Since they're about to head back out On The Run together, it's a great time to visualise and explain how and why the way Jay speaks about Beyoncé on wax has changed. This article only includes explicit, obvious references. Tracks like "Excuse Me Miss" and his verse on "Frontin'" could be attributed to Beyoncé, but there is too much ambiguity to be certain.
How Often Jay Mentions Bey During His Career
Here is a breakdown of the nature of Jay-Z's 320 lyrical Beyoncé references.
- Observational: These are all-purpose, simple references or mentions. On 2009's "Venus Vs. Mars" there are 14 observational references, simple bars like "She used to have a man" and "Shorty played the piano".
- Speaking Directly to Beyoncé: "03' Bonnie & Clyde" is a great example, with ad-libs like "Talk to 'em B" and bars like "I ain't perfect, nobody walking this earth's surface is / But girlfriend, work with the kid".
- Punchline / Double Meaning: Early examples include "I'm Destiny's Child, my fate's been sealed", and "Get your independent ass out of here".
- Aspirational: References and mentions that centre on their relationship, or just Beyoncé, as the pinnacle of human existence. "Upgrade U" has 9, including "Cause that rock on ya finger's like a tumor".
- Aesthetic: Lyrics that centre on Beyoncé's physical appearance. On 2011's "That's My Bitch": "Call Larry Gagosian, you belong in museums".
- Sexual: 2013's "Drunk In Love": "Your breastes my breakfast / We goin' in"
- Family: When Jay's references switched from girlfriend to future wife to wife. The "Family" section and graph has more information.
The content arc Jay's career has taken since his debut in 1996 is unlike any other discography in rap music. He began as a conscious gangster rapper, then spent the rest of the 2000s embracing violence, hyper-consumerism, and cold-hearted dealings with women. Bars like "I fuck the most hoes out of New York State" (2000), "Hot boy Jigga man scorch your bitch" (1999), and this inexplicable line on 2001's The Blueprint centrepiece "Heart Of The City (Ain't No Love)", "Get a couple of chicks, get 'em to try to do E / hopefully they'll menage before I reach my garage" are just a drop in the ocean of Jay's cold and callous treatment of women pre-2002.
This change in content is reflected in the way he began to modify how he spoke about his future wife Beyoncé, and it's no stretch to say she was pivotal in Jay's mid-career maturation.
Both graphs deliver the same information, just in slightly different ways. If these are confusing, I've broken down every category individually below, with simple graphs.
If there is one statistic taken away from this article, let it be that Jay very rarely spoke of Beyoncé in a sexual way until after they were married. The only times prior were on "Deja Vu", their collaboration in which Jay raps "Now I bag B", and Beyoncé confirms by ad-libbing "Boy you hurting that", on 2007's "Party Life" when Jay riffs "I'm on her bra strap, she's on my dick", and "She's my little quaterback, ya dig / Cause I'm all that in the sack", and a solitary reference on "Oh Girl (Remix)", "Until that day you said close your eyes, let me ride you".
Once they wed in 2008, it was open season, and both traded sexual bars on a number of tracks, most notably 2013's "Drunk In Love", which features 15 sexual references from Jay alone. He also slipped 5 into 2017's "MaNyFacedGod", 5 into their 2013 collaboration "Part II (On The Run)", and 3 into Justin Timberlake's "Murder".
Being sexually explicit about your wife on wax may not appear to be the most respectful angle, but with the exception of 4 references in 2007, Jay waited until they were married 5 years before he began using sex with Beyoncé as more than a passing mention or one-off bar.
In 2003, at the end of what was meant to be his final recorded track, "My 1st Song", Jay shouts out a bunch of people during the outro. Just after he says "My whole family, my nephew, cousin Angie, whassup? Ti-Ti" he also throws in 4 "Bey"'s, before immediately shouting out his mother. Trawl through every Jay-Z song prior to 2002, there has never been a mention of a girlfriend being part of his family, in fact, he spits the opposite ("Now what I look like giving a chick half my trap / Like she wrote half my raps / Yeah, I'm having that").
