s all lies and the shirts were never pulled. This is the point where the smell of bovine faeces hits the nostrils. The strong words don’t help the case because at some point they were in fact pulled from the Rocawear site without any explanation. Word from Roc4Life is that their post had to be removed but that the shirts also sold out in a day while demand for them kept pouring in. The shirts are actually now up for sale again, so the assumption many media outlets made might not have been that well-informed, but let’s not act like the conclusion they came to was that strange and the whole controversy was fully manufactured. Besides, why not put up ‘temporarily out of stock’?

Occupy All Streets

Michael Skolnik and Russell Simmons stress that Rocawear have never said they wouldn’t donate but they never said they would either. Meanwhile they are still capitalizing off a movement they have no ties to whatsoever, while others are actually out protesting. Agitation from those same people was to be expected. The reasoning that the shirts create ‘awareness’ seems skewed too, as the only people unaware of the economic malaise and the protests are probably comatose. Besides, if that were the goal, a statement, or a freestyle or an actual song by Jay and/or Kanye on the #OWS movement would create tons more awareness than a shirt ever could. Blaming anyone other than the Roc themselves for this controversy rings hollow, it all started with their own vague statement.

That doesn’t mean there is a malignant force at work either. Take another look at that statement. How easy would it have been to add “but we are currently looking into the best way to support them” on to it, like Michael Skolnik even implied they were doing. They didn’t say they would, they didn’t say they wouldn’t, and there’s a sense of ambiguity to that statement that you can easily assume to be purposeful. In fact, coming from a multimillion dollar company like Rocawear it’s hard to believe it wasn’t. The most obvious reason for this purposeful ambiguity; they just didn’t know. Maybe they hadn’t thought of it yet, maybe they were searching for a best way to support but didn’t want to promise anything until they found it or maybe they really thought merely ‘creating awareness’ would be perceived as a blessing. All that’s left now is speculation and a real answer will probably never reach since every statement they now make will be perceived as damage control regardless of the intent. What seems clear though, is when they were asked, they didn’t really know.

Rocawear should have seen the question coming and have a decent statement prepared. Not to say that the ROC were running foul but the way they handled the situation created a deck stacked against them. And no, if it indeed turns out to be the case after all, it’s not okay to simply co-opt the iconography of a movement without any real investment in their philosophy, simply for monetary gain, especially not if that exact attitude is part of what said movement is protesting. Besides, the world already has enough douchebags running around in Che Guevara shirts without an inkling of understanding of the Cuban revolution.

It’s still not to late to fix this, Jay. When the fresh batch of shirts arrives, go over there, hand out a significant batch and ask the protesters themselves how you can help. Show them that even though you’re part of the 1% you haven’t forgotten how it felt among the 99. That tee is pretty fresh too, would be a shame if a story stained it.



1982 was when Jaap van der Doelen aka J.Monkey shot his way out his mom dukes. A mere two years later he was already battling Big Brother and The Illuminati. Whenever he has time to spare from those efforts he writes (about music, mostly), hosts a radio show and designs graphics for a living. He lives in The Netherlands where he continues to be winning.

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There are currently 3 Comments on The Real Story Behind Jay-Z’s #OWS Shirt Controversy. Perhaps you would like to add one of your own?

  1. J…. Man… Y’all so underappreciated over here. Keep up the good work.

    • aaron, man, i don’t know you, but i love your comments. lol thanks for the love!

    • We’ll do our best, thanks Aaron!

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