Beyoncé and Jay-Z had a baby this weekend, and her name is Blue Ivy Carter. With a wife, child and successful career, this street hustler turned hip-hop artist turned business mogul has sold 50 million records and has a net worth of around $450 million.
But will fatherhood change Jigga?
His lyrics — which reflect his life growing up in the Marcy Projects in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn — have reached a wide, diverse audience. And although it’s a long way from the Marcy Projects to the cover of Fortune Magazine, Jay-Z made it. The renowned Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson even teaches a course on the rapper’s “lyrical prowess.” At the same time, Jay-Z has attracted attention and faced criticism for his misogynist messages.
For some context, just take a look at a few of his songs. For example, in “99 Problems,” from The Black Album, he says:
“If you’re havin’ girl problems I feel bad for you, son.
I’ve got 99 problems, but a b*tch ain’t one.”
He adds, “Now once upon a time, not too long ago, a ni**a like myself had to strong-arm a ho.”
Jay-Z claims the “b*tch” in “99 Problems” was not a woman but a drug-sniffing dog. Before making it big in the industry, the rapper sold crack. Meanwhile, in “That’s My B*tch,” a song with Kanye West, Jay-Z says:
“Call Larry Gagosian, you belong in museums
You belong in vintage clothes crushing the whole building
You belong with ni**as who used to be known for dope dealing
You too dope for any of those civilians
Now shoo children, stop looking at her t*ts
Get ya own dog, ya heard? That’s my b*tch.”
“Big Pimpin,’” which described Jay-Z’s troubles with women, is a song that the artist cannot justify.
“You know I thug ‘em, f**k ‘em, love ‘em, leave ‘em
Cause I don’t f**kin’ need ‘em
Take ‘em out the hood
Keep ‘em looking good
But I don’t f**kin’ feed em
First time they fuss I’m breezin’
Talking ‘bout, what’s the reasons
I’m a pimp in every sense of the word, b*tch”
About this particular verse, the rapper-mogul stated in an interview with the Wall Street Journal: “Some [lyrics] become really profound when you see them in writing. Not ‘Big Pimpin.’ That’s the exception.”
Jigga added: “It was like, I can’t believe I said that. And kept saying it. What kind of animal would say this sort of thing? Reading it is really harsh.”
To be sure, since Jay-Z married Beyoncé in 2008 he has distanced himself from his more sexist lyrics. With his autobiography Decoded, the hip-hop giant has reflected on the meaning of his lyrics. There seems to be an evolution in Jay-Z, perhaps in the way that Richard Pryor rejected the “n-word” after visiting Kenya, or that comedian Eddie Murphy and rapper Ice Cube cleaned up their respective acts so to speak, and became more “family-friendly” performers. Even Ice-T, who once was slammed for his controversial song “Cop Killer,” managed to turn the tables and now plays a cop on TV.
“We have to find our way back to true emotion. This is going to sound so sappy, but love is the only thing that stands the test of time,” Jay-Z told the Wall Street Journal. ”The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was all about love. Andre 3000, The Love Below. Even N.W.A, at its core — that was about love for a neighborhood,” he told the paper.
The hip-hop businessman also believes the hip-hop community should speak more about the current crises people are facing in unemployment and housing.
All of this takes on even greater meaning now that Jay-Z is a father. Some rappers or athletes may not think they are role models, but they are — at least to their children.
Fatherhood does something to you, as I can attest. I have a 2-year-old toddler at home who thinks he’s 5. His capacity to understand what he sees and hears never ceases to amaze me. As a father, I find myself being careful about the things I say around him, and the messages that are transmitted to his young and impressionable mind. I guess it is the responsibility that I feel for him. For example, this past holiday season I taught him about the principles of Kwanzaa, and I read to him nearly every day, several books a day, as every father — and every black man — should do for his child.
As for Jay-Z, I would imagine that he, like any parent, cares about the images he conveys to his children, whether about himself or otherwise. If this is the case, the sexism and materialism found in some of his songs should be left behind.
Here’s what Jay said about who he was in the past.
“A lot of these albums are made when artists are young, 17 or 18 years old, so they’ve never had any real relationships. And if you come from the neighborhoods we’re in, we have low esteem ourselves. And the women, well, the girls — they have low self-esteem as well. These are all dysfunctional relationships at a young age,” Jay-Z told NPR.
“The poet is pretty much [giving] his take on his dealings with girls at that time. He’s not in a stable relationship; he’s on the road. He’s seeing girls who like him because he makes music. They spend one night together; he gets a phone number. He leaves for the next town and does the same thing over again,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Jay-Z of 2012 is one who has met with President Obama at the White House and lent his voice to the Haiti earthquake relief efforts. It is reasonable to assume his music would reflect that reality.
And as Jay-Z and other artists are evolving, so too must hip-hop. An aspirational genre such as rap always spoke to the dreams and the realities of the black and Latino community through its poetry. However, when those dreams are limited to amassing riches and drinking a particular beverage — and realness is relegated to a negative portrayal of women in demeaning language — the genre runs the risk of becoming irrelevant in an era of Occupy Wall Street, when half of America is poor.
In the end, you must consider what your child will say about you.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove