Rap Songs that celebrate PRIDE: ‘Smile’
LGBTQ positive Jay-Z honors his mother’s personal journey
When the album 4:44 by Jay-Z was released in 2017 in marked a turning point in his illustrious career. For an individual that has made his name in personifying the “rap gangsta hustler”, this body of work leans more toward an intimate confessional where he acknowledges his hortcomings and missteps.Stripping away the facade, Sean Carter allows his audience to see a level of vulnerability andhumility that he has rarely shown before. Some would argue that while this album is not his most sonically pleasing body of work, it shows a level of maturity and growth that can not be ignored for an icon that has been at the top of his game for over 20 years. 4:44 is unique in its deconstruction of long standing assumptions and acknowledgement of race related hardship. The ten track album, boldy and retrospectively looks at Black American culture, and the ways in which society has continued to oppress and marginalize black excellence.
There are many potent moments within the album, but the one that resonates most heavily is ‘Smile’. The song which was written by both Jay-Z and his mother Gloria Carter is deeply personal and revealing as it comes to light through the lyrics and closing monologue that Gloria is a lesbian. The visual tells the story of two black female parents, who navigate their day to day lives while dealing with growing feelings of attraction for each other. This story showcases the lives of average black women who had to put the needs of their family above their own, in result sacrificing their own happiness. This music video is a touchstone for its ability to recognize the hardship and struggle black women in America faced, that were questioning their sexuality or openly gay.
“Smile” challenges society’s norms of black female sexuality and the notion that there is only space within society for black gay men. Jay-Z brings to the forefront a conversation on exclusion and societal shame that has attempted to erase black women from the LGBTQIA narrative.
Rap heavily embodies black popular culture and is key to the liberation from the elite culture. The song “Smile” itself is a form of resistance from the oppressive circumstances many African Americans face living in inner city communities, like the ones portrayed in the music video. This music video is so important because very rarely are rappers discussing women in away that acknowledges their sexual hardship. The rap genre also has a history of being homophobic and inconsiderate of women’s feelings with the language and rhetoric displayed in their music. For Jay-Z to reflect on his mothers experiences and be accepting of her sexuality and her right to love who she chooses is a powerful message. In Gloria’s closing monologue she talks about “living in the shadows/ living two lives/ fear of someone hurting your family or the personyou love/ living in the shadow feels like the safe place to be.” The idea that she could not live authentically out of fear of pushback or dangerous consequences laminates how much black women sacrificed. What Jay-Z and Gloria Carter accomplish in the execution of this video is creating a space for the conversation on sexual orientation to be had, and self love.
“Smile”, while lyrically about triumph is visually about the hardships Gloria Carter faced as she wrestled with her sexuality. The visual is the centerpiece to the larger message attempting to be made about acceptance within the black community. Jay-Z’s visual reflects on a time period where there was none in comparison to present day, where Gloria is proudly and publicly out as lesbian. This visual and song show how far Gloria has come in her own personal journey as well as the African American community in being accepting of both male and female LGBTQIA members. While we have made tremendous strides, we still have an incredibly long way to go.