Jay Z's "Spiritual" Most Heartbreaking Lyrics Are So Important To Listen To, Especially Now
I don't even know how to encompass the horror of what's been happening in our country of late, because the tragedies come right on the heels of each other, but some people are better at this than I am, as evidenced from the lyrics to Jay Z's "Spiritual". The song was released on TIDAL on Jul. 7, in the same week that Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were fatally shot by police, not to mention the day before the heartbreaking shooting of the police officers along a protest route in Dallas on Jul. 8. But this song isn't just about these deaths, it's about the deaths of every unarmed black man and woman killed out by police in our broken system. In fact, Jay Z wrote "Spiritual" a while ago, and Top Dawg Entertainment's Terrence "Punch" Henderson encouraged him to release it after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014, but Jay Z held off, telling the TDE president that the issue will "always be relevant." That sentiment is maybe the most heartbreaking part of this, because we've not yet been able to prove it wrong with any significant progress toward a safer world.
It's something that hurts my heart to acknowledge, but we won't get anywhere ignoring the issue, so it's important for pieces of art like "Spiritual" to be released, that help us grapple with the enormity the issue by at the very least giving us a vocabulary for it. Jay Z does an excellent job of getting that across in the heart-wrenching lyrics from "Spiritual," beginning with the intro:
And it says, now the works of the flesh are manifestMeaning, the things that are in the sinful natureThey always come to the surfaceAnd when they come, when they come to the surfaceThey come to the surface as demons
This is a terrifying but important thought, because it means we really need to change hearts and minds, we can't just shove ideas down and hope they go away. People really need to challenge how they think and feel before we can get to meaningful change, otherwise the inherent white supremacy that this country was build on will find its way out and cause more deaths.
Yeah, I am not poison, no I am not poisonJust a boy from the hood thatGot my hands in the airIn despair don't shootI just wanna do good, ah
Of course you recognize the reference to the phrase "hands up, don't shoot," which originated from the Michael Brown shooting and has now been adopted by the Black Lives Matter movement at large, but there's also that gut-wrenching phrase "I am not poison."
Can't even raise my little daughter, my little CarterWe call her Blue cause it's sad thatHow can I be a dad that, I never had thatShattered in a million pieces, where the glass at
Then there's this verse:
Where's the little boy I knew?I must have forgot himStuntin', of course we never grewBut we're alone now and I'm singing this song for you
I think this is maybe the saddest image; one of a literal millionaire looking back at himself as a child and wishing that he could change something for that little kid. It's just more proof that you can't push these feelings down, no matter who you are — sooner or later they'll rise to the surface, so we have to confront them, and do better. It's way past time.