A brief history of JAY-Z's strained relationship with his father, as told through lyrics
Will “Adnis” provide a new narrative?
He was conceived by Gloria Carter and Adnis Reeves, but later felt like an orphan after “pops left me.” Not before long, Shawn “Jay-Z “Carter soon had his “pops’ trousers on” because, well, “that’s how we do it when the man of the house is gone.”
Jay Z’s new album ‘4:44’ officially arrives in late June
Last night (June 18), Tidal confirmed a June 30 release date for Jigga’s mysterious 4:44 project and delivered a snippet of an unreleased record, titled “Adnis.” Over delicate piano keys, which only leaves room for candid introspection, Hov lamens on his relationship with his late father, Adnis Reeves. “Letter to my dad that I never wrote, speeches I prepared that I never spoke,” he raps. “Words on a paper that I never read, proses never penned they stayed in my head.”
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Over the years, Jay has alluded to this strained relationship between he and his father all throughout his audible holy grail, including tracks like 2000’s heartwrenching “Where Have You Been” and 2001’s “Momma Loves Me (Blueprint)” to name a few. “When you’re growing up, your dad is your superhero,” he told Oprah in a 2009 interview. “Once you’ve let yourself fall that in love with someone, once you put him on such a high pedestal and he lets you down, you never want to experience that pain again. So I remember just being really quiet and really cold… I carried that feeling throughout my life, until my father and I met up before he died.” The two would eventually meet up years later and mend their relationship. “I felt lighter,” he told Oprah about the conversation that would change his life. “He showed up. And I gave him the real conversation. I told him how I felt the day he left… He finally accepted that.”
Going back to “Adnis,” which has the potential to be one of Jay’s most personal records yet, the lyrics previewed — personal and honest — only signal a deeper layer of emotiveness from the rapper that is especially rare, considering the fact that he once scrapped an entire autobiography (“The Black Book”) because details about his personal life were too deep. Should “Adnis” provide a taste of what 4:44 will sound like, Hov could be letting his guard down more than ever before on this next go around. But before the record arrives, we combed through the book of Hov and stitched together the many strips he’s conveyed regarding his strained relationship with his dad.
“I was conceived by Gloria Carter and Adnis Reeves, who made love under a sycamore tree, which makes me a more sicker MC…“ (“December 4,” The Black Album, 2003)
Born to Gloria Carter and Adnis Reeves, Jay was born December 4, 1969 at a healthy 10 pounds and was raised in the Marcy Projects.
“My papa just left the house in search of the killer of my Uncle Ray…“ (“Pray,” American Gangster, 2007)
According to his lyrics, Jay’s father left him when he was about 11, 12 years old. Three years prior, his Uncle Ray, his father’s younger brother, was stabbed and killed. Distraught, Reeves would often leave the house in search of his brother’s killer. “People would call in the middle of the night and tell him, So-and-so is out here.’ So my dad would get up, get his gun, and go outside to look for the guy,” Jay told Oprah in 2009. “After a while, my mom was like, “Hey, this is your family now. You can’t do that.” But this was my dad’s baby brother.”
“Pop killed the family with heroin shots…“(Young Jeezy ft. Jay Z, “Seen It All,” 2014)
Stressed and depressed from the pain of the ordeal, Reeves eventually succumbed to alcoholism and substance abuse. “My dad was in so much pain that he started using drugs and became a different person,” he revealed in 2009. “So I understand that the trauma of the event, coupled with the drugs, caused him to lose his soul.”
“I lost my pops when I was 11…mmm 12 years old / He’s probably somewhere where the liquor is taking its toll / But I ain’t mad at you dad, holla at your lad…” (“Streets Is Talking,” The Dynasty: Roc La Familia, 2000)
*Coupled with the death of his brother and dabbling into drugs, Jay’s father eventually left the house. “He was gone,” Jay told GQ in 2011. “He was not himself.” But just a year after saying he wasn’t open to reconciling with his pops on “Hova Song (Outro),” he seemed to warm up to the idea.
