“No red hat, don’t Michael and Prince me and Ye / They separate you when you got Michael and Prince’s DNA,” Jay raps on the track “What’s Free,” off of Mills’ latest album Championships. The line seems to address West’s well-publicized love for #MAGA hats — a favored accessory for Trump’s base — and the famous rivalry between Michael Jackson and Prince, who challenged each other for R&B supremacy throughout the ’80s.
The lyric appears to urge fans not to pit the former collaborators against one another, but the next line seems to hint at competition.
“I ain’t one of these house n—s you bought,” JAY-Z continues. “My house like a resort, my house bigger than yours, My spou ? c’mon, man ? my route better of course…”
Later on in the song, the 48-year-old rapper appears to reference Trump yet again with a dig at his distinctive hair. “My hair free, carefree, n—s ain’t near free / Enjoy your chains, what’s your employer name? With the hairpiece?”
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JAY-Z’s multi-layered lyrics have left many listeners confused about the true intention of his words.
Whereas others have taken a more nuanced approach.
I took Hov to mean that him and Kanye are the MJ and Prince of the game and there’s no way he’s gonna compare spouses, he’s not that messy (anymore) so that’s gotta be against somebody else. Or maybe I’m just completely wrong, that’s possible.
Despite years of friendship and music — including the co-headlining album Watch the Throne in 2011 — West and JAY-Z began to fall out in 2016. West later said that he was hurt by Jay’s absence at his 2014 wedding to Kim Kardashian. Their rocky relationship hit its peak when Jay called out Kanye’s erratic behavior on “Kill JAY-Z,” a track off his 2017 studio album, 4:44:
“I know people backstab you, I feel bad too / But this ‘f— everybody’ attitude ain’t natural / But you ain’t the same, this ain’t KumbaYe / But you got hurt because you did cool by ‘Ye / You gave him 20 million without blinkin’ / He gave you 20 minutes on stage, f— was he thinkin’?/ ‘F—in’ wrong with everybody?’ is what you sayin’ / But if everybody’s crazy, you’re the one that’s insane.”
Financial squabbles, many related to Jay’s streaming service, TIDAL, contributed to the tension, but Jay insisted that the single was not meant as an attack. “It’s not even about a Kanye diss. It’s not a diss, I’m talking to myself the whole time,” the rapper told Rap Radar hosts Elliott Wilson and Brian “B.Dot” Miller in August 2017.
In a November 2017 interview with Dean Baquet for T,The New York TimesStyle Magazine, Jay revealed that he’s back on speaking terms with Kanye. “[I talked to] Kanye the other day, just to tell him, like, he’s my brother,” he told the magazine before adding: “I love Kanye. I do. It’s a complicated relationship with us…. ‘Cause, you know — Kanye came into this business on my label. So I’ve always been like his big brother. And we’re both entertainers. It’s always been like a little underlying competition with your big brother … So it’s like, we both — everyone wants to be the greatest in the world. You know what I’m saying? And then there’s like a lot of other factors that play in it. But it’s gonna, we gonna always be good.”
In September, West posted a photo of Jay and wife Beyoncé coupled up in a car. He captioned the photo simply: “famleeeeee.”
Though his bond with Jay has apparently been repaired, West recently said that he is “distancing” himself from politics. In a tweet posted Oct. 30 — just 19 days after meeting with Trump in the Oval Office — he wrote, “My eyes are now wide open and now realize I’ve been used to spread messages I don’t believe in. I am distancing myself from politics and completely focusing on being creative.”