The Grey Album by Danger Mouse is a mix of Jay-Z’s The Black Album with samples from The Beatles LP The Beatles. Jay-Z’s birthdate, December 4th, is the title of track four. It describes his early years, including, his parents’ separation, a period of selling drugs and his eventual decision to pursue a rap career. The song begins with Jay-Z’s mother Gloria Carter describing his birth.
He was the last of my four children
The only one who didn’t give me any pain when I gave birth to him
And that’s how I knew that he was a special child
Carter sounds hopeful that Jay-Z would provide salvation, from what we soon find out was a difficult marriage.
I was conceived by Gloria Carter and Adaness Revees
Who made love under the Sycamore tree
Jay-Z imagines his parents were once in love. The child part of him holds a vision of two people who cared for each other at one point. The subsequent loss of the father also signifies the loss of the couple, a union that symbolised a cohesiveness that was not yet formed in him. Jay-Z’s image of parental love is a natural idealization of the couple, something every young child feels and wants for their parents at some point. As a child Jay-Z was in the process of internalising his parents. What happens to the masculine aspect of his personality when this external representation is absent? From his lyrics we can assume there is a resulting lack of balance or harmony.
But I feel worthless cause my shirts wasn’t matching my gear
Jay-Z’s internal feeling of fragmentation manifests on the surface, expressed in his wardrobe’s lack of integration. He feels despair that his father is gone. Yet on the outside he must maintain the masculine facade that everything is okay.
Now I’m just scratching the surface cause what’s buried under there
Was a kid torn apart once his pop disappeared
To be emotionally torn apart yet for it to remain invisible is unbearable. If we suffer a massive physical injury we expect to receive the appropriate care and concern from medical professionals, family and friends. Physical pain is tolerated by society because it is clearly visible, which means we are more able to accept it. If our bones are broken we do not hide the fact. Yet this is what often happens in emotional injury. Social pressure requires Jay-Z to bury his pain. But as the pain goes underground it also leaks to the surface.
But, I noticed a change in him when me and my husband broke up
Carter notices Jay-Z’s withdrawal, but it is not acknowledged between them. It appears that while she observed her son’s behaviour shift over time she struggles to address it. Rather her beatings, which may signify her desperation to reach him, made no difference.
Now all the teachers couldn’t reach me
And my momma couldn’t beat me
Hard enough to match the pain of my pop not seeing me
While influential figures outside the family unit are significant, they cannot replace the missing father.
With that disdain in my membrane
Got on my pimp game
Fuck the world my defence came
What are Jay-Z’s options if he experiences the people around him as punishing, or incapable of reaching him? It is naive to believe he should have the capacity to communicate and pursue his needs directly. The only option then, is to turn his back on the people he needs most.
Then Dahaven introduced me to the game
Spanish Jose introduced me to cane
I’m a hustler now
My gear is in and I’m in the in crowd
Alone and hurting Jay-Z turns to his peers. In doing so he descends into the underworld of drugs and crime. Soon Jay-Z’s pain is soothed by the superficial pleasures that sex and money provide.
And then I bought him a boom box
And his sisters and brothers said that he would drive them nuts
But that was my way to keep him close to me and out of trouble
Carter finds a way to reach out and protect Jay-Z. She does this by recognising his passion for music. She encourages this creative outlet by buying him a boom box. By doing this she attempts to support Jay-Z on his own terms, instead of enforcing her own beliefs and values onto him.
And “trust” is a word you seldom hear from us
Hustlers we don’t sleep we rest one eye up
While there is a feeling of containment within the gang culture, there is no possibility of relaxing. There is an absence of a reassuring figure in Jay-Z’s life that could allow him to let his guard down. Is this the missing father? The presence of the older male, who allows the young man to release the burden of maintaining a front.
Jay-Z’s story communicates the pain a young man experiences when his father is absent. Even though Carter struggled to stay connected with her son, she attempted to identify and support what was important to him. In doing this she was able to keep him close, which I imagine gave Jay-Z a feeling of safety when everything around him felt like it was fragmenting.