Beyoncé has served as a muse and source of inspiration for Jay Z for over 20 years – and Jay’s music has come a long way in that time. In this analysis, Ben Carter digs deep into the data to analyze Jay Z’s references of Queen B throughout his entire discography. How have Hova’s lyrical portrayals of his eventual wife changed throughout the years?
Tracking Jay Z’s Transition From Player to Family Man
The evolution of Jay Z’s lyrical content since Hova’s musical debut in 1996 is unlike any other discography in rap music. Jay Z began his career as a conscious gangster rapper, then spent the rest of the 2000s embracing violence, hyper-consumerism, and cold-hearted dealings with women. Examples of Jay Z’s callous attitude toward women are plentiful before 2002, including lyrics like: “I fuck the most hoes out of New York State” (2000), “Hot boy Jigga man scorch your bitch” (1999), and “Get a couple of chicks, get ’em to try to do E / hopefully they’ll menage before I reach my garage” (2001).
While there were hidden gems in Jay Z’s early work that contradicted the cartoonishly masculine character he painted in the above lyrics (See “Soon You’ll Understand” and “You Must Love Me”), the overwhelming bulk of his music was emotionally barren and/or objectifying.
But things began to change in Jay Z’s lyrical content later in 2001, beginning with the track “Song Cry”. “Song Cry” showed a side to Jay Z that we previously had not seen: a side of emotional consciousness and self-awareness.
This emotional maturation was reinforced on subsequent projects like 2002’s The Blueprint 2, particularly in “03′ Bonnie & Clyde” and “Excuse Me Miss”. Jay Z’s guest spot on Pharrell’s “Frontin'” also served to illustrate the emotional growth Hova was undergoing at the time.
Jay Z on “Song Cry”:
“How was I to know that you was plain sick of me?
I know the way a nigga livin’ was whack
But you don’t get a nigga back like that!
Shit, I’m a man with pride, you don’t do shit like that
You don’t just pick up and leave and leave me sick like that
You don’t throw away what we had, just like that
I was just fuckin’ them girls, I was gon’ get right back
They say you can’t turn a bad girl good
But once a good girl’s gone bad, she’s gone forever
I’ll mourn forever
Shit, I’ve got to live with the fact I did you wrong forever”
Beyoncé and Jay Z’s History
Few couples in the history of pop culture, let alone hip hop culture, compare to the combined magnitude of Beyoncé and Jay Z. Individually, Beyoncé and Jay Z were legitimate cultural icons. But together they reached even greater heights, creating a new standard for the phrase “power couple”.
Although the duo met in the late 90’s, Beyoncé and Jay Z’s relationship officially began back in 2001, around the same time that Jay Z dropped his pivotal track “Song Cry”. The two also appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair‘s November 2001 music issue in November 2001, although they did so individually. According to Jay Z, the two were just beginning to date at the time of the photo shoot.
Over the next seven years, Beyoncé and Jay Z continued to grow their relationship both within and outside of the public eye. The two continued to climb the charts and ascend into the cultural stratosphere during this time. In May 2003, Beyoncé dropped her debut solo studio album Dangerously in Love, which included the hit song “Crazy in Love” featuring Jay Z. “Crazy in Love” went on to win the awards for Best R&B Song and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 2004 Grammy Awards – the first major awards Beyoncé and Jay Z won together. In 2008, the two got married in a secret ceremony held at Jay Z’s Manhattan apartment. By 2012, Jay Z would officially become a family man with the birth of their daughter, Blue Ivy.
The Evolution of Jay-Z’s References to Beyoncé
Beyoncé has long served as a source of lyrical inspiration for Jay Z, going as far back as 1998 – but the nature of how this inspiration was translated by Hova has evolved drastically over time. This change in content is reflected in the way Jay Z began to modify how he spoke about his future wife Beyoncé, and it’s no stretch to say she was pivotal in Jay’s mid-career maturation.
If the below graph is confusing, I’ve broken down every category individually below, with simple graphs.
Jay-Z has mentioned or explicitly referenced Beyoncé 320 times in song during the course of his rap career, a figure accumulated via 69 tracks between 1998 and 2018. The nature of these mentions has evolved alongside Jay-Z the artist and Shawn Carter the man, beginning with sly double meanings and subliminal easter eggs, transitioning into aspirational statements and observations, and maturing to address issues of family, sex, and infidelity, three topics he scoffed at before Beyoncé entered his life.
