A confession: When Jay Z writes his lyrics, I feel as if he is writing them for me, a white woman from suburban Pennsylvania. His soulful rhymes about drug-dealing, his forlorn verses about incarceration, and his triumphal beats about being a pioneer in the music industry are all things I see reflected in my own struggle to rise up and overcome the hardships of being an Anglo-Saxon American female.
Jay-Z's music is special to me because he and I come from similar backgrounds. He grew up surrounded by misfortune in a housing project in Bed-Stuy; not 200 miles away, I was raised in a dilapidated five-bedroom, five-bath with a picket fence that was barely off-white and a cherry blossom tree that was closer to my sister's window than mine. I weep when I listen to Jay's "Where Have You Been?" because I remember what it was like when my father came home late at night, almost past 6 p.m.
If Shawn Carter's music had been around at the time, perhaps it could have soothed my shattered soul. But without his rhymes to keep me going, I had no outlet for my tears but my Tempur-Pedic pillow.
I loved the movie Annie as a kid, so I'm more than familiar with Jay-Z's "Ghetto Anthem." I've even been to the ghetto once. It wasn't on purpose -- I got lost on the way home from the Camden Waterfront, but driving by those dark houses with their barred-up windows was more than enough for me to develop a complete understanding of Jay's childhood experience. What little I don't know from that night I can fill in from having watched The Wire.
In the song "99 Problems," Jay-Z discusses an example of a prior run-in with the police. A cop bringing in the K-9 squad for the crime of going 55 in a 54? I know exactly where he's coming from; I once got pulled over doing 40 in a 25 in Michigan City, and I was sweating bullets as I cried in front of the officer and swore nothing like it had ever happened to me before.
When he gave me that warning ticket, I acted all sincere, like I'd never do it again, but it wasn't the first ticket I'd gotten my way out of with some tears. Thug Life, indeed.
You know, maybe that's what I find so relatable about Jay-Z -- he knows all about the cops, and how they're out to get us. In "Say Hello," he discusses the incarceration rates for African-American men. "One out of three of us is locked up doing time," he says.
As a college-educated white woman, boy, do I get where he's coming from. White women have an incarceration of 1 out of 118, which is a scant two orders of magnitude away from African-American men. The two numbers are so close, they're practically the same.
You've probably heard by now that Jay-Z just sold a million copies of his newest album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, to Samsung, so they could give away the album to Galaxy owners. I feel that.
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I know what that kind of success is like; I had six people come to my last yoga class. With a baller status like that, there's no doubt in my mind that Holy Grail is going to resonate with me more than anyone else.