In the visual for “Bam,” Jay-Z pays homage to Jamaica and hip hop’s ties to the island. He’s joined by Damian Marley for a historical walk through the Trench Town neighborhood in St. Andrews, the birthplace of Jamaica’s late reggae legend Bob Marley. The striking vignettes capture kids playing soccer in the yard, folks cooling off at the beach at sunset, and late-night dancehall bashments. In a studio, Jay and Marley have a pow wow with national treasure Sister Nancy.
“Good music will last,” Nancy rightfully says. Her dancehall classic “Bam Bam” is brought back to life as a sample on the record. “It’s not going nowhere,” she continued.
This is one of many gems sprinkled throughout “Bam,” where Jay-Z continues to use the power of video to deepen the narratives he presents on 4:44, an already emotionally-revealing memoir. “Fuck all this pretty Shawn Carter shit. Nigga Hov,” Jay raps on the album version of “Bam.” He takes off the facade that comes with the fame, D’ussé bottles and flashing lights, and pivots to his past life in the projects, where drug dealing and hip hop was his only way out.
But in the song’s visual, Jay takes us beyond his Marcy Project days. He’s now in search of his existential roots: the roots of his craft as an artist, the roots of hip hop culture, and the roots of his Black identity.
In one reflection, Jay-Z expresses that his artistry is bigger than himself. “The prophets in the beginning were musicians,” he starts off. “They were poets; the writers. And that’s what we’ve been tasked with in this life. This shit is…It’s actually kind of humbling,” he further elaborates.
The 47-year-old rapper also meditates on his connections to the African diaspora. “I feel like when I go to Africa. I feel like when I go…You know, my people. I love people. Period.”
As an African-American woman, “My people” says so much in two words. Jay seems to be describing the home-like feeling some African-Americans experience when they visit a part of the motherland or other cities where Black culture has a strong influence. This makes me think of my time in New Orleans, London, and Johannesburg. Even though Black communities in each place have their own unique accent, food, music, and more, I felt immediately at home with their energy. Whether that be via conversations about oppression, or which seasonings to use on your food, or the language of dance, there is always something that reminds us we share a common history.
Longtime engineer and Jay-Z collaborator Young Guru makes an appearance and explains these links beautifully through the lens of hip hop and its ties to Jamaica’s reggae music.
“It’s influenced a lot of what we do,” says Guru. “Like our whole genre is birthed out of traditions out of reggae. It’s the essence of us borrowing from our ancestors but recreating it and representing it and it’s like that’s who we are. That’s where we come from.”
Jay himself grew up listening to reggae’s biggest name, Bob Marley, and recalls how his death was a huge loss to his family. During this portion of the video we’re given insight on the impact of Marley’s life not only as a great artist, but as another symbol of Black power, hope, and ownership, a theme Jay explores throughout 4:44.
“Well the Tuff Gong name definitely existed long before me,” Damian says. “That was my dad’s nickname. We as a family have used it throughout the years. This is like a great part of the legacy.”
And Jay is on a path of his own to leave behind a similar inheritance for the Carters, but also be somewhat of a beacon of financial inspiration for his fan base in his legacy. Until then, “Bam” has become another visual chapter of Jay’s present-day introspection, and it has been intriguing to have a peek into his mind as he comes to these realizations.
Check out the video below: