A Jay-Z verse is still an event

OPINION: The GOAT MC showed up and showed out on the only song that really matters on DJ Khaled’s latest exercise in abundance, "GOD DID."

Jay-Z attends the Hollywood Walk of Fame Star Ceremony for DJ Khaled on April 11, 2022 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

We can argue about this later, but I’d wager that there are maybe a handful of rap artists whose releases of any sort count as events at this point. I’m about to show my age, and I’ll ask my nephews who I’m missing but here’s my take at a list: Kanye, J Cole, Drake, Kendrick, André 3000, Lauryn Hill (debatable, I know) Future and depending on the circumstances Lil Wayne, Nas and Eminem. I’m sure there are others you can add or folks you can subtract from this list, but that’s not the point of this. The point is that some rappers exist in a space where when they release something, everybody listens. 

Jay-Z is one of those artists. And for several reasons. For starters, he’s literally been in the game since the late ’80s (if you watch The Murder Inc. Story on BET, you’ll hear Irv Gotti talking about them working in London in the late ’80s), but he’s been a top-shelf, GOAT-level MC since 1996 when he released my favorite of his albums, Reasonable Doubt. And he’s been must-see TV since then not only because of his business success, but also because he’s stayed pretty bar’d up since then. Sure, the type of bars and the substance has changed somewhat (from drug talk to art talk, etc.), but you almost never have to question if what you’re going to get from Jay is worth the listen. Usually, the answer is yes, even if nobody is thinking “this is the greatest verse of all time.” 

And then there are times like now when Jay-Z hops on DJ Khaled’s song “GOD DID” (featuring Rick Ross, Lil Wayne and John Legend) and reminds you that you should never, ever sleep on Shawn Corey Carter in your life. My goodness. Over what feels like 64 bars (I didn’t count but it has to be the longest verse Jay has performed in quite a while), Jay gives you bars about success; how much money he’s around and how it’s connected to him; changing societal norms (marijuana being legal in places now and his foray into the business); alleged issues with Meek Mill; inspiration for the future; Farrakhan and Mike Wallace, etc. It really is worth the listen. 

It’s so worth a listen that a pretty significant portion of my social media timelines (I lurk and hang where all of the ’90s hip-hop heads hang) is redeclaring Jay-Z the GOAT. Again. Which happens from time to time. Every time one of our heroes does something amazing, there’s a brand new revisiting of their status as GOAT-level MCs and a whole slew of people who think that the other slew of people don’t recognize what they already know. Confusing I know; social media is chock full of people who swear nobody agrees with them. I rather enjoy that. Anywho, my timeline is full of pull quotes from Jay’s verse, single-word declarations of “HOV!” and/or brief discussions about Jay being the greatest rapper of all time, which, at this point, doesn’t elicit as much discussion as it used to. Either people have grown bored with the topic or gotten tired of arguing with people about it since the evidence is pretty solid. At this point, your GOAT is as much a personal preference as anything. 

But the fact that so many people, including myself, have specifically sought out Jay’s verse on DJ Khaled’s album, which is full to the gills with a who’s who of today’s stars, speaks volumes about the fact that Jay still maintains cultural relevance. That cultural relevance as a rapper is something I’ve both defended and questioned at times. Obviously, Jay-Z is culturally relevant from a business sense and personally; he is part of one of the most iconic and famous couples of all time. As Jay-Z and Beyoncé move, so does the culture and the tabloids. But it’s been a while—in my estimation—that Jay as a rapper has been both so well-received and also a must-hear. And that warms my ’90s hip-hop head heart; Jay-Z’s verse being the main event on an event of an album (all DJ Khaled albums feel like events; Khaled is a master promoter) is a welcome reminder that hip-hop isn’t just a young person’s sport but is one where vaunted wordsmiths can still move the needle as much as any of today’s artists. Perhaps not as frequently, but that’s the benefit of being an elder statesman in a game where the young cats appreciate your business sense; because of the business, they pay attention to the words, and those words are more powerful when they don’t come as often. 

Jay-Z showed up and bodied a record and was given all of the space to do it because of who he is, and it looks like the entire game is paying attention. 

Hov did that.

Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download here.