Jay-Z’s new album, 4:44, is a critical and commercial success, but not all the attention it’s attracting is positive. The Anti-Defamation League has issued a statement about the song “The Story of O.J.” from 4:44 that contains lyrics the ADL views as anti-Semitic. The verse in question is included below, highlighted in bold, set within the context of surrounding lyrics.
“Rich nigga, poor nigga, house nigga, field nigga / Still nigga, still nigga / You wanna know what’s more important than throwin away money at a strip club? Credit / You ever wonder why the Jewish people own all the property in America? This how they did it / Financial freedom my only hope / Fuck livin’ rich and dyin’ broke.”
“We do not believe it was Jay-Z’s intent to promote anti-Semitism,” an ADL representative told Rolling Stone, acknowledging that the rapper has used his platform to combat racism throughout his career. But the lyric based on the damaging stereotype that Jewish people have a disproportionate hold on core industries in America is not sitting well with the ADL, since such stereotypes have long been used as excuses to incite violence against Jewish communities. “The lyric does seem to play into deep-seated anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews and money. The idea that Jews ‘own all the property’ in this country and have used credit to financially get ahead are odious and false. Yet, such notions have lingered in society for decades, and we are concerned that this lyric could feed into preconceived notions about Jews and alleged Jewish ‘control’ of the banks and finance.”
For a visual context, the video for “Story of O.J.” is a black-and-white cartoon with black characters depicted as they would have been in old minstrel animations, with the Jay-Z avatar being introduced as “Jaybo.” In it there are depictions of burning crosses, black characters picking cotton in fields, and eating watermelon — acknowledging stereotypes about black people and black culture that have persisted for generations. In a recent interview, Jay-Z said the song is “really a song about we as a culture, having a plan, how we’re gonna push this forward. We all make money, and then we all lose money, as artists especially. But how, when you have some type of success, to transform that into something bigger.”