At this point in our long musical relationship with Jay-Z, every listener knows what to expect. Gone are the days when Shawn Carter bars astounded us with furious details about partners in crime turned government witnesses, street politics, or even eccentric stories of him “talking sweetly to the keys.” On his final verse, Jay-Z feels like a parody of the boastfulness that was once the hallmark of his regal brilliance. And, beyond that, the often noncritical and immediately celebratory nature by which part of the internet receives a feature from Jay-Z has become a parody tale in itself.
On “God Did”, the title track from DJ Khaled’s new album, you’ll find Jay-Z in empire mode. The long teased verse is a reminder that he is still an outstanding writer. It’s not surprising. The guy who made ‘takin’ wage down in Vegas’ and ‘produce g’s like cum’ rhyme with ’til the legs spread like germs’ is still around. His double meanings remain expansive. As a long-time engineer The young guru underlines, the verse “out of the mud / they gotta face you now, you can’t make this shit up”, has different meanings and secret analogies. From 2:55 to 6:28 into the song, the verse leaves a lot for the listener to unpack and, beyond the expected reporters who do, even evening papers like MSNBC have picked it up. And he is listen clearly.
But, as prolific as this verse is, the hype that has preceded and followed it online has made it harder to appreciate. Social media and the craving for more lyrical rap give a fanatical edge to the promotion around any music Jay-Z is involved in. Older rap fans are desperate for rappers who continue to span 36 bars, contributing to the hype around his releases. Another reason is that Jay-Z’s quest for economic freedom coincides with listeners seeking material success. His talent is inimitable, but at this point it is tied to the brand successes that people see he has achieved.
“The stately pose is the point.”
People, including the media personalities who cover him, may start seeing the rapper as an idol. When journalists like Elliott Wilson or Brian “B.Dot” Miller hear early music and talk about it, they create conversation and get people anticipating the jaw-dropping bars. It functions as a glimpse or rumor that builds from lunchroom to recess and back to the next class period. Prior to the song’s release, Complex’s Speedy Morman considered Jay-Z’s latest one of his best, call him the “Jay-Z verse of the decade”, while Complex alum Frazier Tharpe intuitively wrote that “recency bias is real”.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this verse is sure to be among Jay-Z’s best, but it’s not. the better. Twitter often makes us forget the greats of the past, and cling to the self-control of it.
But most of the replies on rap Twitter, especially from older rap Fans, have not been critical or diversified; instead, it shows people impressed by a successful man like them. As Jay-Z’s career has grown into mega-stardom and meeting presidents, listeners are growing too. They begin to relate to a man whose life keeps climbing into an otherworldly stratosphere. On a much smaller scale, Jay aspires to those who listen to him. His songs function as the top 1%’s vision of success. The stately pose is the point. Jay, who was once a subversive rapper who started his own record label, is now part of the vulture system he once disrupted. Still, there’s no denying that his verse on “God Did” was louder than his fellow bandmates.
Due to Jay’s stature, his verses get the most running time. And while the other guests don’t have as much time, Jay can deliver speeches, not verses. His latest, clocking in at four minutes, and others like it (like PushaT’s “Drug Dealers Anonymous”) are long, resembling spoken-word raps that are coated in a stench of prosperity gospel.
Jay-Z rarely tries a different flow. It seems that he no longer tries to compete; instead, he lists his accomplishments like a financial infomercial (“How many billionaires come from Hov’s manger?”). On “God Did,” he shouts out to his friend Jay Brown and claims we’re “pushing Fenty like fentanyl”; the lines are examples of his sly humor. On the other hand, they are also in the service of an obsessive vision of the goals he has achieved.
“This verse is sure to go down as one of Jay-Z’s best, but it’s not the better.”
Jay-Z has always talked about his accomplishments. But before 2003 The black album, he rapped like a school dropout and criminal-turned-buppie—a man who turned the injustices of ’80s Reaganomics into a career grounded in his closeness to violence and his shrewd mastery of flow without breaking a sweat. This has been replaced by the Hov Cinematic Universe, where he doesn’t rap about his complicated, capitalist American life, but rather the headlines and rumors that cloud his ironclad personality.
PushaT’s “Neck & Wrist,” released April 2022, features a solid verse from Jay-Z that begins with a response to Faizon Love’s remarks that Mr. Carter isn’t a real hustler. “The faze I’m in, my love, I wouldn’t believe it either,” he spits. It lacks reflection. We don’t understand how these remarks affect him personally, or how his status as a billionaire makes him look in the mirror. By removing these characteristics – once central to his work – Jay-Z has traded emotional resonance for mundane platitudes. Since Look at the throne, a lot of what ‘HOV’ has done is respond to the tabloids about his life, or ‘shout out’ a friend he made rich, or at best give us more legend for his career already at the Hall of fame. At worst, he’s a billionaire selling a dream that’s almost never achievable.
“By removing these characteristics – once central to his work – Jay-Z has traded emotional resonance for mundane platitudes.”
Overall, it seems people are less likely to criticize pop stars or any artist influential enough to fill a stadium. For what it’s worth, critics are sometimes fans too. And that’s not necessarily a problem. But most fans celebrate an artist’s overall accomplishments rather than their actual relevance to the culture and streets of this current moment in time.
Besides the pro-black sentiment expressed on A written testimony, Jay-Z’s recent guest verses are making telegraphed headlines. He no longer does Flight. 3 or “Streets Is Watching”, a song with lines about the visions of God and the street politics that drug dealers support to this day. And maybe that’s fine, but we should call it that: No matter how you look at it, Jay-Z’s current fame is largely a credit to his career, not his bars.