Visitors to Brooklyn Public Library’s (BPL) primary location just off Grand Army Plaza today, July 13, found the library doors shuttered — and its imposing front façade papered over in lyrics by American rapper and record producer Jay-Z.

Per BPL’s website, the building will remain closed all day today for a “special event,” and security guards onsite confirmed to Hyperallergic that it was “an event for Jay-Z” but could not say whether the rapper would be in attendance. BPL declined to provide more details about the evening’s happenings. (Note: The following day, and after this article was published, a spokesperson confirmed that a “surprise” exhibition featuring artifacts, awards, photos, and magazine covers related to the rapper’s career, as well as a replica of Jay-Z’s and Juan Perez’s co-owned Baseline Studios, would be on view at the Central Library beginning July 14.)

This secretive event lines up with the rest of the Brooklyn Public Library network’s summer programming celebrating 50 years of hip-hop, the genre born right here in New York City. Rumor has it that DJ Kool Herc pioneered the genre during a house party in the South Bronx on August 11, 1973, where he brought out two turntables to isolate the “breakbeat,” and the rest is history. Bedford-Stuyvesant native Jay-Z, whose first album Reasonable Doubt dropped in 1996, has been credited with pushing the boundaries of rap and hip-hop through his own discography and as the founder of the talent management and record label company Roc Nation, which has supported the careers of Rihanna, Rapsody, Megan Thee Stallion, and Lil Uzi Vert, just to name a few.

Another view of the BPL’s Central Library facade

This afternoon, many New Yorkers gathered outside of the Central Library to take photos from behind the barricades. Others who were out of the loop despite the website notice of closure were disappointed that they couldn’t go in today. In the sweltering heat, one little boy’s face crumpled with sadness when a security guard told him that the library was closed. There also seemed to be some confusion out front as people with IDNYC and passport office appointments for today were turned away by security, despite the library specifying that those services were still accessible.

One frustrated would-be patron, Michelle, a local who preferred not to disclose her last name, vented that she was hoping to run some errands and use the printers at the library today.

“It’s unfair that the library is closed for a private Jay-Z and Beyoncé event,” she lamented, citing the local buzz and hints from security guards. She also pointed to their canon exclusivity when the couple rented out the entire floor of the Lenox Hill hospital when Beyoncé gave birth to her daughter, Blue Ivy.

“Tomorrow’s another day, but it’s annoying that I didn’t know anything about it, because I thought it was just a regular day,” Michelle concluded. That seemed to be a shared sentiment among those who were hoping to use the library’s resources or cool off with some air conditioning.

But for now, passersby can enjoy reading along to some of Jay-Z’s biggest hits: “Hard Knock Life (1998), “Things That U Do,” (1999), “Hovi Baby” (2002), “Dirt Off My Shoulder” (2003), “Encore” (2003), “So Ambitious” (2009), “Justify My Thug” (2003), “Beach Chair” (2006), “Sweet” (2007), and “Smile” (2017).

News Update 7/14/23 5:30pm EST: This article has been updated to include details of the BPL exhibition The Book of HOV.

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...

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