Breaking Down the References and Entendres in Jay-Z’s Show-Stopping “God Did” Verse
Even though it’s been five years since his last solo album, Jay-Z has been pretty active lately, considering music is far from his primary focus these days. In addition to two joint projects, one with his wife Beyoncé and one with Roc Nation artist Jay Electronica, Hov has done a slew of features that prove he hasn’t lost a step in the booth. But there are guest verses and then there are guest verses—and the nearly four-minute, 80-bar blackout session Jay gave DJ Khaled on the title track for his new album God Did is the latter. Since everyone’s talking about the verse, let’s break down what makes it so special, and then we’ll debate over whether it meets the hype
Statute of Limitations Drug Talk This is my favorite Jigga. With the line, “never wanted to be the state custodian,” he seems to be distancing himself from the neoliberal billionaire talk that I’m not into: I welcome his getting back into his smooth-criminal bag with open arms. Rarely is someone that deep in the game able to leave it unscathed, and he’s secure enough to be able to be amazed at his own success. Jay referring to his “God Did” verse as “Psalm 151” tells us that he still considers himself a David instead of a Goliath, which is crazy being that he’s a billionaire who, in recent years, has been put on the pedestal as hip-hop’s greatest living rapper. Lucky Lefty relishes beating the system.
Crew Love To that end: As Jay’s longtime engineer Young Guru has been explaining on social media today, there are some lines Jay spits that would be impossible to fully decode without some help from his inner circle. For one, when he references selling dope with “Loro” and “washing La Madrina,” he’s referencing his longtime friends and business partners, husband and wife Juan and Desiree Perez, respectively, with two nicknames from their street days. This whole section of the verse plays like a more sinister version of his entourage roll call from his celebrated “Friends” verse—staple characters like TyTy, Emory, and Jay Brown get shoutouts in “God Did,” but all with references to their former lives and how unbelievable it is that they managed to go legitimate. (For example, Jay Brown, who works closely with Rihanna, gets a shoutout comparing Fenty to fentanyl.) Emory went to jail for drug dealing, and now, 0 years after his release, he now heads up Jay’s weed company Monogram, an irony he pokes fun at with “E was down 10 for this/We just got his ten back then went back like, ‘where the interest is’?”
The entendres double and triple as the personal references build up. “So new planes gettin’ broken in/Highest elevation of the self” reads as an obvious play on Roc Nation’s clothing brand, Planes, and the idea of reaching higher planes of spirituality. And as Guru also pointed out: Hov apparently also just purchased a new private jet.
Jay also likely refers to Desiree as “La Madrina” in connection with the recent documentary on the actual La Madrina, the matriarch of New York’s Savage Skulls gang. Which leads to the next point:
State of the Union bars Jay verses are few and far between, so when a new one comes, with it comes the thrill of hearing him address any media talk or gossip that’s been circling him. It’s a reminder that as far removed from the mortal concerns of social media as he may seem, everything gets back to him. Sometimes it may be something lighthearted, like the nearly year-old viral moment of him reacting to his friend Kelly Rowland showing up on the red carpet for his The Harder They Fall movie premiere. Or he puts his ruling in on reports that have higher stakes, like discounting the idea that there’s now friction between himself and Meek Mill after the latter left Roc Nation management. Jay firmly puts that to bed here, reminding everyone that he literally helped free Meek from prison (“Me and Meek could never beef, I freed that nigga from a whole bid.”). Even the aforementioned meme bar (“Monogram in my pocket on the red carpet, you see the face I made that night shit is that shocking”) is casually noteworthy because out of all his weed-toking peers, Jay-Z historically raps about how he doesn’t typically partake. So it’s kind of funny that he basically admits to being high as shit here.
