Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Blue Ivy Test the Double Bind of Privacy and Self-Knowledge
It will be a long time before we learn the true impact of the year’s biggest story so far: the birth, to Beyoncé and Jay-Z, of Blue Ivy Carter. (Willow Smith was years old before she made her mark on pop culture.) But right away the New York Times found a metro angle: The disruption of the neonatal unit at Manhattan’s Lenox Hill Hospital, due to the couple taking over the entire floor. Parents were barred from visiting wee preemies. Guards spoke ominously, and “unconvincingly,” of hazardous materials. Late night hosts joked about Jay and B trying to keep out “Uncle Kanye.” The matter was nudged into the realm of public opinion.
There it encountered a potentially immovable object: A decent new Jay-Z song, “Glory,” both a celebration of, and meditation on, his new daughter. From the start of his career Jay-Z has excelled at drawing the listener inside of his experience, and on “Glory,” that’s his entire aim. As Jon Caramanica writes, also in the Times: “If Jay-Z isn’t at his peak flow here … he’s at his peak feeling on this casual Neptunes production, all warm organ and easy drums. It’s purposefully spare, so as to not get in the way of his emotions.” Jay’s as open as that hospital ward was locked down.
That neither the renting of the hospital wing nor the near-instantaneous release of this song, which samples Blue Ivy’s actual cries, surprised anyone speaks to the nature of celebrity and culture-making today. On one hand, you have an almost obsessive pursuit of privacy. On the other, an unquestioned reflex to overshare. One kimono closes, another one opens. It’s possible the couple believe that by releasing the song, they’re sating something of the public’s curiosity over the new baby. But surely they’re too savvy to think that tabloid readers would parse Jay-Z’s thoughtful rhymes for gossip. And anyway, what those readers really want is a photo. (Although they may be interested to learn, as Jay reveals in the song, that Blue was conceived in Paris.)
Wronged preemie parents aside (go away, preemie parents! You make us sad!), the couple’s desire for privacy — and security — is understandable. The overshare may be less so. But what’s a rapper who has not only staked his reputation on the authenticity of the experiences he has narrated, but also worked to expand the experiences (conventional business dealings, family life) allowable as compelling rap narratives, to do when his most authentic new experience is becoming a dad? Naturally he puts it toward his creative pursuit. You just have to wonder how “Glory” sounds to the guy at Lenox Hill— Edgar Ramirez, say — kept away from his family for hours after his child’s birth.