Jay-Z loses the hyphen, becomes Jay Z

But what does it mean?!? TONY copy chief Noah Tarnow examines hip-hop's biggest punctuation change.

Jay Z

Jay Z Photograph: Jon Klemm

In these momentous historical times, heaven forbid we should ignore the week’s most earth-shattering development: Jay-Z has officially dropped the hyphen from his name. (So I guess that should be “Jay Z.” Apologies, Mr. Bey.) The story was broken on Twitter by Billboard editor Joe Levy, and I feel I must chime in, considering that (a) Levy was thoughtful enough to include “Copy editors: take note” among his precious 140 characters, and (b) as my very first boss in the magazine business (when I was his assistant at The Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Times), Mr. Levy set me on the path that has taken me to the lofty perch of TONY’s ultimate arbiter of punctuation usage: the chair of copy chief.

We are all used to flights of name fancy among pop stars, especially in the hip-hop realm: The late Ol’ Dirty Bastard changed his name a couple of times; Snoop Dogg recently morphed into Snoop Lion (though the pothead deity is credited under the Dogg moniker for the new DreamWorks family-fun fest, Turbo); and I’ve completely lost track of Sean Combs’s current stage name, only knowing that it’s something that sounds even more stupid than whatever it was before. Other genres are not immune to this phenomenon: Panic! At the Disco publicly vacillated on its level of panic several years ago, removing and replacing the exclamation point within an 18-month period. And among my copyediting brethren and sistren, there are legends of the summer of 1993, when the journalistic world had to contend with Prince changing his name to a symbol that caused virtual seizures in all but the hardiest pre-Internet word processors.

It’s difficult, and perhaps uninteresting, to analyze why exactly musicians’ egos often demand a name change, but I’m surprised that Jay Z (still looks wrong) is going this route. Jigga has always struck me as an unusually calculating and levelheaded pop icon (despite encouraging people to call him “Jigga”), so such capriciousness seems unlike him. What does he gain by this? It’s not like he’s faded to obscurity, and is grasping for any desperate semi-newsworthy maneuver to attract a tweet from a former Rolling Stone editor (and a blog post from his long-ago assistant). In case you haven’t heard, Jay’s new album, Magna Carta…Holy Grail, has solicited reviews from a full 116% of American music journalists. So an eye-roller of a publicity stunt seems shockingly unnecessary. But perhaps a pointlessly egomaniacal move isn’t so out of character for S. Carter; I mean, the dude did name his album Magna Carta…Holy Grail. (Currently he’s working on his next album, The Federalist Papers…Ark of the Covenant.)

But here’s what gets me: Look at the cover of MCHG. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that is one of the biggest hyphens the world has ever known. Unless you want to argue that it’s a crossbar for the A and the Z, the album cover elevates the punctuation in the name “Jay-Z” to iconic status (and perhaps symbolic meaning, but I’m too much of hip-hop agnostic to comment on that). So the guy releases a self-aggrandizing album that enjoys saturation levels of cultural dominance, and within a couple weeks, he’s disowning the iconography of its cover. Celebrities, am I right?

As for the real important question—will the Time Out New York style-guide change to reflect Hova’s whim, favoring "Jay Z" over "Jay-Z"—we’re taking a wait-and-see approach. There’s every possibility in the world that Blue Ivy’s poppa will change his mind back by summer’s end, or that he’ll go with a smiley face instead of the hyphen, or he’ll give it up entirely and start calling himself Chester A. Arthur III. This ubiquitous and widely beloved celebrity is a man of mystery, his actions unpredictable, his thinking inscrutable, his purposes obscure. Much like us copy editors.

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Editor: Marley Lynch (@marleyasinbob)


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