The Unbelievably Bad Metaphors in Esquire's Profile of Jay-Z

Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 8 2010 6:23 PM

The Unbelievably Bad Metaphors in Esquire's Profile of Jay-Z

The February issue of

John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.


features an article entitled "

," by

. If the author's name sounds familiar, it might be because of

she wrote for


, a mildly controversial, fictionalized account of Heath Ledger's death in which Taddeo assumed the late actor's voice and narrated his final hours. While she has taken a more straightforward approach to Jay-Z, the end product is no less bizarre.


I will leave it to others to pick apart Taddeo's dubious assessment of the artist—the

by the

Village Voice

's Zach Baron are a good place to start. Rather, I'd like to call attention to Taddeo's prose style, which is by turns purple ("Stoute's worldview is both oracular and pretend color-blind") and simply nonsensical. (What could she possibly mean when saying that reporters surround Jay-Z in a "buttery little square"?) There is a tendency toward strange compound constructions ("he is real deal-eyed") and a weakness for neologism (Jay-Zion). Her metaphors—"like an endorsement-gathering snowball"—are decidedly mixed. This isn't bad writing. This is writing so baffling and incomprehensible that I hesitate to guess what the writer or her editors were thinking.

Below are my 12 favorite Taddeoisms from the Jay-Z profile. Did I leave out your favorite howler? Post in "


1. "Jay-Z walks into a gracious chamber at Manhattan's Plaza Hotel. It's the same room where, thousands of years ago, crown moldings were born."

2. "He sits down in his hard-backed chair and the reporters collect around him in a buttery little square. But Jay-Z doesn't really sit. What he actually does is slalom down in his chair, real low like it's a water slide. Seventy-three inches of all-black everything, laid out like a ramp."

3. "Jay-Z is a half-dangerous rapper who grew up in the gat-happy projects of the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. He sold crack on feral corners and shot his brother for stealing his ring. Badass, for real."

4. "Look up, left, and listen. Jay-Z's vamping scowl is paraded everywhere, his presence vibrates from sound systems and is woven into the fabrics."

5. "Short and bald with a body type that plugs his surname, Steve Stoute is the underfamous but ubiquitous guy in all the celebrity pictures."

6. "He's black and also liquid-shiny like the mimetic shape-shifting bad guy in

Terminator 2.

He's real deal-eyed, and what first comes off as arrogance you realize later is sentience, with an extra side of arrogance. He's wily as hell, plus hyper-protective and defensive of his products, both intellectual and carbon-based."

7. "Authenticity is Stoute's psalm. It is a religion that he sells best and preaches savagely."

8. "Like an endorsement-gathering snowball tumbling down the great white slopes, that relationship grew bigger and stronger with each partnership."

9. "Along the way, Damon Dash's influence began to wave its tired arms from a lifeboat somewhere off the coast of Jay-Zion."

10. "Inside a large and empty belly of a building in the TriBeCa neighborhood of New York, Damon Dash roosts and inflates. These are his new offices and he's barely moved in, but his aspirations seem to have leased this space forever."

11. "A campfire flickers in his widowed eyes."

12. "It's Jay-Z alone who owns that power in hip-hop; 50 Cent or Nas would not look good at President Clinton's ear. If one of them had walked into that chamber at the Plaza and said, 'Hey, fuck shit,' the laughter that reverberated off the golden tassels would not have rung so loud and so careless. It would have dribbled out a little bit nervously, more like an accidental peeing in one's pants than a sure and expected stream."



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