Jay-Z told everyone not to pit black people against each other and, in classic fashion, what did hip-hop fans do? Decide to pit two famous black men against each other.
No, Jay didn’t diss Kanye West on Meek Mill’s “What’s Free” featuring Rick Ross — despite what many online have speculated. Instead, the rap star did something more measured: focus on sharing the wisdom he’s culled from his years as the first African-American through the many doors that are usually shut for people for color. “No red hat, don’t Michael and Prince me and ‘Ye / They separate you when you got Michael and Prince’s DNA,” Jay raps.
Hov has discussed his relationship with Kanye at length in various interviews, but “What’s Free” is among the first time he’s mentioned West’s highly controversial support of Donald Trump and his fixation on the “Make America Great Again” hat. The verse treads into messy territory during the following lines: “I ain’t one of these house niggas you bought / My house like a resort, my house bigger than yours / My spou- C’mon man). While many have tried to connect the cut off spouse line to West’s wife, Kim Kardashian, the more logical explanation is Hov throwing swipes at Trump. In January, the President asked on Twitter if someone could “inform Jay-Z” that he was the reason black unemployment was allegedly at “the lowest rate ever recorded,” after Jay had critical words for him on CNN’s “Van Jones Show.”
At its core, “What’s Free” is a song about slavery in its various forms. Hov’s contribution is by far the most eloquent and introspective. Dry and sardonic, but still passionate, Jay mocks the glamorization of streaming numbers with the same finesse he tackles a topic like gentrification. It could easily be too much, but he pulls it off gracefully.
To his credit, Meek Mill delivers a verse that’s both claustrophobic and deeply personal. He shares the mental toll of constant imprisonment by a corrupt system — “Seein’ how I prevailed now they try to knock me back / Lock me in the cell for all them nights and I won’t snap.” On any other song with any other guest, this would’ve been the standout moment.
Then there is Rick Ross. The less said about his verse, the better. He finds a way to rap about nothing, completely missing the point of the song. There are veiled shots at 6ix9ine’s current legal woes and a homophobic line (and use of the F word) that’s simply unacceptable, and should have been razed from the track. Somewhere an engineer needed to delete Ross’s file while no one was looking; they would have done the world a favor.