Jay-Z and his mother Gloria Carter used the rapper’s new 4:44 track “Smile” as a platform to share the emotional turmoil of being a closeted gay woman. Jay-Z raps explicitly about this in the song’s touching first verse, describing her mother’s struggle with keeping her sexuality secret and voicing his support: “Mama had four kids, but she’s a lesbian/Had to pretend so long that she’s a thespian/Had to hide in the closet, so she medicate/Society shame and the pain was too much to take/Cried tears of joy when you fell in love/Don’t matter to me if it’s a him or her.”
Gloria Carter herself is featured on the track, and delivers a heartfelt poem discussing her experience in abstract terms:
Living in the shadow. Can you imagine what kind of life it is to live? In the shadows people see you as happy and free, because that’s what you want them to see. Living two lifes, happy but not free. You live in the shadows for fear of someone hurting your family or someone you love. The world is changing and they say it’s time to be free. But you live with the fear of just being me. Living in the shadow feels like the safe place to be. No harm for them, no harm for me. But life is short, and it’s time to be free. Love who you love, because life isn’t guaranteed.
GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) tweeted in support of Ms. Carter following the release of the album, and the organization’s president and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis issued a response to Ms. Carter’s announcement, as Billboard reports. Ellis wrote:
Lesbian women are all too often erased or excluded from narratives surrounding LGBTQ people. By sharing her truth with the world, Gloria Carter is increasing visibility of lesbian women of color at a critical time and sending a powerful message of empowerment to the entire LGBTQ community that is perfectly timed with the end of Pride Month.
Other illuminating, explicitly biographical subject matter Jay-Z covers on the album include his struggles with the Prince estate while representing TIDAL, his relationship with Kanye West, and his infidelity. You can listen to “Smile” and the entirety of 4:44 on TIDAL (see below).