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When J. Cole rapped, “First thing’s first, rest in peace to Uncle Phil,” I felt that spiritually. I lost my father this year, and since then I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my relationships with father figures. There were definitely men in my life who served as good role models and mentors, but I related to J. Cole when he said the only father he ever knew was a fictional character who happened to teach him a lot of life lessons. For me, “the only father that I ever knew” wasn’t James Avery’s character on the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” instead it was the greatest rapper of all time, Jay Z.

I spent one morning listening to “American Gangster” and a longtime friend said jokingly, “Oh you’re spending time with your daddy.”  Her jab was easily parried but the spirit of her gesture was still significant. In many ways, Jay Z’s words raised me and from conversations I’ve had with others (I know I am not alone in this). It’s not that they are a manuscript (see number 18) but they are parables that have multiple levels of application and inspiration.

There’s a popular narrative out there that strangers can’t or shouldn’t be role models. “They” say that you have to choose the people that are actually in your lives, in your community, to be your role models. I’ve come to rebuke that thought. During my formative years (mid-2000s) arguably, the most impactful voices I heard were the ones on my iPod headphones

Between Jay Z, Kanye, Eminem and others, I pulled a plethora of wisdom down from the music I consumed. Now that I’m an adult, I realize what a profound effect they had on me. Drake spit in 2009 that he never cried when 2Pac died but predicted he would when Jay Z does because he wanted to drop a tear for every lesson he’d ever been taught by him. As a black man, I can personally attest to the power of Jay Z’s guiding counsel.

And so, in honor of his birthday being earlier this month, I tried to pull 25 lyrics from Jay’s catalog that stuck to my ribs. I ended up with over 70. These are the lines that helped me to become who I am today — someone who believes in themselves, is fearless, business savvy, values emotions, honest and accepts personal accountability.

“These are not 16s. These are verses from the bible.”

On Being Gifted

  1. Nobody built like you, you designed yourself.
  2. I’m losing myself, I’m stuck in the moment. I look in the mirror, my only opponent.
  3. I’m big enough to do it. I’m that thorough. Plus my own flow is foolish.
  4. I don’t mean to boast but damn if I don’t brag, them crackers gonna act like I ain’t on they ass (ads).
  5. I aint never scared. I’m everywhere, you aint never there. Why should I ever care? Pound for pound I’m the best to ever come around here. Excluding nobody. Look what I embody. The soul of a hustler.
  6. I’m not the one to get points off of.
  7. I heard motherfuckers saying they made Hov, Ok so, go, make another Hov.
  8. I ain’t got nothing to prove, I’m supposed to smile
  9. A lot of niggas taking credit for the work that I put in. If you really put me on, put yourself on in!
  10. Sometimes you need your ego, gotta remind these fools.

On Legacy and Wealth

  1. Put me anywhere on God’s green earth, I’ll triple my worth.
  2. The mentality that I carry with me to this very day: Fuck rich, let’s get wealthy. Who else gonna feed we? If I need it Ima get it, however, God help me.
  3. If you can’t already see, I ain’t worried about yall cause I’m already me.
  4. If anybody getting handsome checks, it should be us.
  5. Success is like lust, it’s good to the touch. It’s good for the moment, but never enough. Everybody’s had her, she’s not like V(victory). But success is all I got, momentarily.
  6. I can’t wait to give this shit to my children.
  7. Nobody wins when the family feuds.

On Accountability

  1. Hov did that so hopefully you won’t have to go through that.
  2. You can’t heal what you never reveal.
  3. Time don’t go back, it go forward. Don’t run from the pain, run toward it.
  4. I know the way a nigga livin’ was whack, But you don’t get a nigga back like that! Shit I’m a man with pride, you don’t do shit like that, You don’t just pick up and leave and leave me sick like that. You don’t throw away what we had, just like that. I was just fuckin them girls, I was gon’ get right back. They say you can’t turn a bad girl good, but once a good girl’s gone bad, she’s gone forever…I’ll mourn forever. Shit I ‘gotta live with the fact I did you wrong forever
  5. Father never taught me how to be a father, treat a mother, I don’t wanna have to repeat another, leave another baby with no daddy, want no mama drama.
  6. You matured faster than me, I wasn’t ready.
  7. Never go Eric Benet.
  8. It’s nobody’s fault the decisions I made, this ain’t the life I chose but the life that chose me.
  9. I’ma live and die with the decisions that I’ma pick.

On Vision

  1. Keep my movements Smoove while maneuvering, through all the manures in the sewers that I grew up in.
  2. Young Carter, go further. Go farther, go harder. Is that not why we came, and if not then why bother?
  3. Difficult takes a day, impossible takes a week. I do this in my sleep.
  4. They said wise up, how many guys are making it from here? The world don’t like us, is that not clear? Alright but. I’m different. I can’t base what I’ma be off of what everybody else isn’t.
  5. Rather die enormous than live dormant, that’s how we on it.
  6. I drove by the fork in the road and went straight
  7. You ‘wanna know what’s more important than throwing money in the strip club? Credit.
  8. Financial freedom my only hope! Fuck living rich and dying broke.
  9. Holding money to ya ear, there’s a disconnect! We don’t call that money over here.
  10. Moral victories are for minor league coaches and Ye already told you we major cockroaches!

