My interest might be waning in Jay-Z, but I’m still a big Shawn Carter fan.
With today’s release of Jay-Z’s new album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, some critics were hoping to hear the now-43 year old rapper and new father move his music from the streets to the stroller, so to speak.
With Jay-Z (real name Shawn Carter) spending a lot of time in the last year talking about fatherhood in the media, Magna Carta Holy Grail falls short of the expectation that instead of hearing an album about Jay-Z brushing dirt off his shoulder, we’d be hearing about him wiping off baby spit-up.
Nevertheless, since Jay-Z has been very prominent around the media discussing fatherhood, I’m happy enough knowing the topic’s on his mind.
It’s been somewhat of a joke in the rap industry that rappers will put out an album of hustling, money-grabbing and many times violent imagery, but then reconcile in the last song, a ballad about being a father and how hard it is to go from being a thug to a caregiver. Immediately coming to mind is Xzibit’s “Sorry I’m Away So Much”.
The public thought maybe they’d see that changeover for Jay-Z. On his joint album with Kanye West, Watch the Throne, Jay-Z pledged to not leave his child’s life in a song called “New Day”.
After his daughter Blue Ivy was born in January 2012, Jay-Z released a song called “Glory” that spoke honestly and humbly about Carter’s fear of fatherhood.
Following the trend, Jay-Z drops more than a dozen tracks on Magna Carta Holy Grail, with one track all about fatherhood: “JAY Z Blue”. Aside from a couple of other mentions of Blue Ivy on the album, fatherhood doesn’t seem to play a primary role on Jay-Z’s new album.
“JAY Z Blue” is another monologue by Carter about his vulnerability: his own father. Growing up with a father that disrespected his mother and then left the family, Carter says that he won’t follow that path, even though his father’s blood is in him:
“Father never taught me how to be a father
Treated mother I don’t wanna have to just repeat another leave another
Baby with no daddy want no mama drama I just wanna
Take her back to a time when everything was calmer“
Carter doesn’t resolve his conflict as the song ends:
“Now I got my own daughter
Taught her how to take her first steps
Cut the cord watch her take her first breath
And I’m trying and I’m lying if I said I wasn’t scared“
But the lack of emotional closure is alright with fans. The listener isn’t looking for Jay-Z to sum-up fatherhood in three-and-a-half minutes. We want to hear more of it – and fathers know that parenthood is a marathon, not a sprint.
If you want to see a more emotionally-satisfying chuck of text from Jay-Z about fatherhood, Samsung aired a commercial featuring Jay-Z talking to producer-god Rick Rubin about “JAY Z Blue”:
Key line: “It’s the paranoia of not being a great dad.”
Now there’s something that all fathers can relate to.
For nearly 20 years now, I’ve been listening to Jay-Z talk about how the hustle of being Jay-Z. I’ve heard him “retire” a couple of times now. From his bravado-laced stories to the cadence of his lyrics, I’ve enjoyed almost all of Jay-Z’s albums. When he became a father, the world – or at least hip-hop loving fathers like me – looked to Jay-Z for lyrics about this next phase in the Hova’s career: being a working father.
When the hip hop world heard “Glory” last year, we waned more. More stories about involved and loving fatherhood. And though Jay-Z hasn’t packed every song on Magna Carta Holy Grail with fatherhood, it’s alright. In all truth, it’s not an incredible album for me. It’s got a couple of bright spots, but I’ve simply heard Jay-Z simply sound better.
But Shawn Carter, the man behind the music, I like what he’s all about and I hope I see more of it.