The Giggs shoutout Jay rapping “I see a lot of Hov in [UK rapper] Giggs” and shouting out the “bloke and ‘nem from London, Harold Road, Weston Inn” shouldn’t come as a surprise. We’ve all seen the pic of Jay in the Benz in London and remember when Noel Gallagher and Dizzie Rascal hated on him for being named a headliner at 2008’s Glatsonbury festival, so he’s familiar with their street and music scenes. There’s also the time Stormzy decided to leave him off “Take Me Back to London” because he felt Jay wasn’t right for the song. Stormzy said there’s no animosity there, but maybe Jay is poking him on some competitive shit? The Giggs line ties all this together, though, as Jay sees himself in how Giggs, as an independent artist, moves through the industry on his own terms. Clearly Jay pays attention to the UK Rap scene: Lest we forge,t Roc-A-Fella signed S.A.S. back in the early 2000s. Hov been on road.
NOI Hov lives on Jay ends the verse referencing Minister Louis Farrakhan’s 1996 60 Minutes interview with Mike Wallace, specifically the clip that regularly goes viral every few years. The clip in question shows Farrakhan, offended by Mike Wallace asking him why he would visit a nation as corrupt as Nigeria, firing back that America has no moral authority over any one country on this planet. (He later apologized for being so passionate.) Now, juxtapose that with the way that Jay’s political endeavors, past, and status in rap are always put up for debate. This is also a reminder that while he’s shown some neoliberal sensibilities as he’s gotten richer, Jay has always been pro-black in his raps, and has referenced the Nation of Gods and Earths. Maybe that’s part of the reason he calls himself Hova.
The mythological 92 Bricks story rears its head It’s lore any Jay-Z superfan is familiar with: Ever since rapping “Lost 92 bricks, had to fall back/Knocked a n-gga off his feet but I crawled back/Had A1 credit, got more crack/From the 1st to the 5th gave it all back/If I’m not a hustler, what you call that?” on the seminal Blueprint album cut, “Never Change,” Jay has repeatedly been asked to clarify the story—particularly how someone could even lose that much weight and live to tell the tale. Every time it comes up, Jay has, understandably, laughed it off. Here he shouts out his Roc-a-fella co-founder Kareem “Biggs Hoffa” Burke (who would later do some drug trafficking related jail time in the 2010s) with “Me and Biggs probably got too big if they ain’t book that load (What’s up Hoffa?)/Hindsight is 20/20.” The implication being, if they didn’t lose the insane amount of bricks (“that load”), the drug operation probably would have proved too lucrative for them to take pursuing a spot in the music industry seriously.
So, did it meet the hype?
Angel: Yes, and no for me. There was no way the verse could’ve lived up to the noise from all the hype for the last couple of weeks. Yet, funnily enough, I wasn’t underwhelmed, in fact, I got chills during certain parts, man, I can’t front to the people. Now is it “Verse of the Decade” as some have claimed? Being that we’re only two years in, it can make the list…for now. Now, is it one of his best ever? I think it makes that top 50 list as well, I’m just not sure how high. It’s certainly one of his best in recent years: Put it up there with “What’s Free.” What’s more interesting to me, though, is that he completely overshadowed Rick Ross and Lil Wayne and that’s no easy feat, even for the man who calls himself God.
Frazier: What makes a great Jay-Z verse? “Neck and Wrist” is my personal favorite song of the year so far, but before that Jigga had been coasting—when you’re the GOAT you’re held to an inevitably higher, admittedly sometimes unfair standard. A lot of his 2021 output was very cool, but the verses weren’t showstoppers, which is what we (I) selfishly demand from him now that his output has become infrequent. He went above and beyond here to tell myself and others, “Heard you.” Hype is always a little unnecessary for anything, and I would urge anyone calling this his best verse of the decade so far to re-listen to “A Written Testimony,” and anyone calling it his best verse in a decade (both sentiments are being heavily indulged on Twitter today) to replay “Drug Dealers Anonymous,” “What’s Free,” “Friends,” or “Seen it All.” Recency bias is real. But man is it great to hear him so inspired. Who knows what this recording experience and the subsequent hype may have unlocked? Khaled may have just put Album 14 back on the books. At 52, Jigga is still vital and it’s lovely to watch unfold. He’s far from being God but these new raps are goddamn hard.
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