Back on stage in his native New York after a stint as a full-time businessman, Jay-Z was in the mood for his classics and for a bit of politics.
Headlining The Meadows festival on Friday night before one of artist Jeff Koons’ giant balloon dogs, Jay-Z hailed two outspoken voices on race relations: quarterback Colin Kaepernick and recently deceased comedian Dick Gregory.
“I want to dedicate this song to Colin Kaepernick. I want to dedicate this to Dick Gregory,” Jay-Z said to hoots of approval from fans amassed for the two-year-old festival in the parking lot of the New York Mets’ baseball stadium.
“I want to dedicate this song to anyone that was held back and you overcame whatever it was,” he said.
The song was “The Story of O.J.,” the most controversial song of Jay-Z’s introspective new album “4:44.”
In the song, Jay-Z takes an anecdote from NFL running back O.J. Simpson — who allegedly, when accused of killing his wife and her lover, quipped, “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” — and examines how racial prejudice still permeates US society.
Kaepernick, a very different type of star than Simpson has drawn fire from conservatives, notably President Donald Trump, for refusing to stand for the US national anthem as a protest over the country’s treatment of minorities.
After being released from the San Francisco 49ers, the biracial quarterback has found himself without a team, fueling charges that he has been blacklisted for his political views.
Performing “The Story of O.J.,” Jay-Z did not hold back on the song’s most contested line, emphasized over a break in the beats: “You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America?”
The Anti-Defamation League, the leading Jewish civil rights group, has criticized the lyric as perpetuating stereotypes, while not suggesting that Jay-Z harbors anti-Semitic views.
Jay-Z has brushed aside the criticism, saying the lyrics in context is clearly meant to show the persistence of exaggerated images of ethnic groups.
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