Retro Spin: “Money Ain’t A Thang” by Jermaine Dupri, featuring Jay-Z


Once a performer becomes a mogul, or a producer, or a writer of children’s books, or reinvents him or herself in a variety of ways, it is easy for the public to forget what was like when that person was earnestly creating music. That is true for Jermaine Dupri and Jay-Z. While neither has faded from the spotlight completely, the late 1990s they had a string of hits or collaborations that were based on heavy beats augmented by lighter faster beats that highlight the words of the verses.

Why “Money Ain’t A Thang” matters

At first glance, this 1998 hit looks like another “I have more material stuff than you” hip-hop song. But a closer look at the chorus reveals a song with bigger heart and bigger ideologies than originally indicated. This “bigger” idea can be found in the lines: “Put it down hard for my dogs that’s locked in the bing/when you hit the bricks/new whips/money ain’t a thing.”

The line is spoken throughout by Jay-Z. The line is stating that the speaker has sympathy for his friends who are in jail. When they get out, he will get them no cars. Money is no object.

Certainly, the rest of the song does have the bravado and braggadocio that listeners expect from rap songs. For his part, Dupri keeps his focus on all that glitters and gleams. “Jigga, I don’t like it if it don’t gleam clean/to hell with the price/ the money ain’t a thang,” he raps. In an almost analytical mode he attempts to tell his hypothetical (or at least unknown to us) foe about why he has not made more money: “Where I’m at/ your check, you better double that/
And personally your raps is where the trouble at/” the line is treated as the comedic moment that it is. This, too, is the heart of the song. The idea of one rapper’s money-making abilities being better than another’s, simply because he is the greatest rapper. Despite some audiences’ protests against the “get money” rap songs of the 1990s, they are part of the history of black music.

There are plenty of examples from songs that are accepted as treasures of US roots. For example, when Muddy Waters sings, “I got 700 dollars/don’t you mess with me” in “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man,” it is the same idea. Money buys comfort, protection and sometimes exclusion. Money also serves as proof of having lived a correctly ordered life, and others are encouraged to be like the successful performer.

“Money Ain’t A Thang” stayed on the Billboard chart for a total of 28 weeks, peaking at No. 8. The duo of Jay-Z and Dupri were nominated for a Grammy for their efforts.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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