Jay-Z became a father in January, 2012, when his wife, Beyonce Knowles, gave birth to a daughter, Blue Ivy. Now, in a series of videos hyping his new album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, Jay-Z talks with famed producer and co-founder of Def Jam records Rick Rubin about fame and fatherhood.
Discussing a song about his daughter, “Jay-Z Blue,” Jay says that him and Beyonce still marvel at their daughter. He then goes on to discuss his anxieties as a father and husband: “My pop left when I was young, and he didn’t teach me how to be a man, or raise a child, or treat a woman… [The song's about] the paranoia of not being a great dad.” (You can see the video below.)
What dad can’t relate to those two sentiments? Awe over the beauty of his child, and an at times almost overwhelming fear that he doesn’t know how to be a father, that he’s somehow going to mess it all up?
Though Magna Carta Holy Grail doesn’t drop to the public at large till Tuesday, the album became available last night through an exclusive app for Samsung smartphones. Of course, the Internet being the Wild Wild West of content, tracks popped up on blogs and BitTorrent sites not long after the app went live. (Though by all descriptions, “went live” is being generous — the app crashed because of high demand, frustrating fans into the night.) While I don’t condone piracy, in the interest of journalism, I did stream “Jay-Z Blue,” and was intrigued by what I heard. (And read: Jay-Z released the lyrics earlier this week.)
In the song, Jay-Z raps not just about his daughter, but about his wife Beyonce too. In particular, about the difficulties the couple faces raising a baby together:
This relationship s— is complicated
All I know is we ain’t speaking everyday
I f—in’ hate it
He goes on to say that he saw his parents driving one another crazy and he’s worried, since he has his father’s blood in him, “his ego and his temper,” that maybe he’s not cut out for making it work in a marriage.
I can certainly relate. My biological father wasn’t on the scene, and I’ve had moments of doubt too. I’ve wondered if maybe I’m missing something essential to being a good father and husband, a gene that brings greater understanding, patience, and dedication to my family. While I lack Jay-Z’s means (understatement of the year), I hear where he’s coming from when he raps:
Baby needs Pampers
Daddy needs at least three weeks in The Hamptons
Please don’t judge me
Replace The Hamptons with the local pub, and he’s got me nailed. Sometimes, when things get tough, when the tantrums come and it feels like no matter how I react I’m only feeding the fire, and when my wife seems just as frustrated with my behavior as she does our son’s, I just want to jet.
I don’t, of course. But there have been daydreams.
So far Jay-Z hasn’t abandoned his family either. As he puts it, “Looking in your eyes is like a mirror / Have to face my fears,” and that’s the key thing here: for all the worry, annoyance, and fear of being a father, he’s staying and facing these dark emotions with courage and honesty. Though as the title suggests, “Jay-Z Blue” is a bit of a downer, the song strikes me as ultimately hopeful, and includes moments of beauty that any parent can relate to:
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
He’s scared, yes, but also trying.
The song’s chorus imagines that things might end badly — that Jay might ride too high, fall, and die (whether that’s meant to be taken literally or metaphorically, in that he’d disappear from the scene, I’m not sure) — but even then he expresses only love for his daughter:
Apologies in order
To Blue Ivy, my daughter
If it was up to me
You would be with me
Sort of like Daddy Dearest
As I’ve written before, hip-hop seems to be growing up, both literally (Magna Carta Holy Grail is Jay-Z’s first solo album since turning 40) and in subject matter. I’m sure the tracks will be peppered with boasts that he’s the “best rapper alive,” and not just “a businessman but a business, man,” and at least one reference to his many wonderful watches — brags and assertions of wealth, power, and virility are an essential part of hip-hop culture for sure. But Jay-Z is also exposing himself here in ways that feel very brave and refreshing to me. He’s always been about “keeping it real,” and his subject matter has matured as he has, from narratives about his time running drugs on the streets of Brooklyn, to being a rap kingpin, and now a family man. I applaud him for this, and look forward to more rappers following in his footsteps.
This isn’t to dis the rappers who have already made forays into this emotional territory — Black Thought from The Roots, Common, and Talib Kweli come to mind — but they don’t have the same cultural sway Jay-Z has. Just as he presented himself as a model hustler, with a drive and swagger that inspired his fans worldwide, now he’s representing fatherhood in all it’s highs and lows. Best rapper alive, indeed.