That cringe-worthy rap on ‘Succession’ must be a reference to James Murdoch, erstwhile hip-hop mogul
James Murdoch says he doesn’t watch HBO’s viperish boardroom drama Succession. (“Not even a peek,” he told the New Yorker. “Why would I?”) But if Rupert Murdoch’s younger son did somehow catch last night’s episode, he might have experienced an odd feeling of familiarity.
In a scene that sets a new standard for barely tolerable cringe-worthiness on Succession, Kendall Roy—a fictional maybe-doppelgänger for James Murdoch (played brilliantly by Jeremy Strong)—launches into an abjectly terrible rap at a tribute dinner for his father, L to the OG—or simply media mogul Logan Roy (Brian Cox) to the rest of us. Kendall takes to the stage and drops some knowledge on the black-tie crowd with rhymes like “Handmade suits, raking in loot / Five-star general, y’all best salute / Bitches be catty, but the king’s my daddy.”
Kendall’s excruciating performance was all some media junkies and fans needed to prove what they’ve been speculating about since before the first episode of season one had even premiered in 2018—that Succession‘s Logan Roy and his four scheming offspring are stand-ins for media mogul Rupert Murdoch and three of his scheming offspring.
Like the Roy family, Murdoch’s three children—James, older brother Lachlan, and sister Elizabeth—have also spent their lives competing for both the reins of the company and, reportedly, their father’s favor. Succession creator Jesse Armstong knows his subjects well. While he says the show is fictional, the script he previously wrote about the real-life Murdoch clan is deep background for the series and its characters. For example, older sibling Lachlan, who now runs Fox News, seems more simpatico with this father’s political and business leanings as younger brother Roman (Kieran Culkin) does. Both of the Roy brothers were prepped for their executive roles with management training at Waystar Royko subsidiaries and overseas posts before joining their father in the executive suite. Fictional Kendall ran overseas operations in Hong Kong, and Roman famously completed a management training program with the company’s amusement park division.
The business parallel is the most interesting and the easiest to identify. Logan’s desperate and dogged pursuit of the blue-chip award-winning PGM media also closely mirrors Murdoch’s own pursuit and eventual purchase of the once prim Wall Street Journal from the Bancroft family, who now say they regret the sale.
And now there’s last night’s hip-hop spectacle to add to the mounting evidence. The rap scene offered support to the theory that Kendall is at the very least inspired by Murdoch’s son James, who has made a career doing things his father wouldn’t do in a million years, including investing in rap music.
James’s passion for hip-hop is well known: He left Harvard in the mid-’90s to found Rawkus Records and signed some of New York City’s most notable artists, including Mos Def. (He later sold Rawkus to News Corp, his father’s company.)
More recently, Murdoch fils purchased a controlling stake in the Tribeca Film Festival and a company that publishes comics and graphic novels. He has also invested $20 million into a virtual reality entertainment company and donated to Democratic presidential candidates John Hickenlooper and Pete Buttigieg, saying the 2020 election is a “really crucial moment” for liberal democratic values. If it makes his father angry, that’s probably just a nice perk, even though he never publicly says anything overtly critical of his father, but his passion for liberal causes might just speak for itself. When the New Yorker asked him whether the two talk, he would only say, “There are periods of time where we do not.”