Less than one week ago, JAY-Z dropped not only one of the finest Rap verses of 2022, but a benchmark set of bars within a legendary career. Hours after “GOD DID” arrived Friday (August 26) on DJ Khaled’s album of the same name, associates of JAY-Z, including his engineer, A&R, and sometimes DJ, Young Guru shared new light on the meanings behind his lyrics. This week, DJ Khaled appeared on Twitter Spaces and was joined by JAY-Z. “It’s an amazing display of unity. It feels like an all-star game when these albums come out,” Jay says of GOD DID during the appearance. The song also features Lil Wayne and Rick Ross within an album that involves Drake, Lil Baby, Eminem, Kanye West, Dr. Dre, Juice WRLD, Jadakiss, and more. “It’s a beautiful thing for the culture,” Jay notes at 2:45 in a video that documents the online event.
In the conversation, moderated by journalist Rob Markman and featuring Roc Nation executive Lenny S., Khaled recalls JAY-Z preparing to deliver the verse. “The cigar got lit, a bottle got cracked open, and the vibes started happening,” Khaled says. Jay reportedly had a one-hour window that involved helicopter transport. Jay added that his studio preparation was not unlike a story Irv Gotti recently shared regarding Jay waiting in D&D Studios for Nas during the mid-1990s. “I was cheatin’; [Young Guru] didn’t tell that part. While we was waiting for you to send the beat, we was just playing the [loop] inside the control room. So I was going through it a couple times while we were waiting. I was just rapping over any part. It just kept looping and drops was happening in the wrong place.” Khaled confirms that “Hov rapped over the hook, the breaks” to get his thoughts down. Jay repeats, “I cheated a couple times.” However, the Brooklyn legend did do a proper take to cement the moment: “When I went in the booth it was pretty much a done-deal.”
Rob Markman points to Jay’s “GOD DID” verse as a representation of Hip-Hop’s actualization. Whereas Jay peers like Special Ed once rapped from an aspirational place on songs like “I Got It Made,” songs like “GOD DID” show a billionaire living out his wildest dreams. “First of all, you’ve gotta remember that Hip-Hop was demonized when we first came out. And then we were underestimated. Like [DJ] Khaled said, they didn’t believe in us. Remember, Hip-Hop was a fad. Do your history,” says Jay to the greatest audience. “After they couldn’t get rid of us, they demonized us. And they started driving tractors over our CDs and stuff like that. This is all history.” Jay is referring to campaigns by former Vice President Dan Quayle, Tipper Gore, C. Delores Tucker, and others that were aimed at Hip-Hop artists ranging from 2 Live Crew and Tupac Shakur to Paris and Ice-T’s Metal outfit Body Count.
JAY-Z, who included criticism from conservative pundit Tomi Lahren in 2016’s “Drug Dealer’s Anonymous,” celebrates the victory. “This, for me, feels like the end [of the movie] where the villain survives—doesn’t go to jail, but gets to pop more sh*t. So it’s that feeling. I don’t know if we’ve ever been vocalized this way and have it be all true.”
Jay illustrates the real-life that inspired “GOD DID.” He continues, “The thing that makes me most proud of everything, every word I said in that thing is actual fact [which], for me, is a challenging thing to do—like to rap that long and every single bar is just like actual fact, as far as Hip-Hop” Jay references his line “In memory of Teelo,” which is a lyric about Ty Ty’s late brother Trance. Ty Ty is among Jay’s closest associates. He points to the line “Lot of fallen soldiers on these roads of sin” as a nod to Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls—peers that Jay shared powerful histories with. He then points to “Kickin’ snow off of a frozen Timb.” “That’s people that go unnamed that you guys don’t know about; there’s so much of my life in there,” says Jay, who also alludes that Caddy is a real figure from the mogul’s past. “Just how powerful the music is, the reach of the music, and where we [have] come to.” He responds to Markman’s comment about aspirational to actualization with, “You’re 100% on-point.”
