How JAY-Z Is Keeping The Conversation About Race Going, Since ‘4:44’ Was Only The Beginning
Husband, father, and ultimate truth-teller JAY-Z's intimate interview with the New York Times is going viral, and for all the right reasons. And no, this isn't about the artist finally confirming his infidelity to Beyoncé. This has everything to do with JAY-Z, once again, baring his soul in hopes of keeping the conversation about race going. And luckily for fans, his culture-shifting album, 4:44, was only the beginning.
By now, most would consider JAY-Z to be one of the biggest influences in hip-hop. Fans can totally attest that he has been dropping gems about all-things race in America throughout his career. What sets 4:44 apart from all of the other straight-shooting works in his discography is its vulnerable tone — which has been massively celebrated since its release.
Along with celebration, however, comes with its fair share of criticism. JAY-Z's song "The Story Of O.J.," which called out the modern issues enslaving black Americans, was slammed for having an anti-semitic lyric. JAY-Z simply brushed the backlash off as hypocrisy in the Times interview, and though he's open to people interpreting his music differently, he was insistent that folks were refusing to see the true message in the track. Let JAY-Z tell it, and "The Story Of O.J." is all about being self-aware — knowing where you come from, in order to map out where you're going.
Learning about the importance of self-awareness happened when the rapper journeyed into therapy. Not that JAY-Z wasn't self-aware already, or anything — his catalogue over the years proves this to be true — but after tapping into a new level of introspectiveness, he was then able to see the source of hurt in others. And according to the interview, the most important nugget that JAY-Z learned from his time in therapy was that "everything is connected."
"Every emotion is connected and it comes from somewhere," he said. "And just being aware of it. Being aware of it in everyday life ... you're at such an advantage." And that most certainly goes for racism, too. The rapper continued, saying,
"You know, you realize that if someone's racist toward you, it ain't about you. It's about their upbringing and what happened to them, and how that led them to this point. You know, most bullies bully."
That's not to say that those committing terrible acts should have your sympathy or anything. Throughout the interview, JAY-Z uses the analogy of treating a tumor to perfectly illustrate this picture. For him, identifying what caused the "tumor" will ultimately lead to a proper diagnosis, and once diagnosed, you'll have a better chance at treating the source.
Yes, the "tumor" here is racism, and in terms of the treatment, JAY-Z believes that it should consist of open and honest dialogue. Masking the tumor's hurt with painkillers, or in this case, shunning racists from the rest of the world, won't solve the problem. And as history has shown, choosing not to talk about racism openly has only magnified the issue. Instead of shying away from these tough discussions, sending clear messages on how to hold people accountable for their actions should be the goal.
JAY-Z used the public condemnation of ex-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling as an example of how not to treat these individuals in the future. Sterling was banned from the NBA and fined $2.5 million after recordings of him using racist language toward black and Latino communities leaked in 2014. (In a May 2014 interview with Anderson Cooper, Sterling asked for forgiveness and insisted that he was "baited" into making a "terrible mistake.") In his interview, JAY-Z makes it clear that he thinks Sterling should have been punished for his actions. But he calls banning Sterling from the league a "misstep," and doesn't consider it to be much of a punishment.
According to the rapper, when shunning racists, you only send them back into hiding. These are behaviors that must be talked through, and dealt with, and not shoved under the rug. He explained,
"The great thing about Donald Trump being president is now we’re forced to have the dialogue. Now we’re having the conversation on the large scale; he’s provided the platform for us to have the conversation."
"What you reveal, you heal," JAY-Z later added. And he couldn't have said it any better. The messages laced throughout 4:44 will certainly help to further the dialogue about race in America that JAY-Z is adamant about having. He feels that, with his celebrity, he has a responsibility to talk about the many concerns of his community. As pointed out in "The Story Of O.J.," obtaining wealth and celebrity status doesn't erase the fact that he's still a black man, or strip him away from the heavily disenfranchised group he was born into. Because as he so eloquently put it in the interview, "until everyone's free, no one's free, and that's just a fact."
Knowing that being wealthy or a celebrity doesn't make him immune to racial biases, JAY-Z is also going to make a point to instill these same lessons into his children. The rapper noted that while his children won't necessarily need "the same tools that I needed growing up," knowing the world's history of racism, specifically, will not only work in their benefit, but will also help to keep this much needed discussion alive.
Not only did he let people into the most intimate workings of his mind and family life, but with 4:44, JAY-Z gifted life lessons to help push the culture forward. And that's priceless.