It’s not an exaggeration to say that Jay-Z is one of the ultimate icons in hip hop history. Forget worrying about the golden age of hip hop and, instead, revel in the humungous musical domination Jay has enacted over the last quarter of a century. As well as being a music mogul, Jay has also crafted some of the most pertinent songs of the 21st century.
Hova established himself as one of the legends of hip-hop, and while he certainly made his name away from the mic, being Beyonce’s husband can have that effect on your life and career, it is in the studio that Jay put his spin on the rap game. Unlike any other hip-hop artists before him, the rapper made sure that narratives were crucial to his sonic structure, and, on ‘The Story of O.J.’, Jay unravels a tale as old as time.
The song came as part of Jay’s 2017 album 4:44, a record that saw the icon get down on his knees and pray for forgiveness from his wife. One of Hova’s most personal outings, the record is flecked with moments of grand opulence alongside deeply personal reflections. However, ‘The Story of O.J.’ is one song that sits somewhere in the middle.
Jigga used his personal experiences to inflict a gentle vulnerability to the track, which dealt with the widespread racism we still see to this day. Playing on the infamous line alleged murderer O.J. Simpson uttered when referenced as Black, Jay sings “I’m not Black, I’m O.J.” with a simple yet powerful refrain.
However, the song is not focused on Simpson or his trial surrounding the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson but uses the star’s disconnection with his race as a way of illuminating how race is a determining factor in all walks of life, especially when considering how others treat you. Jay, in this song, is suggesting that Simspon never felt Black because he was never treated with the same disdain that he feels most Black people are afforded in their general lives.
Jay’s ability to speak on such complex issues with fragrant simplicity is why he should always be considered one of the greats. As master engineer Dave Kutch remembers of the track to Billboard: “There was no doubt that ‘The Story of O.J.’ was going to be one of the [songs] most spoken about,” Kutch notes.
“Just like he did in Reasonable Doubt 21 years [earlier], Jay tells the story about the world around him. The story has changed, but it is still told in an incredibly honest, poignant, and poetic fashion that only he can do.”
Picking out all of these themes and working them in alongside a Nina Simone sample and an expertly crafted video is a reminder of the kind of artist Jay-Z is — truly impossible to imitate.