Markman, also an MC, then asks JAY-Z if he self-censors. Along the way, he inquires why this verse arrived at this particular moment. “I don’t know if I self-censor. I’m aware of the timing of things. Again, some of these things are out of my control. It’s just the way the world works and the universe works—Khaled came at these specific time. There’s some times I’ll like a beat or I’ll like a song and the timing ain’t right—or the timing is right and I don’t like a song. It’s so much that goes in getting things done these days; I have a lot of things on my plate.” Hov appears to point to divine inspiration, flowing along with the album and song title, and a theme to DJ Khaled’s 13th album. “This is just magic. It’s really out of our control.”
Markman points to Jay’s “Pound Cake” verse, released nine years ago this month on Drake’s Nothing Was The Same. At the time, Jay spit, “I’ve done made more millionaires than the lotto did / Dame made millions, Biggs made millions / ‘Ye made millions, Just made millions / Lyor made millions, Cam’ made millions.” Moving from millions to billions, Jay has a similar sentiment on “GOD DID” when he raps, “Nobody touched the billi’ until Hov did / How many billionaires can come from Hov crib? / Huh I count three, me, ‘Ye, and Rih / Bron’s a Roc boy, so four, technically.” He is referring to himself, Kanye West, Rihanna, and Lebron James.
JAY-Z expounds on the line as a rally cry. “We’re not gonna stop. Hip-Hop is young. We still growing. We’re not fallin’ for that tricknology—whatever the public puts out there,” he says. Jay points to institutional racism and words that some critics use on him. “Before it was the American dream: ‘pull yourself up by your boot-straps and you can make it in America’—all these lies that America told us our whole life. And then when we start gettin’ it, they try to lock us out of it. They start inventing words like ‘capitalist’ and things like that. We’ve been called ‘ni**er’ and ‘monkeys’ and sh*t; I don’t care—those words y’all come up with, y’all gotta come up with stronger words.” Jay returns to his charge, and speaks directly to the people who want to see him and others losing. “We’re not gonna stop. We’re not gonna be tricked out of our position. Y’all locked us out. Y’all created a system that doesn’t include us. We said fine. We went our alternate route and created this music; we did our thing. We hustled; we f*ckin’ killed ourself to get to this space, and now it’s like, ‘eat the rich.’ We’re not stopping.”
Jay also brings his point to Hip-Hop, revisiting the beginnings of his solo career. “We came from selling seven records, and selling records out our trunk; no radio play. I think Reasonable Doubt did 36,000 [sold] the first week or something like that.” Jay admits that his account may be exaggerated and that his independently-released 1996 debut may have even sold less.
While Jay points to the reality in his verse, he uses the moment to get vivid and real too. “I come from Marcy projects; my first house—615 Lexington Avenue, my grandmother’s house [held] seven families. She had seven kids; my parents and siblings lived in that house.” Jay reminds that he once brought Oprah Winfrey to this space. He recalls that return visit. “I couldn’t believe how small this house was, that all of us lived in that house. That evolution that you speak of, it’s real, and it’s happening in real-time, and I’m talking about it. We’re not gonna stop, and we’re not gonna stop talkin’ about it. You’re not gonna trick us out or make us feel ashamed to be successful in a place [where a system is set up] for us to be dead at 21. No sir. Not us.”
After civil rights lawyer-turned-MSNBC host Ari Melber speaks about his recent video essay “HOV DID,” Jay reacts to all. “In the verse I say, ‘My only goal, to make a real ni**a feel seen.‘ When somebody breaks it down that way, we all feel seen.” Hov mentions receiving similar praise from A$AP Ferg upon the release of “GOD DID.”
Notably, Jay formally released the audio of Ari Melber’s words about the song:
“GOD DID” is currently included on the official Ambrosia For Heads playlist.
#BonusBeat: An AFH original video that examines what if JAY-Z had stuck to his plan of retiring after Reasonable Doubt: