“The Story of O.J.” by Jay-Z
Jay-Z’s “The Story of O.J.” is named after O.J. Simpson, a former African-American football star who became a lot more famous, or rather let’s say infamous after being accused of murder in 1994.
Jay-Z was especially inspired by a quote – “I’m not Black; I’m O.J.” – that had been ascribed to Simpson in the well-publicized trial that followed and is quoted during the interlude of this song
Now of course, virtually anybody on Earth would look at O.J. Simpson and immediately classify him as being Black. However, one of the main reasons that the above could have been credibly uttered by a person like him is that he was one of those types of high-level African-American celebrities who always identified more with White people.
And that is the concept upon which this song, at least in part, is based – colorism as some people call it, specifically in relation to Black folks. Or explained even further, the United States is a society in which, traditionally, the color of a person’s skin largely determined their status therein. So it isn’t totally uncommon to come across folks like O.J. Simpson – i.e. Blacks who would rather not be or those who feel that they superior to the rest of the lot due to having a lighter shade of skin, etc.
And that is the notion which the intro of this song, derived from a 1960s’ Nina Simone tune, directly speaks of. In more modern times colorism doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue as with times past. But back in the day, when segregation was still in effect, it was more of a hot topic.
However in the chorus, Jay-Z transcends the realm of discrimination based on skin color to also bring contemporary Black ideologies, such as that of being a “real n**ga”, into the mix. So we have these four contrasts being presented.
First there is the “light n*gga” versus the “dark n**ga”, as expounded on above. Then there is the “faux n**ga” versus the “real n**ga”, as we just described earlier in this paragraph. Next comes the “rich n**ga”” versus the “poor n**ga”, which is pretty self-explanatory, i.e. the haves being compared to the have-nots.
And finally we have the “house n**ga” versus the “field n**ga”. The former, from a symbolic standpoint, would be those who were servile to Whites during the days of American slavery and reaped the benefits thereof, i.e. partaking of less-strenuous house chores.
Meanwhile, the ‘field n**gas’ were the ones who had to engage in the arduous, life-damning agricultural work. And concerning the more contemporary usage of these terms, most simply put “house n**gas” are those who are considered to have sold their race out, while the “field n**gas” remain resistant against the man.
Now you may notice that we haven’t even gotten to any verses yet, but already a whole lotta N-words have been dropped. Well to note, within the African-American community itself n**ga is a heavily-used term and one that, based on general usage, can be ascribed to any male, regardless of race.
But in this particular case we can say that yes, Jay-Z is using the word to encapsulate all African-Americans. However, it is not to be confused with n**ger, which is a derogatory term traditionally used by racists to describe such people.
Perhaps needless to say, out of all the eight classifications given above, Jay-Z would of course define himself as being akin to a “house n**ga”, i.e. one too unruly to ever submit to the system of things. And that is exactly how he presents himself at the beginning of the first verse, warning ‘field n**gas’ not to ‘f–k with him’. But that said, even taking on the role of a slave, Jigga is still hustling and apparently making money.
However, the lyrics don’t stay focused in that time period for too long. Instead the vocalist flips the script completely, taking on a more advisory tone.
And what he is doing is instructing the drug dealers of the ‘hood to take their earnings and invest it in something legal, lasting and potentially money earning. And he uses himself as an example.
Back when Jigga first blew up, he went about carelessly purchasing cars, i.e. engaging in the type of chillin’ rappers such as himself have made famous. But now looking back, he could have invested that money in real estate which by this time is worth over 10 times as much as it was then.
Indeed knowing he has made such mistakes makes him feel stupid. So now, he wants to advise those coming up after him to conduct themselves otherwise. Or as the beginning of the second verse illustrates, in the here and now Jay-Z’s goal is “financial freedom” as opposed to “living rich and dying broke”. So now rather than fancy cars, he spends money on artwork whose value appreciates as the years progress.
Now “field ni*gas”, as Mr. Carter advertised himself earlier, aren’t necessarily the types you hear talk about purchasing artwork. And the rapper seems to recognize this dichotomy when noting that “it’s fine” if some people in the audience consider him “bougie”, i.e. rich and stuck up, so to speak. But in his eyes, he’s imparting some priceless wisdom onto the people.
He also uses the opportunity to criticize those who may feel as if they’re well paid but in reality are not financially free. This includes other rappers who take advances from record companies, a practice that in reality ends up putting many professional musicians into perpetual debt. By contrast Jigga and his people are out “taking real chances”, i.e. funding either own music and entrepreneurial ventures.
And speaking of other rappers, he also apparently mocks those who like flexing on social media with big wads of cash. And in those cases, as far as a true mogul like Jay-Z is concerned, that’s more showmanship than an actual manifestation of wealth.
What Jay-Z’s “The Story of O.J.” is all about
So conclusively, we’ll put forth that Jay-Z is an artist who music matures with his age. He may still be primarily known for being braggadocios. However, he has also achieved a level of freedom and knowledge where he can drop songs like this that are more educative than boastful.
And there is a whole lot going on in “The Story of O.J.”. Indeed Jigga took the character of O.J. Simpson and used it to go on a multi-faceted exposition. And what it boils down to is that, having already nearly achieved billionaire status by the time this song dropped, he has developed a good idea of what true wealth is.
And it wouldn’t be bling or fancy items, i.e. the stuff which African-Americans, we can say, idealize spending money on. Rather it’s more along the lines of taking one’s earning and investing it in resources that appreciate instead of depreciate in value.
And this is the message the wants to impart upon his musical peers, drug dealers and the people in general, i.e. stop spending your money on BS. Or else you may go through your period of chillin’ alright. But at the end of the day you may also find yourself broke which, within the context of this song isn’t a diss against the poor but rather indicative of one having blown his life’s earnings.
“The Story of O.J.” Facts
Was “The Story of O.J.” a single release?
No. It was part of Jay-Z’s “4:44”, which is the rapper’s thirteenth studio album. The entire project was released by Jay-Z on June 30 of 2017.
Writing and Production Credits of “The Story of O.J.”
It was written by:
- Dion Wilson
- Nina Simone
- Gene Redd
- Jimmy Crosby
The song was produced by Jay and No I.D.
“The Story of O.J.” was nominated for three awards at the Grammy Awards in 2018. It had nominations for “Record of the Year”, “Best Rap Song” and “Best Music Video”. The song lost the “Record of the Year” award to “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars, and the other two to “Humble” by Kendrick Lamar. Below are the lists of nominees for the various categories:
“Record of the Year”:
- “Despacito” – Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee ft. Justin Bieber
- “HUMBLE.” – Kendrick Lamar
- “Redbone” – Childish Gambino
“Best Rap Song”:
“Best Music Video”:
- Beck – “Up All Night”
- Jain – “Makeba”
- Logic ft. Alessia Cara & Khalid – “1-800-273-8255”
- UK – 27
- US – 23
There was a lot of backlash mainly on social media in relation to portions of the lyrics of the song that spoke about Jewish people owning all the properties in America. Jay-Z had the likes of Russell Simmons (co-founder of Def Jam Recordings) and Guy Oseary (writer and talent manager) coming to his defense.
Below are just a handful of the songs that have prominently sampled “The Story of O.J.”:
- Pusha T – “The Story of Adidon” (2018)
- Lil Wayne ft. Euro – “Blackin Out” (2017)
- YoungBoy Never Broke Again – “The Story of O.J. (Top Version)” (2020)
- Dopeboiavi – “Dope Ni–a” (2019)