Since Jay-Z released 4:44 on 30 June, the world has been abuzz over the album’s apparent confessions of infidelity. Songs like the record’s title track (“I apologise, often womanize”) and Family Feud (“Yeah, I’ll f*** up a good thing if you let me / Let me alone, Becky”) appear to confirm what Beyoncé alluded to in her seminal album Lemonade: Jay-Z was unfaithful, and now bitterly regrets it.
But amidst all the regrets and references to Blue Ivy, there’s another track on 4:44 that’s worthy of our attention. On Smile, Jay-Z helps his mother, Gloria, come out as a lesbian – and shares how happy he is that she has finally found true love.
“Mama had four kids, but she’s a lesbian,” raps Jay-Z. “Had to pretend so long that she’s a thespian / Had to hide in the closet, so she medicate / Society shame and the pain was too much to take / Cried tears of joy when you fell in love / Doesn’t matter if it’s a him or her / I just wanna see you smile through all the hate.”
Gloria Carter raised Jay-Z and his three siblings as a single mother in Brooklyn after their father walked out on the family. The pair are close: it was Gloria who bought the young Shawn Carter his first boombox, and she now runs the Shawn Carter Foundation, the rapper’s non-profit organisation to help people from deprived communities pursue education.
In a truly touching moment, Gloria later pops up on Smile to read a poem that details her experience of coming out.
“Living in the shadow / Can you imagine what kind of life it is to live?” she asks. “In the shadow people see you as happy and free / Because that’s what you want them to see. Living two lives, happy, but not free.”
Gloria then addresses the anxiety she felt about revealing her sexuality to those around her.
“You live in the shadows for fear of someone hurting your family or the person you love,” she says. “The world is changing and they say it’s time to be free / But you live with the fear of just being me / Living in the shadow feels like the safe place to be.”
Her poem ends: “But life is short, and it’s time to be free / Love who you love, because life isn’t guaranteed / Smile.”
Rap fans took to social media to praise Gloria for her courage – and to give Jay-Z credit for standing up to homophobia in hip-hop.
Jay-Z’s producer, No ID, recently spoke to the New York Times about what it was like to work on 4:44 – and revealed that Beyoncé had the final sign-off on the album’s songs about Jay-Z’s philandering.
“I always call Bey our de facto A&R,” he said. “Pillow talk is the strongest conversation on the planet.
“Every song has to get past her ears, in my eyes. She came by a lot and played a good part in helping us get over hurdles on certain levels. Of course she’s genius-level with that.”
No ID added that while 4:44 wasn’t supposed to be a response to Lemonade, he tried to subtly encourage Jay-Z to rap about those experiences.
“We never directly spoke about that album… But there’s a difference in talking about it for the sake of response and for the sake of honesty and the truth,” he said. “The truth needs to explain why you are the way you are, why you did what you did.
“We know what happened. We got it.”
Images: Rex Features