Beyond the Hype: Analyzing Jay-Z & His "God Did" Verse

In this op-ed, a writer peels back the layers to assess what "Hov" did on "God Did."


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By this point in our lengthy musical relationship with Jay-Z, every listener knows what they’re in for. Gone are the days when Shawn Carter’s bars astonished us with fuming details of criminal partners turned government witnesses, street politics, or even eccentric tales of him “talking sweet to keys.” On his latest verse, Jay-Z feels like a parody of the braggadocio that was once the hallmark of his regal brilliance. And, beyond that, the often criticism-exempt, immediately celebratory nature by which some of the internet receives a Jay-Z feature has become a parody-like tale in and of itself.

On “God Did,” the title track from DJ Khaled’s new album, you’ll find Jay-Z on empire mode. The long-teased verse is a reminder that he’s still an exceptional writer. That’s not surprising. The guy who rhymed “takin’ wages down in Vegas” and “produce g’s like sperm” with “till legs spread like germs” is still around. His double entendres remain expansive. As long-time engineer Young Guru points out, the couplet “out the mud/they gotta face you now, you can’t make up this shit,” has different meanings and covert analogies. From the 2:55 to 6:28 mark of the song, the verse leaves a lot for the listener to unpack and—beyond the expected journalists who do so—even evening news outlets like MSNBC took him up on that. And he’s clearly listening

But, no matter how prolific this verse is, the hype that preceded—and followed—it online made it more difficult to appreciate. Social media, and the thirst for more lyrical rap, gives a fanatic touch to the promotion around any music Jay-Z is involved with. Older rap fans are desperate for rappers who still go on a 36-bar sprawl, contributing to the hype around his releases. Another reason is that Jay-Z’s pursuit of economic freedom coincides with listeners wanting material success. His skill is inimitable, but at this point, it’s linked to the trademarked successes that people see he’s attained.

“The lordly pose is the point.”

People, including the media figures who cover him, can start to see the rapper as an idol. When journalists like Elliott Wilson or Brian “B.Dot” Miller hear music early and talk about it, they build conversation and make people anticipate show-stopping bars. It functions as a preview or rumor that builds steam, from the lunch room to recess and back to the next class period. Prior to the song’s release, Complex’s own Speedy Morman considered Jay-Z’s latest to be one of his very best, calling it the “Jay-Z verse of the decade,” while Complex alum Frazier Tharpe intuitively wrote that “recency bias is real.” 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this verse will definitely go down among Jay-Z’s best, but it’s not the best. Twitter often makes us forget the past greats, and get attached to the self-mastery of this one.

But most of the responses on rap Twitter, particularly from older rap fans, haven’t been critical or diverse; instead it shows people in awe of a man who has made it out like they have. As Jay-Z’s career has grown into megastardom and meeting with presidents, listeners grow too. They begin to surfacely relate to a man whose life keeps climbing into an otherworldly stratosphere. On a much smaller scale, Jay is aspirational to those who listen to him. His songs function as the top one percent’s view of success. The lordly pose is the point. Jay, who once was a subversive rapper who started his own label, now is part of the vulturous system he once disrupted. Still, it’s undeniable that his verse on “God Did” was stronger than his trackmates. 

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Because of Jay’s stature, his verses get the most runtime. And while other guests don’t get as much time, Jay gets to make speeches, not verses. His latest, clocking in at four minutes, and others like it (such as PushaT’s “Drug Dealers Anonymous”) are lengthy, feeling like spoken word raps that are covered in a prosperity gospel stench. 

Jay-Z is rarely trying a different flow. It seems like he isn’t attempting to compete anymore; instead, he’s listing off his accomplishments like a financial infomercial (“How many billionaires come from Hov crib?”). On “God Did,” he shouts out his friend Jay Brown, and claims we’re “pushing Fenty like fentanyl;” the lines are examples of his sly humor. On the flip side, they’re also in service of an obsessive-like view of the goals that he attained.

“This verse will definitely go down among Jay-Z’s best, but it’s not the best.”

Jay-Z has always talked about his accomplishments. But before 2003’s The Black Album, he rapped as a dropout and criminal turned buppie—a man who turned the injustices of ’80s Reaganomics into a career built on his proximity to violence and master crafty flows without breaking a sweat. This has been replaced by the Hov Cinematic Universe, where he doesn’t rap about his complicated and capitalist American life, but rather about headlines and rumors that cloud his bulletproof persona. 

PushaT’s “Neck & Wrist,” released in April 2022, includes a solid verse from Jay-Z which begins with a response to Faizon Love’s remarks about Mr. Carter not being a true hustler. “The faze I’m on, love, I wouldn’t believe it either,” he spits. It’s missing reflection. We don’t get anything about how these remarks affect him personally, or any multitudes about how his status as a billionaire ever makes him look in the mirror. By removing those characteristics—once central to his work—Jay-Z has traded emotional resonance for banal platitudes. Since Watch the Throne, much of what “HOV” has done is respond to tabloids about his life, or “shout out” a friend who he made rich, or, at best, give us more legend for his already Hall of Fame career. At worst, he’s a billionaire selling a dream that’s hardly ever achievable.

“By removing those characteristics—once central to his work—Jay-Z has traded emotional resonance for banal platitudes.”

Overall, it seems people are less willing to criticize pop stars, or any artist with enough clout to fill a stadium. For what it’s worth, critics are sometimes fans, too. And, that’s not necessarily an issue. But, most fans are celebrating an artist’s overall accomplishments rather than his actual relevance to the culture and streets in this current moment in time.

Besides the pro-Black sentiment laid out on A Written Testimony, recent Jay-Z guest verses are telegraphed headlines. He is no longer making Vol. 3 or “Streets Is Watching,” a song with lines about visions of God and street politics that drug dealers stand by to this day. And perhaps that’s fine, but we should call it like it is: No matter how you view it, Jay-Z’s current acclaim is largely in celebration of his careerism, not his bars. 

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