Personal finance expert Ash Exantus played Jay-Z's "The Story of OJ" over and over again the first time he heard it.
In fact, he even remembers the day — it was June 30, 2017 — and Exantus had stayed up until midnight for Jay-Z's latest album 4:44 to finally be released.
Nominated for "Record of the Year" at the upcoming Grammy Awards, "The Story of OJ" carried an important financial message that, Exantus would later learn, is examined throughout the rest of Jay-Z’s album. “Financial freedom,” Jay-Z says, is the key to success — particularly within the black community.
And for Exantus, Jay-Z’s words have impacted his life so much that he transformed them into a personal finance book that examines and builds on the music mogul's insights. Exantus’s recently published book, The Wake Up Call: Financial Inspiration Learned From 4:44 + A Step By Step Guide on How to Implement Each Financial Principle, includes guidance on how to build credit, take steps toward home ownership and become an entrepreneur.
“Whether it’s talking about not spending your money frivolously, or fixing your credit, or becoming a homeowner, or starting your business, or talking about spirituality, a lot of these concepts are really about you as an individual,” Exantus told Money. “Build yourself up first, but build yourself up with the community in mind.”
These financial lessons are particularly resonant for the black community, Exantus said. Indeed, the first line of the book describes Jay-Z’s Grammy-nominated album as “the blueprint to bridging the wealth gap and solving economic inequalities for African Americans.” Jay-Z’s delve into financial advice for the black community is not a new concept that he focuses on in his music, but Exantus said it is more pronounced on 4:44.
For Exantus, Jay-Z’s advice is particularly personal. “Jay-Z raised me,” Exantus said. Jay-Z grew up in the projects in Brooklyn, while Exantus grew up in the St. Nicholas housing projects in Harlem. And both he and Jay-Z enjoyed success in their respective industries. As Jay-Z rose to the top of Def Jam Recordings, Exantus became a vice president at JP Morgan Chase Bank at just 24 years old. They both left those businesses to become entrepreneurs. Among his many business ventures, Jay-Z launched his own label, Roc Nation, in 2008, and launched Tidal, a music streaming platform, in 2015.
"A lot of the similar routes in our stories is what allowed me to write in a way where I can channel what he can see or what he was thinking," Exantus said.
Exantus's book includes step-by-step guides on how to create a budget, how to get your credit back on track, how to create passive income, how to buy a home, how to start your own business and how to create economic empowerment in the black community.
“If you played basketball, Jay-Z threw up the alley-oop, and I’m the center and I just had to dunk it down,” Exantus said of the financial lessons throughout the album.
Here are several examples of how Exantus interpreted Jay-Z's lyrics.
“Financial freedom my only hope / F--k livin’ rich and dyin’ broke”
Song: “The Story of OJ”
Exantus, in his book: “Oftentimes our focus is on living for now and spending our income on things that bring instant gratification, but when it’s all said and done many of us aren’t able to leave our children in a better financial position than how we arrived here."
“When we spend with no direction or goal, we put our livelihood and those we are responsible for in jeopardy of continuing the cycle of poverty."
“I told him, ‘Please don’t die over the neighborhood / That your momma rentin’”
Song: “The Story of OJ”
Exantus, in an interview with Money: “In a community where people own their own property, they take care of it. I had that contrast. I grew up in the projects — and we didn’t care.”
“When people get themselves together individually, it changes their schools; it changes politics; it helps decrease crimes. All of those things that help you together as a community. This is why cooperative economics is important.”
“And we merrily merrily eatin’ off these streams”
Song: “Family Feud”
Exantus, in an interview with Money: “If we learned anything from the great recession of 2008, it’s that if you are relying on just one source of income, you’re creating economic suicide. You can’t control what the economy is going to do. You don’t know what bubble is going to burst next that’s going to affect your income.”
“I don’t care if you’re a top executive at a Fortune 500 company. I believe you should have multiple streams of income,” he added. “Are you using that money to buy income-producing assets? Are you investing in someone else’s business? Are you investing in the stock market? What are you doing with the money that you are making that will allow you to create passive income.”
“What’s better than one billionaire, two? ‘Specially if they’re from the same hue as you”
Song: “Family Feud”
Exantus, in an interview with Money: “You need to maximize your full potential, learn how money works, use that to build your community collectively so that you can be interdependent in your community in the United States so that no one can look at you and say you aren’t contributing to the overall economy."
“If we collectively start to maximize our full potential, then the exception becomes the norm and now we have a bigger voice.”