The next family references came in "New Day" in 2011, and family was the most common way Jay referred to Beyoncé after their marriage. It was a major theme on 2017's 4:44, with 20 separate attributions. For a rapper who once spat "Don't get mad at me, I don't love 'em I fuck 'em / I don't chase 'em I duck 'em / I replace 'em with another one", the growth required to then spit "We're supposed to laugh 'til our heart stops / And then meet in a space where the dark stop / And let love light the way" is exponential.
Punchlines / Double Meanings
Jay assigned himself the title of "Monster of the Double Entendre", and Beyoncé offered a great opportunity for these punchline-based bars. As their relationship progressed, punchlines turned into double meanings, and Jay (proportionally) used fewer and fewer. Classic mid-career examples include "I need Angelina Joleezy comfort / So I ain't gon' make a move unless I got a Plan B" from 2006's "Trouble", "Ridin' so slow but BK is from Texas" on "Empire State of Mind" (2009) and the 6 he delivered on "Venus Vs. Mars" (a Jay/Bey collab) from 2009.
While the percentage figure has gone down over time (the amount of aspirational references as a percentage of total references in a time period), the raw numbers have stayed relatively consistent. All the pre-2003 references came from "03' Bonnie & Clyde", a track heaped with bars speaking into existence the dominance the couple would exert in the 15 years to come. Since, Jay has scattered references throughout his discography and guest spots, as the lyrics turned from superficial boasting ("Me and my beautiful bitch, in the back of the bach", "And B she gotta ride G3", "30's the new 20, I'm so hot still / Better broad, better automobile") to inspirational statements ("The rest for B, whatever she wants to do / She might start an institute / She might put poor kids through school", "We gon' make a billi first / I told my wife the spiritual shit really work"). Another example of the changing disposition.
"That's My Bitch", during which he compared Beyoncé to the Mona Lisa and rapped that she belongs in mueseums, delivers 1/3 of the total aesthetic references. For some reason, Jay never pursued the "Beyoncé is hot" thread, outside of "Got the hottest chick in the game wearing my chain" in "Public Service Announcement" in 2003. When he does, it can be slightly awkward, as on 2002's "All Around The World": "Pool look like a hundred Beyoncé's / A couple fiancees", or clumsy, as on 2008's "Jockin' Jay-Z": "No that's not Pilates, her body is thick".
A lot of Jay's earlier "speaking to Bey" references came via ad-libs, as on "03' Bonnie and Clyde" and "Upgrade U". Of the 53 references in this category, 23 came from Jay/Bey collaborations, meaning 30 came outside of those. Similar to the "observational" category, "4:44" and "MaNyFacedGod" delivered, with 14 between them. Most of the other instances have been Jay acting as Beyoncé's hype-man (a role she rarely reversed), like "B put these fuckboys on notice" ("Top Off"), "Talk to 'em B", "Break it down for 'em B" ("03 Bonnie & Clyde").
Observations are simple references, usually used to provide context or simply describe a situation or fact. They're mostly harmless, and quite objective. All of Jay's early observations came from "03' Bonnie & Clyde". As they accumulated shared experiences and knowledge of each other, and began to share a life together, the number of observational references in Jay's music increased. Tracks like "4:44" and "MaNyFaCedGod" tackled deep-rooted relationship issues with a lot of observation and reflection. "I seen the innocence leave your eyes", "Not meant to cry and die alone in these mansions / Or sleep with our back turned", "Look at all we been through since August".
This category benefits from a small number of tracks that feature a lot of observations. "4:44" (16), "Venus Vs. Mars" (14), and "MaNyFacedGod" (12).
Just for fun and purposes of expanding the knowledge base, here are Jay's earliest references to Beyoncé
A shout out goes to AintNoJigga. He was generous with his Jay-Z knowledge, and without him, this article wouldn't have been 100% accurate, which is the same as saying it wouldn't be worth writing. Please check him out, if you are a Jay-Z fan he will enrich your life!