David Johnson tells Jay-Z everything.
He emails the superstar about his family, his career, and his ambitions. He sends messages about his kids written as if to an uncle. He sends what could be read as either op-eds or diary entries, depending on the context; sent from and to a personal email address, they assume a confessional tone. He sends lyrics, poems and songs, written from both his perspective and Jay’s. He sends photos and videos, tossed-off notes and page-long manifestos.
Most significantly, Johnson questions Jay-Z about his place in life, in society, and in black culture with startling confidence. Sometimes it reads like a frank mogul-to-mogul talk: “I hate to say ‘I told you so’ but I told you so,” Johnson wrote to Jay in July 2010, just after Lebron James famously announced his intentions to play for Miami, rather than the rapper’s own Nets. “Lebron has an ego and wants to be his own man,” he explained, “he doesn’t want to be in your shadow.” Other times, it’s an impassioned appeal from a concerned peer. “Make a real difference,” Johnson demanded at the end of another message sent two years later. “Give like Martin and Fight like Malcolm. Black kids are your kids. Don’t forget that Jay.”
Race is of particular interest to Johnson, and a recurring subject in his emails. Over the phone, Johnson emphasized his belief that, as a public figure, Jay has extraordinary responsibilities as a role model — as does his family. “Beyonce is one of the most beautiful women on the planet,” he told me, “and I try to express to [Jay], her hair is blonde. How do you expect to make people love themselves, love the hair they have?”
Since March 2010, Johnson has sent at least 262 emails to one of the biggest stars in the world, compiling an incidental diary in the process. He hasn’t received a single reply.
If he weren’t sure his messages were being seen, Johnson probably would have stopped sending them a long time ago. But he’s confident that not only is Jay-Z opening the emails — he’s also reading them. And it’s possible he’s right.
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