The Songwriters Hall of Fame inducted Jay Z – the first rapper to receive the honor – at a Thursday ceremony where former president Barack Obama provided a video tribute for “a friend of mine and first-ballot Hall of Famer.”
“I think Mr. Carter and I understand each other. Nobody who met us as younger men would have expected us to be where we are today,” Obama said.
“We know what it’s like not to have a father around. We know what it’s like to not come from much, and to know people who didn’t get the same breaks as we did. So we try to prop open those doors of opportunity so that it’s a little easier for those who come up behind us have it a littler easier as well.”
Obama also joked that both he and Jay Z “have wives that are significantly more popular than we are.”
“Like all of you, I am a fan: I’ve been listening to Jay since I was a young and hungry state senator,” Obama continued. “I sampled his lyrics to close his speech at Selma, and tweeted a reference to ‘My First Song’ when I was putting the finishing touches on my final State of the Union address. I had to ‘brush some dirt off my shoulders’ during a campaign. So I’m pretty sure I’m still the only president to listen to Jay Z’s music in the Oval Office.”
In closing, Obama repeated a quote that the rapper once said: “I never looked at myself and said ‘I need to be a certain way to be around a certain sort of people.’ I’ve always wanted to stay true to myself and I managed to do that. People have to accept that.”
While Jay Z did not attend the New York ceremony, the rapper made a rare appearance on Twitter to thank the many artists who inspired him on his path to the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In the thread, Jay Z spanned decades of influences, from Rakim, Big Daddy Kane and KRS-One to Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G. and Eminem to Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper and up-and-coming Detroit rapper Tee Grizzly.
“And the greatest rapper of all time OBAMA . Thank you 44,” Jay Z added.
Thank you to all the people that have inspired me . Rakim KANE KRS chuck cube Jaz Em Andre Nas big PAC cole kendrick chance jayE ..wait,
— Mr. Carter (@S_C_) June 16, 2017
With Beyonce due to have twins in the near-future, Jay Z did not attend the gala; his mother, grandmother, sisters and friends were instead there to represent the rapper, Variety reports, with Jay Z’s friend and Warner/Chappell CEO Jon Platt reading an acceptance speech on his behalf.
“I’ve worked with Jay for over 20 years, since just after the release of his first album, Reasonable Doubt. And I’ll never forget the moment when I first heard that album. Yes, the songs were great, but the songwriting was next level. And at that moment I knew I was listening to a rare kind of genius and that was a person that I absolutely had to meet. That first meeting led to not just an epic business relationship but one of the greatest friendships of my life,” Platt said.
“But what’s so incredible about Jay is that after selling after more than 100 million albums, Jay is one of the most self-aware superstars you’ll ever meet,” he added. “As the great Quincy Jones put it, Jay Z knows why God gave us two ears and one mouth: because it means you’re supposed to listen twice as much as you talk.”
U2’s Bono also honored Jay Z on a Tidal-produced video tribute, calling him the “Archangel of hip.”
Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Berry Gordy, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and Max Martin were among those also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.