Description: These are all-purpose, simple references or mentions.
Example: On 2009’s “Venus Vs. Mars” there are 14 observational references, including simple bars like “She used to have a man” and “Shorty played the piano”.
Speaking Directly to Beyoncé
Description: Any statement directed at Bey, usually contains her name, “B”, “Bey”, or some other pseudonym.
Example: “03′ Bonnie & Clyde” is a great example, with ad-libs like “Talk to ’em B” and bars like “I ain’t perfect, nobody walking this earth’s surface is / But girlfriend, work with the kid”.
Punchline / Double Meaning
Description: Wordplay that uses Beyoncé as a reference point.
Example: 2012’s “Who Shot Ya (freestyle)”: “I’m Destiny’s Child, my fate’s been sealed”, and “Get your independent ass out of here”.
Description: References and mentions that centre on their relationship, or just Beyoncé, as the pinnacle of human existence.
Example: 2006’s “Upgrade U” has 9 instances, including “Cause that rock on ya finger’s like a tumor”.
Description: Lyrics that centre on Beyoncé’s physical appearance.
Example: 2011’s “That’s My Bitch”: “Call Larry Gagosian, you belong in museums”
Description: Pretty self-explanatory.
Example: 2013’s “Drunk In Love”: “Your breasts my breakfast / We goin’ in”
Description: When Jay’s references switched from girlfriend to future wife to wife. The “Family” section and graph has more information.
Example: 2017’s “4:44”: “We’re supposed to laugh ’til our heart stops / And then meet in a space where the dark stop / And let love light the way”
Jay Z’s Evolution By Type of Reference
Jay Z’s Sexual References of Beyonce
If there is one statistic taken away from this article, let it be that Jay Z very rarely spoke of Beyoncé in a sexual way until after they were married. The only times prior were on “Deja Vu”, their collaboration in which Jay raps “Now I bag B”, and Beyoncé confirms by ad-libbing “Boy you hurting that”, on 2007’s “Party Life” when Jay riffs “I’m on her bra strap, she’s on my dick”, and “She’s my little quaterback, ya dig / Cause I’m all that in the sack”, and a solitary reference on “Oh Girl (Remix)”, “Until that day you said close your eyes, let me ride you”.
After they wed in 2008, it was open season – both traded sexual bars on a number of tracks including 2013’s “Drunk In Love”, which features 15 sexual references from Jay alone. He also slipped 5 into 2017’s “MaNyFacedGod”, 5 into their 2013 collaboration “Part II (On The Run)”, and 3 into Justin Timberlake’s “Murder”.
Being sexually explicit about your wife on wax may not appear to be the most respectful angle, but with the exception of 4 references in 2007, Jay waited until they were married for 5 years before he began using sex with Beyoncé as more than a passing mention or one-off bar.
Jay Z’s Family-based References of Beyonce
Number of References
In 2003, at the end of what was meant to be his final recorded track, “My 1st Song”, Jay shouts out a bunch of people during the outro. Just after he says “My whole family, my nephew, cousin Angie, whassup? Ti-Ti” he also throws in 4 “Bey”‘s, before immediately shouting out his mother. Trawl through every Jay-Z song prior to 2002, there has never been a mention of a girlfriend being part of his family, in fact, he spits the opposite: “Now what I look like giving a chick half my trap / Like she wrote half my raps / Yeah, I’m having that”.
The next family references came in “New Day” in 2011, and family was the most common way Jay referred to Beyoncé after their marriage. It was a major theme on 2017’s 4:44, with 20 separate attributions. For a rapper who once spat “Don’t get mad at me, I don’t love ’em I fuck ’em / I don’t chase ’em I duck ’em / I replace ’em with another one”, the growth required to then spit “We’re supposed to laugh ’til our heart stops / And then meet in a space where the dark stop / And let love light the way” is exponential.
Jay Z’s Beyoncé References within Double Meanings
Number of References
Jay assigned himself the title of “Monster of the Double Entendre”, and Beyoncé offered a great opportunity for these punchline-based bars. As their relationship progressed, punchlines turned into double meanings, and Jay (proportionally) used fewer and fewer. Classic mid-career examples include “I need Angelina Joleezy comfort / So I ain’t gon’ make a move unless I got a Plan B” from 2006’s “Trouble“, “Ridin’ so slow but BK is from Texas” on “Empire State of Mind” (2009) and the 6 he delivered on “Venus Vs. Mars” (a Jay/Bey collab) from 2009.
