Over the course of a storied career that has taken him from hustling crack on the mean streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant to holding lunch meetings with Warren Buffett and topping the Forbes list of hip-hop Cash Kings, Jay-Z has addressed any number of startling topics in his songs. The vagaries of big pimping, wishing death upon the pitch-altering computer program Auto-Tune, metaphorically wiping “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”—the rap mogul has dealt with subjects great and small.
But none of them cuts as close to the emotional bone as “Glory,” the stand-alone single Jay-Z quietly posted on his website Monday.
Arriving two days after the birth of his first daughter with wife Beyoncé Knowles, Blue Ivy Carter, who has been the object of months of anxious speculation by celebrity watchers, the song contains a striking personal revelation. Amid rhyming couplets about paternal pride and spiritual gratefulness—basically a paean to his newborn—Jay-Z drops the bombshell that he and Beyoncé had lost an earlier pregnancy.
“Last time, the miscarriage was so tragic,” he raps on “Glory.” “We was afraid you would disappear. But nah, baby, you magic.”
And with the force of a roadside bomb, word of the miscarriage blasted across the celebrity news cycle—“Beyonce had miscarriage before Blue Ivy,” blared a headline on TMZ, while Radar Online weighed in with “Jay-Z reveals Beyonce’s miscarriage before Blue Ivy was born”—startling fans of both the notoriously guarded rapper and his superstar wife on several fronts.
Heretofore, Jay-Z and Beyoncé had kept their personal lives so completely off limits to outsiders that they didn’t acknowledge publicly they were an item until after they wed in a private 2008 ceremony; they reportedly paid $1.3 million to rent out the entire fourth floor of Manhattan’s Lenox Hill Hospital to shield Blue Ivy’s delivery from prying paparazzi. Moreover, unlike the pop stars whose private dramas unspool like loudly enacted soap operas across the pages of Us Weekly and Perez Hilton—Avril Lavigne, Chris Brown, Christina Aguilera, we are talking to you here—neither Bey nor Jay has ever betrayed much outside their carefully cultivated personas via song lyrics.
Until “Glory” came along, that is, with the revelation of just how upsetting the earlier miscarriage was to the couple.
“False alarms and false starts / all made better by the sound of your heart,” Jay-Z (né Shawn Carter) raps over a spartan, synth-driven beat by Pharrell Williams. “All the pain over the last time / I prayed so hard it was the last time.”
Further, viewed within hip-hop’s stringent social mores, such a disclosure of personal loss comes as a particular shock. In a musical genre where swashbuckling tales of bedroom heroics are almost like a professional obligation and male virility often directly correlates with album sales, Jay-Z’s admission distinguishes him as one of the rare MCs brave enough to broach the subject. The revelation prompted NPR’s music critic Ann Powers to wonder aloud on Twitter, “Has a rapper ever spoken about miscarriage before?”
Turns out South African–born MC Jean Grae gives miscarriage a brief mention in the dyspeptic relationship song “Love.” Meanwhile, Mississippi rapper Supa Villain tackles the subject head on in the song “Miscarriage,” in which he raps: “I got this burden on my heart and it’s tuggin’ my sleeve / I don’t know how you’d react homey, but it’s fucking with me / To my little boy or girl: R.I.P.”
To be sure, “Glory” doesn’t just morbidly dwell on the couple’s past tragedy; it’s a rapped ode to the joy of fatherhood. Toward the end of the song, the febrile sounds of a baby—Blue Ivy Carter, credited as “B.I.C.” on the track—can be heard riding the clacking beat. And Jay comes off as ebullient and swelled with goofy dad pride as he cracks an obvious joke at the expense of his wife and new daughter: “You’re a child of destiny / You’re the child of my destiny / You’re my child of a child from Destiny’s Child.”