Jay-Z and Kanye West’s once-legendary partnership has been in question this year since Ye’s very public implosion. And though Jay has stayed relatively quiet about his friend’s famous douchebaggery, he finally directly addresses West’s love for Donald Trump on a new Meek Mill track.
The track, “What’s Free,” focuses on mass incarceration, a topic that has been important to both Jay-Z and Meek Mill. With a chorus from Meek that says, “Free is when nobody else could tell us what to be / Free is when the TV ain’t controlling what we see,” Jay-Z flips the idea to address his relationship with West in light of his support of Trump.
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As Jay raps:
No red hat, don’t Michael and Prince me and Ye
They separate you when you got Michael and Prince’s DNA, uh
I ain’t one of these house niggas you bought
My house like a resort, my house bigger than yours
My spou- (C’mon man)
What’s interesting is how carefully Jay phrases this verse. He seems to be speaking to the narrative of him and West more than anything, telling the media not to create a rivalry between him and Kanye with a reference to Michael Jackson and Prince’s relationship. It’s a fascinating approach, one that anyone with a loved one who holds opposing views can identify with. While not rejecting his friend, he’s rejecting the red hat and the ideas that come with it. This is an important distinction—one that much of the conversation about this verse has ignored.
And later he takes another shot at Trump:
Look at my hair free, care free
Niggas ain’t near free
Enjoy your chains, whats your employer name with the hair piece?
Here Jay takes on the logical leaps required to support Trump, cleverly twisting Kanye’s idea of “free thought.” Rather than taking shots at his friend and collaborator, his verse allows for more complexity, challenging the ideas without letting the narrative become about some sort of feud between Jay and Kanye.
Unfortunately, while we’re talking about this song, we also have to discuss Rick Ross’s verse, which uses a homophobic slur in a shot at Tekashi 6ix9ine. No matter the context—like Eminem’s shitty verse earlier this year—this language is unforgivable. It shows just how out of touch Ross is with the progress hip-hop has made in recent years and it detracts from what’s otherwise an important track.