Jay Z’s Aspirational References to Beyoncé
Number of References
While the percentage figure has gone down over time (the amount of aspirational references as a percentage of total references in a time period), the raw numbers have stayed relatively consistent. All the pre-2003 references came from “03′ Bonnie & Clyde”, a track heaped with bars speaking into existence the dominance the couple would exert in the 15 years to come. Since, Jay has scattered references throughout his discography and guest spots, as the lyrics turned from superficial boasting (“Me and my beautiful bitch, in the back of the bach”, “And B she gotta ride G3”, “30’s the new 20, I’m so hot still / Better broad, better automobile”) to inspirational statements (“The rest for B, whatever she wants to do / She might start an institute / She might put poor kids through school”, “We gon’ make a billi first / I told my wife the spiritual shit really work”). Another example of the changing disposition.
Jay Z’s Aesthetic References to Beyoncé
Number of References
“That’s My Bitch”, during which he compared Beyoncé to the Mona Lisa and rapped that she belongs in mueseums, delivers 1/3 of the total aesthetic references. For some reason, Jay never pursued the “Beyoncé is hot” thread, outside of “Got the hottest chick in the game wearing my chain” in “Public Service Announcement” in 2003. When he does, it can be slightly awkward, as on 2002’s “All Around The World”: “Pool look like a hundred Beyoncé’s / A couple fiancees”, or clumsy, as on 2008’s “Jockin’ Jay-Z”: “No that’s not Pilates, her body is thick”.
Jay Z Speaking Directly to Beyoncé
Number of References
A lot of Jay’s earlier “speaking to Bey” references came via ad-libs, as on “03′ Bonnie and Clyde” and “Upgrade U”. Of the 53 references in this category, 23 came from Jay/Bey collaborations, meaning 30 came outside of those. Similar to the “observational” category, “4:44” and “MaNyFacedGod” delivered, with 14 between them. Most of the other instances have been Jay acting as Beyoncé’s hype-man (a role she rarely reversed), like “B put these fuckboys on notice” (“Top Off”), “Talk to ’em B”, “Break it down for ’em B” (“03 Bonnie & Clyde”).
Jay Z’s Observational Beyonce References
Number of References
Observations are simple references, usually used to provide context or simply describe a situation or fact. They’re mostly harmless, and quite objective. All of Jay’s early observations came from “03′ Bonnie & Clyde”. As they accumulated shared experiences and knowledge of each other, and began to share a life together, the number of observational references in Jay’s music increased. Tracks like “4:44” and “MaNyFaCedGod” tackled deep-rooted relationship issues with a lot of observation and reflection. “I seen the innocence leave your eyes”, “Not meant to cry and die alone in these mansions / Or sleep with our back turned”, “Look at all we been through since August”.
This category benefits from a small number of tracks that feature a lot of observations. “4:44” (16), “Venus Vs. Mars” (14), and “MaNyFacedGod” (12).
Breakdown of All Jay Z’s Lyrical References to Beyonce
Jay Z’s earliest references to Beyoncé
Jay’s references to Beyoncé began in just the second year of his mainstream career, on 1998’s “Lobster and Scrimp” by Timbaland. During the back and forth between Jay and Timbo in the third verse, Jay raps: “Said ‘No No No,’ then, ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah” like she Destiny’s Child”, which referred to the track “No No No” released by Destiny’s Child in February 1998. Much of Jay’s earliest references were in search of a punchline or a double meaning. His next three references came in 2001, all in search of creating an interesting and veiled double meaning.
His bars on 2001’s “People Talkin'” may be the deepest hidden gem in his discography: “If I’m readin’ these chapters right / Please what have you, I breeze through Matthews”. Jay’s relationship with Bey’s father Mathew Knowles has never been explicitly stated, but rumours have always existed that the two have never been close. 2001 was around the time Jay and Bey began spending time with one another, and Mathew was still Beyoncé’s manager.
Side note: shout out to @AintNoJigga. He was generous with his Jay-Z knowledge, and without him, this article wouldn’t have been 100% accurate, which is the same as saying it wouldn’t be worth writing. Please check him out on Twitter, if you are a Jay-Z fan he will enrich your life!