I’m sorry they called you ugly, Jay-Z. You didn’t deserve that. You gave armor to Black boys, they called ugly. They became ugly Black men like I am, with your shoulders to stand on.
You are only ugly because you are the truth. The truth needs your broad nose flaring and thick lips rapping. The truth needs your nasal squawk and swallowed grunts. The truth takes the bass line out, turns you up in the headphones.
Your 13th album, 4:44, suffocated lies with confessions, traded boasts for what’s broken. The ugly we Black men needed but refused. I owe you an apology for years of denial. I was living through your autobiography as you wrote it, but never imagined the burden you carried. The heft of every insult thrown at ugly Black boys.
The Marcy child who delivered Brooklyn to glory didn’t deserve to be called ugly. You made the block beautiful in song, cared for her after surgery and new money. The only Carter we acknowledge. A Brooklyn boy with steep odds to overcome –– who no one believed in and everyone shunned –– gave me manhood rules I still clutch.
But my best teachers didn’t drop albums. My elders taught me to ask what was incomplete about my love for Blackness, and how to fill in any gaps with honest work on myself. Fortune blessed me with examples of joyful Black existence, and my family upheld that model.
At 15 years old, Shawn Carter wasn’t as lucky. You had more pressing needs, like food and escape. Your mother hid her true desires because she had to, and so you hid your pain because you had to. In Marcy Bed-Stuy, you drew pistols on pain, fired and never looked back. That cold ego helped you when compassion couldn’t.
They say the truth is ugly. You are only ugly because you are the truth. And now you’re not hiding. Money couldn’t shield you from racism, but we rode with Hov like the mere fact of you driving a Bentley out the hood could reap justice. But now you’re not hiding behind the billions, so I see your scars better.
There’s no such thing as an ugly you. You’ve done too much for us: saved sweet words to seal bitter lessons, advised on what to leave behind for good.
But that sorry only serves who says it. “4:44” was every apology that fell short, every father whose lies ruined his home. Your apology –– for failed empathy, for betrayal ––sounded too familiar and no more useful. I’ve given that same apology enough times to know it’s not as heavy as the pain she’ll carry. Sorry turned ugly.
We fed on your soul for $9.99, but we can’t rent realness. Between bars, we heard blood trickle from split wounds. Memories snuck down your cheek to flood our hearts with reminders of who we are: ashy-knuckled soldiers fighting invisible wars with the past.
Your story’s too wide for beauty standards. Too wide to be neat. A messy marriage and friendships soured. Brags to riches. A lonesome doubter in a confident shell.
But you tried. Too many of us break down or lash out before we’ve tried to love our women, to love our Blackness. Before we’ve apologized for weak excuses in defense of ugly motives. You bested your father, hoping, like so many of us, to be a good man. Yet, like so many of us, you are also your father’s flaws. My heart breaks for the day you’ll hear trauma in your daughter’s voice and know you caused it. And watch innocence exit. Karma breeds ugly.
Crazy how life works. The kid that used to pitch bricks can’t be pigeonholed. Your art is beautiful, but your truth is ugly. Jay-Z, in full Black brilliance, defies rules.
So now, I apologize. You’re family; we should forgive your ugly truths and love your wounds.
But because you’re family, we never treat you like we should.
(Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)