To accompany the release of his new album 4:44, Jay-Z released an animated video for standout track “The Story of O.J.”
The Nina Simone-sampling clip, directed by the rapper and Mark Romanek, plays off and subverts traditional African-American stereotypes. The style of the cartoon is a direct nod to the racist minstrel animations of the early 20th century where many black stereotypes that continue to pervade culture originated from.
The clip centers on a character named “Jaybo,” a tweak on the “Sambo” character from the children’s book The Story of Little Black Sambo, a reference that’s long-running shorthand for racist portrayals of African-Americans in the media. “Light nigga, dark nigga, faux nigga, real nigga / Rich nigga, poor nigga, house nigga, field nigga Still nigga, still nigga,” Jay-Z raps as trenchant images of cotton fields, burning crosses, slave ships and lynchings appear on-screen.
Speaking on the song to iHeartRadio, Jay-Z said, “‘The Story of OJ’ 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.”
The rapper released his new album – his first since 2013’s Magna Carta Holy Grail – as a Tidal exclusive on June 30th. It’s unclear how long the album will remain exclusive to the streaming service, or if a physical release is planned. He also partnered with iHeartRadio to air the album on 160 radio stations nationally until July 1st at midnight ET.
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The new album comes weeks after mysterious “4:44” subway posters and banner ads started cropping up without explanation. It was soon revealed that 4:44 was, in part, an upcoming Tidal-only film starring Mahershala Ali, Lupita Nyong’o and Danny Glover. Jay-Z’s mom Gloria Carter, Frank Ocean, Damian Marley, Beyoncé, The-Dream and Blue Ivy Carter all appear on the album.
Jay-Z will hit the road this summer in support of 4:44, including stops at festivals like his Made in America, Austin City Limits and Meadows.