Sometimes, I get really tired of being Black. I love my skin, my culture, my language, my ancestors, my essence—that I love. But the emotional, and spiritual weight of the history of oppression coupled with the present oppression plus the denial of said oppressions, makes me, well…tired. Chris Rock summed it up best. “If you’re black, you got to look at America a little bit different. You got to look at America like the uncle who paid for you to go to college, but who molested you.” What if that “uncle” calls and texts you sexually suggestive reminders of the abuse? How do you put it in the past and move on?
Being perfectly honest, I seriously considered expatriating on November 3rd. Actually, looked at jobs and houses in Canada. Then, I thought of my ancestors who literally built this country and I let that go. It may seem fool hardy, but I still want to believe that America can treat all of its people equally. But what do we do in the meantime?
Two tracks on 4:44 pose solutions: looking forward to our children and looking back to our past for strength.
When you live a good life, you don’t have to fear death. In this song, it seems that Jay-Z is almost looking forward to his death because the wealth he has amassed will serve to lift up not only his family, but the race in general. He is confident that his wife and children will use the money to extend his dream of Black excellence. That is his legacy. He mentioned this concept on the song “Moment of Clarity” from The Black Album in 2003.
We as rappers must decide what’s most important
And I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them
So I got rich and gave back to me that’s the win, win
Fourteen years, one marriage, and three kids later, he extends on the same concept on “Legacy.” The song begins with Blu asking him what is a will. The sluggish track begins with a sample from Donny Hathaway’s song “Someday We’ll All Be Free.” According to Jay, the key to freedom in this country is generational wealth. Therefore, he gives Blu specific instructions on how his empire will be split to ensure that Black people are a little closer to that liberty and pursuit of happiness portion of the American dream. However, Jay-Z is no Superman. Black people have some work to do as well. Which brings me to…
The Story of OJ
Orenthal James Simpson may be the most divisive of infamous celebrities. The song begins with his quote, “I’m not Black. I’m O.J.” Orenthal made the mistake of believing talent, money, and fame made him immune to racism. Ironically, Jay-Z uses this quote as a counterargument to his claim: No matter how much talent, money, and fame you have, Uncle Sam will remind you of your place. “Still nigga.”
The sample on this track is from the Nina Simone song “Four Women”, which is about four different Black women of various backgrounds who all grapple with sexism and racism. Her words “my skin is Black” drone in the background as a not so subtle reminder and reflects the theme of the song. “Still nigga.”
The next layer of this song is the visual accompaniment. The music video utilizes pickaninny characters of the early 1900s. Historically, these images were used very affectively to dehumanize people of color both internally and externally. White people did not see us as human and we had a hard time seeing ourselves as human. We were just caricatures that were funny at best and deadly at worst. We are still trying to repair the damage of this propaganda. We are still petitioning for equal rights. We are still pleading for our lives to matter. “Still nigga.”
The solution…credit! That’s an oversimplification, but the idea is to be more forward thinking and deliberate in how we navigate in this country. We have to stop being violent toward each other. We have to invest our money wisely. We have to pass on whatever we accumulate to our children. We have to teach them to do the same. It’s all about “Legacy, legacy, legacy, legacy.
Black excellence baby, [we] gone let them see.”
What did you think about the video for “The Story of O.J.”? Was there a particular image that stood out to you? Comment below.