There was a lot to unpack on Jay-Z’s new album “4:44,” which debuted Friday on Tidal, the rapper’s artist-owned music streaming platform. Soon after the quasi-surprise album dropped, fans and critics began picking apart the lyrics on its 10 tracks, and they were not disappointed. Though only 35 minutes long, the album addresses everything from the rumors he cheated on wife and music megastar Beyoncé to the elevator incident with Solange to his getting called out by Kanye West.
But one of the most personal revelations in the album appeared in the third track, “Smile,” in which Jay-Z’s mother, Gloria Carter, comes out publicly as lesbian.
“Mama had four kids, but she’s a lesbian/Had to pretend so long that she’s a thespian,” rapped Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter. “Had to hide in the closet, so she medicate/Society shame and the pain was too much to take.”
Later in the track, which also samples Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” the 47-year-old rapper revealed his mother had found love again and that he supported her completely, despite what anyone else might think or say.
“Cried tears of joy when you fell in love/Don’t matter to me if it’s a him or her,” Jay-Z rapped. “I just wanna see you smile through all the hate/Marie Antoinette, baby, let ‘em eat cake.”
Gloria Carter herself delivers one of the most emotionally resonant parts of the song toward the end of the track, a spoken-word outro about her journey to self-acceptance:
“Living in the shadows. Can you imagine what kind of life it is to live? In the shadows people see you as happy and free. Because that’s what you want them to see. Living two lives, happy but not free.
“You live in the shadows for fear of someone hurting your family or the person you love. 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 shadows feels like the safe place to be. No harm for them. No harm for me.
“But life is short, and it’s time to be free. Love who you love, because life isn’t guaranteed.
In an exclusive interview with iHeartRadio, Jay-Z explained the song “Smile” as “just what it is.”
“There are gonna be bad times, and those bad times can do two things: They can get you in a place where you’re stuck in a rut, or it can make your future that much better because you’ve experienced these things,” he told the music site.
The song lyrics represent the first time either Jay-Z or his mother had publicly discussed her sexual orientation, according to HuffPost. But Jay-Z has long been a champion for LGBT equality, the news site pointed out.
“I’ve always thought [now allowing same-sex marriage] as something that was still, um, holding the country back,” Jay-Z told CNN in 2012, in an interview about the rapper’s support of then-President Barack Obama. “What people do in their own homes is their business, and you can choose to love whoever you love. That’s their business. [It] is no different than discriminating against blacks. It’s discrimination, plain and simple.”
The heartfelt song was met with respect and praise from Jay-Z fans and LGBT groups.
Autostraddle, a feminist blog for lesbian and bisexual women, declared Gloria Carter’s coming-out as “the best surprise from Beyoncé’s husband’s new album.” The Human Rights Campaign also acknowledged the song, tweeting Friday: “It’s never too late to come out and live your truth. Thanks [Jay-Z] for sharing your mom’s story with us.”
Sarah Kate Ellis, president of the LGBT advocacy group GLAAD, thanked the mogul’s mother for “sharing her truth.”
“Lesbian women are all too often erased or excluded from narratives surrounding LGBTQ people,” Ellis wrote. “By sharing her truth with the world, Gloria Carter is increasing visibility of lesbian women of color at a critical time and sending a powerful message of empowerment to the entire LGBTQ community that is perfectly timed with the end of Pride Month.”