Jay Z’s street hustler to big shot capitalist story has won him glory and a place among rap’s elite. For nearly 20 years, Hov has unleashed an onslaught of hard-edged projects that combine club-worthy boasting with moments of introspection. From 1996’s Reasonable Doubt through his 2014 loosies, the clarity of Jay’s voice has always shared some macabre moments.
Within those glimpses of self-reflection Jay Z gets to the heart of the matter; the pain of life and the fear of death. In the following list of seven tracks, bars with morbid subject matter were selected. With all of his successes, death has surely followed. Despite the darkness of the subject matter of Jay Z’s morbid bars, Hov finds a way to weave an uplifting sense of ambition and clarity to the respective cuts. Check them out.
Jay Z f. Chris Martin – “Beach Chair”
“Went from having shabby clothes, crossing over Abbey Road/ Hear my angels singing to me (are you happy, Hov?)/ I just hope I’m hearing right; karma’s got me fearing life/ Colleek are you praying for me?/ See I got demons in my past, so I got daughters on the way/ If the prophecy’s correct, then the child should have to pay/ For the sins of a father, so I barter my tomorrow’s against my yesterdays”
These lines bring up one of Jay Z’s most painful memories, the death of his cousin Colleek D. Luckie in a car accident. As Jay invokes one of his lives biggest hardships, he opens up about his own mortal fears. Jay Z admits that he has trepidations about bringing a child into the world, because she might have to pay for his sins. Jay Z, though a talented rapper, has also been involved with activities that are downright shady. The emotional quality of the song reflects Jay’s struggle to reconcile his past with his now fabulous life.
Jay Z f. Chrisette Michele – “Lost One”
“My nephew died in the car I bought/ so under the belief it’s partly my fault/ Close my eyes and squeeze, try to block that thought/ Place any burden on me, but please, not that lord/ But time don’t go back, it goes forward/ Can’t run from the pain, go towards it/ Some things can’t be explained, what caused it?/ Such a beautiful soul, so pure, shit!/ Gonna See you again, I’m sure of it/ ‘Til that time, little man I’m nauseous”
Hov calls on the memory of Colleek once more on “Lost One.” This time, he goes deeper to explain that since he purchased the vehicle Colleek was killed in, he feels the burden of responsibility. These bars are memorable because Jay Z takes a step back from his tough guy persona, and admits that the wounds of the past can never fully heal. He is sickened by sadness, and he knows that feeling might last until he too meets his maker.
Jay Z – “Lucifer”
“I got dreams of holding a nine milla to Bob’s killer/ Askin him “why?” as my eyes fill up/These days I can’t wake up with a dry pillow/ Gone but not forgotten Holmes I still feel ya/ So…Curse the day that birthed the bastard/ Who caused the Church mass/ Reverse the crash/reverse the blast/ and reverse the car/ Reverse the day, and there you are/ Bobalob/ Lord forgive him we all have sinned/ But Bobs a good dude please let him in/ And if you feel in my heart that I long for revenge/ Please blame it on the sun of the mourning”
This classic Kanye West-produced jam features a Reggae flip from Max Romeo. The power of the original Reggae track manifests itself through Jay Z’s lyricism. Hov discusses his desire to obtain revenge over the killing of his close friend Bobalob. Jay Z chooses to use powerful, religious imagery to express just how impactful the murder has effected him. On Earth, Jay can only hope for revenge to cut the sting of death slightly, but Hov is a true friend and so he boasts to the heavens to protect his brother in the next life.
Jay Z – “Moment of Clarity”
“Pop died, didn’t cry, didn’t know him that well/ Between him doing heroin and me doing crack sales/ Put hat in the eggshell, standing at the tabernacle/ Rather the Church, pretending to be hurt wouldn’t work/ So a smirk was all on my face/ Like “damn, that man’s face is just like my face”/ So pop, I forgive you for all the shit that I lived through/ It wasn’t all your fault, homey you got caught/ Into the same game I fought, that Uncle Ray lost/ My big brothers and so many others I saw/ I’m just glad we got to see each other/ Talk and re-meet each other/ Save a place in heaven ‘til the next time we meet forever!”
“Moment of Clarity” features Jay rapping about the cruel circumstances of his father and uncle’s life and death. Hov opens up about his family in a way that most rhyme sayers can’t muster the courage to do. The morbid reality is that Jay Z grew up in a family that was broken due to the cycles of mass incarceration, drug abuse and violence that plague every major American city. These circumstances hardened Jay, caused him to dabble in drugs, and also formed a barrier between him and his father. Upon his death, Jay Z raps that he found a way to accept the failings of his father. He gained the clarity to forgive his father, because he was a victim. Jay Z uses this new found embrace as further motivation to become the powerful mogul that he is today.
Jay Z f. Kanye West – “Welcome to the Jungle”
“I’m a tortured soul. I live in disguise/ Rest in peace to the leader of the Jackson 5/ I died in my sleep, I’m still Big Pimpin,/ I ball at the mall, beginning of the ending/Where the fuck is the sun? It’s been a while/ Momma, look at ya son, what happened to my smile?/ My tears is tatted, my rag in my pocket/ I’m just looking for love, I know somebody got it/ Champagne for the pain, weed for the low/ I’m losing myself, I’m stuck in the moment/ I look in the mirror, my only opponent/ Where the fuck is the press? Where the fuck is the Pres?/ Either they know or don’t care, I’m fucking depressed/ No crying in public, just lying to the judges/ Risking my life, I’m already dying, so fuck it well.”
On this cut, Jay Z takes his bars to a more abstract place. Though he doesn’t directly address the source of his pain, he paints a vivid picture of a man who is searching for something positive in a world weighed down with negativity. He admits the reasons for drug and alcohol use, and admits that he must put on a brave face in public. This cut is from Watch The Throne, one of Jay Z’s recent projects but his ability to see himself beyond his own success allows him to connect to fans across the spectrum.
Jay Z & Kanye West f. Mr. Hudson – “Why I Love You”
“Same people that I fought for that I fight for, that I ride for/ That I live for, that I die for/ Be the reason that these niggas is alive for/ And they want me dead but I’m so sorry but I just can’t die for you/ But I can’t make ‘em put their hands in the sky for you/ We waiting for the fireworks like July 4th/ Get fly more, get high more, cry boy, why for?/ When the grief is over, beef is over/ I’ll be fly when Easter’s over”
On this verse, Jay Z wrestles with the morbid truth that he is living with a target on his head. These darkly-tinged bars are quickly illuminated by Hov’s message that you just got to keep going strong. Jay Z had to overcome a lot in his youth to be the man he is today. Truth be told, Jay still faces tremendous pressure and threats. His use of imagery associated with important holidays helps contextualize the wisdom of his words.
Young Jeezy f. Jay Z – “Seen It All”
“Uncle died on the spot/ Pop killed the family with heroin shots/ Gave my life to the block/ Figured, I get shot ‘least I die on top/ I came alive in the drop”
These bars come from a Summer 2014 loosie from Jeezy produced by Cardo. Jay Z distills his thoughts and succinctly shares his ambitions. This clarity that Jay Z derives from moments of death and pain continues to fuel his career.