More recently, West landed in a series of controversies this year after he wore a “Make America Great Again” hat on TMZ Live as he said slavery was a choice. Since then, he apologized for the slavery comments and doubled-down on his support for President Trump, mostly in the form of a rambling, bizarre Oval Office visit.
“It was something about putting this hat on, it made me feel like Superman,” West told Trump about that red MAGA hat. West has since said he’s distancing himself from politics after a dust-up regarding designing logos for a pro-Trump activist’s organization.
Kanye’s public controversies have rankled many of his fans and his famous friends. For Jay-Z’s part, he has not publicly commented on the drama, but he has clearly been on the opposite side of the political spectrum. So when he spoke about West and Trump in “What’s Free,” people took note.
“No red hat, don’t Michael and Prince me and Ye / They separate you when you got Michael and Prince’s DNA, uh,” Jay-Z raps. Then, after rapping about not being a house slave, he adds, “my house like a resort, my house bigger than yours” and later, “enjoy your chains, what’s your employer name with the hairpiece?”
A closer reading of Jay-Z’s verse and the whole song makes it clear, though, that he wasn’t actually taking jabs at Kanye.
Jay-Z even had to clarify it all on Twitter (the man hasn’t tweeted in more than a year) after so many people mistook his lyrics.
“The line clearly meant don’t pit me against my brothers no mat what our differences are (red hat),” he tweeted, adding that Drake and Meek Mill — two rappers who had previously beefed — both appeared on the new album together.
West, for his part, responded by referencing a possible sequel to their past collaboration, “What the Throne.” (West has previously declared it’s happening.)
The line, “no red hat, don’t Michael and Prince me and Ye/They separate you when you got Michael and Prince’s DNA, uh,” references Michael Jackson and Prince. Both became hugely popular solo acts around the same time, and their relationship, depending on who talked about it and when, swung from friendly competition to legit feud. Media reports certainly played up any beef.
“What’s Free” grapples with complex themes around freedom that are especially poignant for Meek Mill. “Championships” is the Philadelphia rapper’s first studio album since being released from prison in April, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered he be released on bail after a judge had sentenced him to two to four years in prison for a probation violation.
The high-profile case brought out celebrity backers, include Jay-Z, who pointed to Meek Mill’s treatment as a prime example of the criminal justice system’s failures.
On his verse, Jay-Z raps about various forms of slavery, plus artistic and financial freedom and gentrifying communities.
A lot of people were upset that the verse was taken as a sign of conflict between West and Jay-Z:
Maybe the confusion came from the inability to decipher Jay-Z’s lyricism (are we becoming rap illiterate?). Or it could be confirmation bias. You wanted a call-out because you wanted someone of Jay-Z’s stature to call out Kanye. You wanted some beef.
And that was Jay-Z’s entire point.
This post has been updated.