The video for one of the project’s most race-focused tracks, “The Story of O.J.,” uses a black-and-white style reminiscent of old cartoons like the “Censored 11.” The series of cartoons was produced by Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies in the early-to-mid-20th century and it was eventually pulled from circulation because of the pervasive use of anti-Black stereotypes. Rolling Stone reports that co-directors Jay-Z and Mark Romanek (“One Hour Photo”) remake the rapper as “Jaybo,” a reference to the “Sambo” stereotype.
Jay raps the song’s lyrics over rapid-fire clips of a burning cross, flying Black angels with bullet wounds, O.J. Simpson running on an endless football field and more. The video also depicts Nina Simone performing her classic “Four Women,” which is sampled on the song.
Jay-Z told IHeartRadio—where people who aren’t Sprint or Tidal customers can listen to the album with some of his commentary all of today—that “The Story of O.J.” addresses success and how it should be used to do “something bigger”:
“The Story of OJ” is really a song about we as a culture, having a plan, how we’re gonna push this forward. We all make money, and then we all lose money, as artists especially. But how, when you have some type of success, to transform that into something bigger.
He discusses this idea throughout the song with lyrics that tackle credit, wealth accumulation, gentrification and other socioeconomic issues:
I’mma play the corners where the hustlers be
I told him, “Please don’t die over the neighborhood
That your mama rentin’
Take your drug money and buy the neighborhood
That’s how you rinse it
I bought every V12 engine
Wish I could take it back to the beginnin’
I coulda bought a place in DUMBO before it was DUMBO
For like 2 million
That same building today is worth 25 million
Guess how I’m feelin’? Dumbo
Critics from publications including The Root and Vulture interpret “4:44” as Jay-Z’s introspective statement on social justice and his relationships, including references to his alleged infidelity in his marriage to Beyoncé. Vulture specifically cites the songs “Kill Jay-Z,” “4:44” and “Family Feud” as responding directly and admitting culpability to “Lemonade’s” themes of betrayal and healing. According to Genius, the song “Smile” reflects on Jay-Z’s mother Gloria Carter, who features on the track, coming out as a lesbian.