For years, whenever I got into fights with holier-than-thou backpack rap fans (which was often, cause you know there’s loads of those fools out here on the Left Coast), they always pointed to Jay-Z as an example of everything that was wrong with hip-hop. "All he rhymes about is money, hos, and clothes," they would complain, all self-righteous. "He bastardizes the genre formerly known as hip-hop." The backpacker dudes (who are by and large in their early 20s, and thus obviously not as old-school as they would like us all to believe) win the Most Annoying Set in Hip-Hop award, hands down—easily beating out the party people who believe that hip-hop’s sole domain is the club and that the music shouldn’t have anything to say, ever.
But I’ll get to blasting the belligerent backpackers and/or the clueless clubbers in some other post. For now, I wanna talk about Jay. I’ve defended him time and time again because he’s one of the best lyricists alive. And not just because of his flow, his swagger, and his witty wordplay—but because Hov has that rare ability to create hot, chart-topping hits that touch on the emotional connection that so many have to hip-hop. Jay-Z makes you shake your ass on the dance floor, it’s true, but he also makes you feel something. Particularly when he talks about his father.
On The Black Album he spit one of the most moving verses of his career: "I’m just scratching the surface cause what’s buried under there/Was a kid torn apart once his Pops disappeared/I went to school, got good grades, could behave when I wanted/But I had demons deep inside that were raised when confronted."
In Touré’s recent Rolling Stone cover story, Jay opened up on the subject.
"Jay's father's leaving is one of the most traumatic moments of his life, a moment that led him to become emotionally cold. ‘I'd say I changed a little bit.’ He paused. ‘I changed a lot. I became more guarded. I never wanted to be attached to something and get that taken away again. I never wanted to feel that feeling again [of being left]. I never wanted to be too happy or gung-ho about something or too mad about something. I just wanted to be cool about it. And it effects my relationships with women. Cause even when I was with women I wasn't really with them. In the back of my mind I'd always feel like, when this shit breaks up, you know, whatever. So I never really just let myself go. I was always guarded, always guarded. And always suspicious. I never let myself just go.’"
I’m sure many can relate. So many of us in hip-hop were raised by single mothers. The specter of absent fathers is one that haunts the entire culture.
D-Nice got me thinking about all this with a post on his blog this week.
"Recently, I was out in L.A. with a friend and we were discussing love and life," D wrote. "After listening to the truncated version of my life story, she explained to me that I could never love someone properly until I've released all of the hate from my heart. She believes that love and hate cannot co-exist and like so many of us, most of the hate I was experiencing was because of an absent father…I woke up the other morning and realized that in order for me to release the hate, I would have to confront my father."
His site has since been inundated with comments—a veritable outpouring of personal stories and support. Clearly, he struck a chord.
Anyway, I’m not trying to be a hip-hop Oprah or anything like that. I just think that somewhere in between the extremes of cerebral backpack rap tracks and get-stupid-drunk club bangers, lies a whole lot of shit that doesn’t get talked about—stuff that needs airing out from time to time. And I’m glad that there’s artists out there that aren’t afraid to do that.