Last week, our nation's attention was captured by an extraordinary news story: Jay-Z, for the final night of his concert residence at New York's Barclays Center, travelled to the venue on the subway. He graciously took photos and conversed with fans, then departed at his stop as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
Now, Jay grew up in New York, and his stage name is a reference to the J/Z line. But this was clearly a calculated stunt. Looking this average probably cost him a bunch of money. He was flanked by police officers and private security, but that's just what people saw on the surface — you'd be naive to think Jay-Z or his significant corporate organization would gamble on the fate of a top moneymaker in an unhygienic subway car. They undoubtedly had a special one built, then had a casting call to convincingly populate it with the kind of leering grotesques we call "normals."
However he pulled it off, it was a nice bit of everymanning. Like any plutocrat, Jay-Z knows the unhinged logic of the American peasant: if Jay-Z is on a train, and I'm on a train, then I could also be in a Maybach. But the stunt works on another level, too. Jay wasn't just trying to maintain "street cred" by doing regular New York stuff — he was doing something much more sophisticated: reverse flossing.
Reverse flossing is when a rapper is so incredibly wealthy that doing normal stuff creates an absurd juxtaposition, shedding new light on just how superior they are. "Do you know why I look so like a god in this train car?" Jay is asking. "Because it is fucking ridiculous that I would be here."
Look at it this way: Jay-Z has a hilarious amount of money. He high-fives the president more often than you eat a hot lunch. If Jay-Z wanted, he could spend the rest of his life on a Dom Perignon drip, getting pleasured in ways you've never heard of by someone more beautiful than you knew existed. Jay-Z doing a regular-person thing is the equivalent of you or I giving away all of our worldly possessions and living in the deepest Alaskan wilderness for 15 years. It's high-level monastic daredevilry; it's recklessly enlightened.
Plenty of other superstars have reverse-flossed. During the December blizzards of 2010, 50 Cent took to Twitter to post photos of himself out in the suburbs, shoveling sidewalks for $100 a pop — even when he's charging high prices, the concept is ridiculous: it's inconceivable that he could never need or want to do physical labor in his entire life. 50 Cent has hundreds of millions of dollars. Every one sidewalk he shoveled equals, for a normal man, one traumatic tour of duty in Afghanistan.
A personal favorite example of reverse flossing is the Clipse single "Popular Demand (Popeyes)." On the hook, the extravagantly rich Pharrell Williams raps, "That new CL slide/outside of Popeye's, eating chicken and fries." Popeye's is delicious to bucktoothed rustics like you and me, but to Pharrell it's like eating cat food. He just wants you to see how weird his car looks outside the restaurant.