On Self-Preservation

  1. What we talking about fiction or we talking about facts? Oh, we talking about fiction? Hold up, pardon my back.
  2. Treat my last like my first and my first like my last and my thirst like the first song I sang
  3. God forgive me for my brash delivery but I remember vividly what these streets did to me. So picture me letting these clowns nitpick at me.
  4. Saying I’m a bad guy, why is that? Because when my backs against the wall, I react. Secretly though, I know you admire that. You wish you had the balls to fire back. Blah!
  5. When them shells come, you better return em.
  6. I had to hustle, back against the wall, ashy knuckles.
  7. Cross the line, and speak about mine? I’ma wave this tec, I’ma geek about mine. Touch a nigga where his rib at. I’ll click clack.

On Existence, Spirituality, Vulnerability and Identity

  1. I’m America’s worst nightmare. I’m young, gifted and black, holding my nuts like YEAH.
  2. All black everything, nigga you know my fresh code. My only advice to you is “don’t increase my stress load”.
  3. One out of three of us is doing time. You know what that type of shit can do to a nigga’s mind?
  4. Too much black and too much love equals forever
  5. I loved your point of view cause you held no punches.
  6. Is Pious pious cause God loves pious? Socrates asks, “Whose bias do y’all seek?”
  7. Question religion, question it all. Question existence till the questions is solved.
  8. Bitch asked me if I was God. Fuck I’m supposed to say? No?
  9. They say by 21, I was supposed to die, so I’m out here celebrating my post demise. If you put crabs in the barrel, to ensure your survival, you gonna end up pulling down niggas that look just like you. What up blood. What up cuz. It’s all black, I love us.
  10. Usually you have this much taste you European. That’s the end of that way of thinking, nigga never again
  11. If you escaped, what I escaped, you’d be in paris getting fucked up too!
  12. Light nigga, dark nigga, faux nigga, real nigga, rich nigga, poor nigga, house nigga, field nigga. Still Nigga.

On Truth, Integrity, Reputation and the Burden of Passing Down Wisdom

  1. Do you fools listen to music or do you just skim through it? I’m influenced by the ghetto you ruined.
  2. I’ve been real all my life, they confuse it with conceit. Since I will not lose, they try to help him cheat, But I will not lose, for even in defeat. There’s a valuable lesson learned, so it evens it up for me.
  3. The only Christopher we acknowledge is Wallace; I don’t even like Washingtons in my pocket.
  4. Just because he wear a kufi, don’t mean that he’s nice. Just cause you don’t understand him, don’t mean that he’s bright. It just means you don’t understand all the bullshit that he writes.
  5. Tell em I’ll remove the curses when they tell me how school is gonna be perfect. When Jena 6 don’t exist, tell em that’s when I’ll stop saying bitch, BITCH.
  6. Is this what success all about? A bunch of angry niggas acting like bitches with big mouths. All this stress and all I got is this big house? A couple cars, I don’t bring half of them shits out. A bottle of Ace of Spades I drank just to piss out. I aint like the taste anyways, coulda saved myself six hours.
  7. Fuck yall mad at me for? Yall don’t even know what I been through. I played chicken with a MACK truck. Yall woulda been moved. I swam waters with great whites. Yall woulda been chewed. Hustled with vultures late night. Yall woulda been food.
  8. Are you trying to say that the lyrics I’m spitting is worst then these celebritons showing their kittens? You kidding? Let’s quit the bullshitting. Till we’re all without sin, let’s quit the pulpitting.

On Insecurity, Betrayal, Empathy and Anxiety

  1. If you can’t respect that, your whole perspective is wack.
  2. Wasn’t I a good king? Maybe too much of a good thing.
  3. Caesar didn’t see it so he ceased to exist so the nigga that killed him had keys to his shit
  4. Same sword that they knight you with, they gonna good night you with. Shit, that’s only the half of what they might do. That’s only half if they like you. Don’t believe me ask Michael. See Martin, See Malcolm. See Biggie, See Pac. See Success and it’s outcome. See Jesus, see Judas. See Caesar, see Brutus. See success is like suicide.
  5. I’m a tortured soul, I live in disguise.
  6. Where the fuck is the sun? It’s been a while. Momma look at ya son, what happened to my smile?
  7. Tried to teach niggas how to be kings, and all they ever wanted to be was soldiers.
  8. Hear the hate in my voice right? I hate that you noticed
  9. Where the fuck is the press? Where the fuck is the pres? Either they don’t know or don’t care, I’m fucking depressed.
  10. I’m just looking for love. I know somebody got it.
  11. Niggas couldn’t do nothing with me but put the devil on me. I woulda preferred niggas to squeeze the metal on me!
  12. Hear me clearly, if yall niggas fear me, just say y’all fear me. Quit with the fairy tales. Go to hell, this is god-engineering. This is a hail Mary pass, yall interfering.
  13. Everybody wanna know what my Achilles heel is. It’s Love. I don’t get enough of it. All I get is these vampires and blood suckers.



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