When news of the birth of Jay-Z and Beyonce's baby broke, the phrase "rap royalty" seemed to flow from everyone's fingertips, as fans and detractors alike giddily tweeted about how spoiled, stylish and culturally savvy the child would be from infancy onward.
The pop culture world then collectively gasped at the horror of a purported takeover of the maternity ward where Blue Ivy Carter uttered her first cries (a report which has, unsurprisingly, proven untrue).
Then Jay-Z released "Glory", a song that sampled those very cries as conspiracy theories about the child's name overtook the internet (Glory is also his mother's name). It seems that in the absence of press hungry parents (the ruling family of hip hop has always kept their personal lives private), those without information will make up their own.
So let's for a minute do the same. Jay-Z's work has always touched on family, fatherhood and responsibility. His lyrics are flush with ruminations on abandonment and familial responsibility, rich with a nostalgia for the music of his parents' liking. The most obvious -- and until "Glory" was released, current -- example is the Watch the Throne track "New Day," where Shawn Corey Carter promises not to leave his child "because my dad left me and I promise to never repeat him / never repeat him / never repeat him."
It's a classic Jay-Z moment; amidst a chaotic celebration of success, wealth and bravado, he pauses for the things that matter. He repeats a line about not repeating a father's sins three times, not only because he likes the linguistic trick but because it's important to him, because he wants to remember.
In a recent interview with GQ, the rapper reflected on just why his father's absence in his life has affected him so much. "My dad was such a good dad that when he left, he left a huge scar," he said. "He was my superhero."
Carter penned a song about seeing his father years after he disappeared called "Moment of Clarity." By the time the song was written, Adonis Reeves was dead. The scene begins:
Standing at the tabernacle
Rather the church
Pretending to be hurt
So a smirk was all on my face
Like damn that man's face was just like my face
So pop i forgive you
For all the shit that I live through
Fast forward to 2011, and Kanye West and Jay-Z are sitting on risers on a stage at Madison Square Garden, calmly working their way through "New Day." As the outro to the song bleeds through the venerable stadium, Jay-Z looks up with eyes that are surprisingly glistening and simply says, "All the guys out there taking care of your kids, make some noise." He pauses and adds, "That's the cool thing to do."
Throughout Jay-Z's music -- and indeed his business style as well -- there is a strong undercurrent of not wanting to be caught slipping. His personal style is that of the always reserved, always in control. It's what's made West such a good touring partner for him: Jay's the elder, measured man who's seen it all, Kanye's the wild, kind but irritable and unpredictable artist who's trying to prove himself.
It's what makes him incredibly "cool," but if it wasn't for moments like "New Day, "Moment of Clarity," the aforementioned GQ article or any of the other times he's addressed fatherhood and loss (like on "This Can't Be Life," where he reveals that a past girlfriend also suffered a miscarriage), he'd be too smooth, too above it all, to really connect with.
Perhaps the best example of this "I'm beyond cool, but I feel real pain" / last-living-rockstar-guy-on-the-block dichotomy is "Glory" itself, where he calmly, unceremoniously seems to reveal that Beyonce suffered a miscarriage. No press release, no In-Touch Weekly cover story, just pure, distilled emotion.
That Jay's most honest moments are what endear him to his fans bodes well for his parenting style. The moments that most bond us with our parents are bound to include when the "superhero" you thought your mother or father was let you know that they're human too. If Jay and Beyonce are anything, they are icons of American pop culture. It'll be a treat for Blue Ivy, then, when her winking father lets her in on the big secret to their lives -- as he did on a remix of "Hovi Baby," in a verse popularized by West's "Never Let Me Down" -- "This is not an image / this is God-given / this is hard-living."