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Jay-Z Asks Why XXXTentacion Died While George Zimmerman Lives on Drake’s “Talk Up”

jay-z raps about zimmerman and xxxtentacion on drake song
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 15: JAY-Z performs onstage during the Meadows Music And Arts Festival - Day 1 at Citi Field on September 15, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)

Drake‘s new album Scorpion is a massive undertaking with 25 tracks of wide-ranging styles, moody underwater 808s, and plenty of passive-aggressiveness. One highlight from the 90-minute album is “Talk Up,” a Jay-Z-featured track produced by Three 6 Mafia’s DJ Paul. The song is full of solid and predictably tough rich guy raps from Drake, but it’s Jay-Z’s verse that really stands out.

Fresh off performing marital therapy with Beyoncé on their album Everything Is Love, Jay-Z sounds eager to remind you that he used to be a drug dealer and street legend. Jay opens his verse with, “Get close enough to HOV, smell like a kilo still/ first album 26, I ain’t need no deal/ already a hood legend, I ain’t need no shine.” He raps about how he embodies the dream of every dealer that came before him—and then comes the kicker: “Y’all killed X, let Zimmerman live, streets is done.” It’s a stop-you-in-your-tracks line referring to the murder of controversial rapper XXXTentacion and the continued existence of the man who killed Trayvon Martin.

There’s a strong bout of “back in my day” hand-wringing in these words, with the indication being that street justice shouldn’t allow for another black kid to be murdered by his own people when there are more deserving targets that could be dealt with instead. The frustration is palpable (if misguided), and XXXTentacion is given a questionable level of sanctimony, and ends up reading like one of those false dichotomies used to deflect an argument. There’s also something kind of amusing, in a dystopian way, about someone with Jay-Z’s absurd wealth wondering why the working class isn’t murdering the right people. Jay-Z’s verse aside, the song is one of the album’s sonic highlights, with DJ Paul’s horror film, lo-fi production giving the darkness of Jay’s verse a gravitas that makes it almost worthwhile.