“December 4th, a child is born / Before I knew it, had my pops’ trousers on / That’s how we do it when the man of the house is gone / You either, stand or fall, I chose to stand“ (R. Kelly & Jay-Z “The Streets,” Best of Both Worlds, 2002)
Forced to be the man of the house, Jay would have to step up. “I also felt protective of my mom. I remember telling her, “Don’t worry, when I get big, I’m going to take care of this.” I felt like I had to step up. I was 11 years old, right? But I felt I had to make the situation better.”
“Retrospect ain’t been the same since I lost my dad / He’s still alive, but still fuck you, don’t cross my path…“ (“Hova Song Outro,” Vol. 3: The Life and Times of S. Carter, 1999)
Carrying the burden of that void, Jay would turn the loss of his father into resentment for years. “Anger,” he would describe the feeling in an interview years later. “I remember just being really quiet and really cold. Never wanting to let myself get close to someone like that again.”
“Wanted to drink Miller nips and smoke Newports just like you… I would say ‘My daddy loves me and he’ll never go away’ / Bullshit, do you even remember December’s my birthday?“ (“Where Have You Been,” The Dynasty: Roc La Familia, 2000)
This anger toward his father would grow over the years. When asked about his “Where Have You Been” line and if he believed Reeves didn’t know his birthday, Jay answered, “I believed that. When I was a kid, I once waited for him on a bench. He never showed up. Even as an adult, that affected me.”
“Momma raised me, pop I miss you / God help me forgive him, I got some issues…“ (“Blueprint (Momma Loves Me),” The Blueprint, 2001)
Over the years, Jay’s resentment would turn into empathy. “If your dad died before you were born, yeah, it hurts — but it’s not like you had a connection with something that was real,” Jay would tell GQ in 2011. “My dad was such a good dad that when he left, he left a huge scar. He was my superhero.”
“Pop died. Didn’t cry. Didn’t know him that well… Standing at 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. 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…“ (“Moment of Clarity,” The Black Album, 2003)
In 2003, Jay, after some urging by his mother, met with his father. In this conversation, several nuggets were uncovered. For one, Jay learned his father actually stayed 10 minutes from their home all these years. “That was the sad part,” he would tell Oprah in 2009. “[I talked about] what it did to me, what it meant, asked him why. There was no real answer. There was nothing he could say, because there’s no excuse for that. There really isn’t. So there was nothing he could say to satisfy me, except to hear me out. And it was up to me to forgive and let it go.” Secondly, for the first time, discovered the weight of the pain Reeves dealt with following Uncle Ray’s death. “This was my dad’s baby brother. And my dad was in so much pain,” he recalled in the same interview.
In his “Decoded” book back in 2010, Jay went into detail about the gravity behind this pain. “My dad swore revenge and became obsessed with hunting down Uncle Ray’s killer. The tragedy — compounded by the injustice — drove him crazy, sent him to the bottle, and ultimately became a factor in the unraveling of my parents’ marriage.” Three months after they reunited Reeves died of liver disease. Despite the loss, Jay found closure. “By the time he left,” he wrote in the said chapter, “he’d given me a lot of what I’d need to survive.”
“And if the day comes I only see him on the weekend / I just pray we was in love on the night that we conceived him / Promise to never leave him even if his mama tweaking / Cause my dad left me and I promise never repeat him / Never repeat him, never repeat him“ (“New Day,” Watch The Throne, 2011)
The relationship with his father and that conversation they shared before Reeves’ passing fueled Jay’s desire to wait to have kids. So on “New Day,” that promise of never wanting to repeat his father’s mistakes may be the realest thing he ever wrote. Just one year after the record arrived, Jay and his wife Beyoncé welcomed their first child into the world: Blue Ivy Carter.
“Baby need Pampers, Daddy need at least three weeks in the Hamptons / Please don’t judge me, only hugged the block, I thought my daddy didn’t love me / My baby getting chubby / Cue that Stevie Wonder music, aww, isn’t she lovely? / Now I’m staring at praying that things don’t get ugly / And I’m stuck in that old cycle like wife leaves hubby“
Learning from the past, and in addition to not wanting to make the same mistakes, Hov analyzes fatherhood and the paranoia that comes with it. “It deals with when my pop left when I was young,” he explained to The Breakfast Club in 2013. “He didn’t teach me how to be a man, nor how to raise a child, nor treat a woman. So, of course, my karma: the two things I need, I don’t have — and I have a daughter. It’s the paranoia of not being a great dad.”