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As music fans, it’s always a gift to watch our favorite artists progress both creatively and personally. After years of fandom, we can’t help but feel a sense of attachment. Take Jay Z, for example. We’ve seen the rapper—who just welcomed a set of twins with wife Beyoncé—transition from a street hustler to a stroller pushing dad and mogul. It’s incredibly dope to witness his evolution from cavalier playboy to loving husband and father in real time.

If you listen to his verses, you already know that Hov has been using his music to convey his complicated and ever-shifting thoughts on fatherhood. With his latest arrivals, we’re retracing Shawn Carter’s musical path to parenthood:

Jay Z in concert

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“I hate all girls with ulterior motives/That’s why I’m 20+ years old, no sons no daughters.” – “Lucky Me,” In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997)

It’s very easy to forget the Jay Z we know now was first a young, wild rapper from Brooklyn. But on this verse from his second album, Hov speaks of being an overly cautious success story wary of the intentions of everyone around him. At this point in his life, Jay was more focused on keeping the money growing and the Cristal flowing. Settling down wasn’t an option.

“Dear nephews, I’m writing this with no pen or a pad/ And I’m signing it, ‘ya uncle, ya best friend, and ya dad.’” – “Anything,” Vol 3: Life and Times of S. Carter (1999)

With no children of his own at the time, Jay Z was extremely open about his affection for his four nephews and niece. He referenced them constantly in his lyrics, speaking on how he took to them as his own children. This gave Jay a taste of fatherhood early on in his career, and he took the charge with zero hesitancy.

“I seen my first murder in the hall, if you must know/ I lost my Pops when I was eleven, mmm, twelve years old/ He’s probably somewhere where the liquor is taking its toll/ But I ain’t mad at you, Dad, holla at your lad!” – “Streets Is Talking,” The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000)

With one of the first blatant nods to his relationship with his father, Jay used “Streets Is Talking” to address the lack of a dad in his own life. It’s a pretty chilling description of an issue that many Black men and children can relate to, and it was major to hear that Jay welcomed the idea of his father coming back into his life.

“It gets worse, baby momma water burst/Baby came out stillborn, still I gotta move on/Though my heart still torn, life gone from her womb/Don’t worry, if it was meant to be, it’ll be soon.” – “This Can’t Be Life,” The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000)

Jay shared his deepest fears and darkest secrets in a way listeners hadn’t heard until this point. On the collaboration with Houston rap legend Scarface, the two titans speak on their collective pain. Jay shares that his then longtime girlfriend, Stephanie, tragically suffered a miscarriage.

He would later speak about the ordeal in his book, Decoded (2010): “This refers to something that happened to me around that time, 1994, when my girl of five years got pregnant and lost the baby in a miscarriage. Now, obviously, miscarriages happen everywhere, to anyone, but the point is that on top of the especially acute paranoia and disappointment and exhaustion I’m feeling from the street life, friends getting shot, your family being broke, I have to deal with the everyday tragedies that stalk everyone.”

“I wanted to walk just like him /Wanted to talk just like him/

Often momma said I look too much and I thought just like him/

Wanted to drink Miller nips and smoke Newports just like you/

But you left me, now I’m goin to court just like you/I would say “my daddy loves me and he’ll never go away”/Bullshit, do you even remember December’s my birthday?

Do you even remember the tender boy you turned into a cold young man/With one goal and one plan/Get mommy out of some jam, she was always in one/Always short with the income Always late with the rent/You said that you was comin through I would stay in the hallway/ Always playin the bench and that day came and went/Fuck You! very much you showed me the worst kind of pain/But I’m stronger and trust me I will never hurt again” – “Where Have You Been?”The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000)

Fatherhood, or the lack thereof, is a major theme on The Dynasty: Roc La Familia, and the topic reaches a boiling point on the album’s closing track, where both he and Rocafella Records lieutenant Beanie Sigel unpack their true feelings about their fathers.

“Six shots into his kin out of the gun/Niggas, be a father, you killin’ your sons” – “Meet The Parents”The Blueprint 2: The Gift And The Curse (2002)

“Meet The Parents” serves as a chilling lesson to absentee fathers everywhere. The street tale focuses on the story of a man killing a young hustler in the streets, not knowing it was his own estranged son. A product of an absentee father, Jay tells powerful stories that resonate in communities all over.

“Pop died, didn’t cry, didn’t know him that well/ Between him doing heroin and me doing crack sales/Put that in the eggshell, standing at the tabernacle/Rather the church, pretending to be hurt wouldn’t work/So a smirk was all on my face/Like, ‘Damn, that man’s face is just like my face’/So pop, I forgive you for all the shit that I lived through/It wasn’t all your fault, homie, you got caught/Into the same game I fought, that Uncle Ray lost/My big brothers and so many others I saw/I’m just glad we got to see each other/Talk and re-meet each other/Save a place in Heaven ’til the next time we meet forever!” – “Moment Of Clarity,” The Black Album (2003)

Hov kicks off the stand-out song from what was to be his last album reflecting on his relationship with his father. He acknowledges the fact that they didn’t share much of a relationship, but understands his father’s shortcomings as he eventually succumbed to his environment.

“My nephew died in the car I bought/So I’m under the belief it’s partly my fault/

Close my eyes and squeeze, try to block that thought/Place any burden on me, but please, not that, Lord/But time don’t go back, it goes forward/Can’t run from the pain, go towards it/Some things can’t be explained, what caused it?/Such a beautiful soul, so pure, shit!/Gonna see you again, I’m sure of it/’Til that time, little man, I’m nauseous/Your girlfriend’s pregnant, the Lord’s gift/Almost lost my faith, that restored it/It’s like havin’ your life restarted/Can’t wait for your child’s life, to be a part of it/So now I’m child-like, waitin’ for a gift/To return, when I lost you, I lost it”Lost One,” Kingdom Come (2006)

Tragedy struck the Carter family when one of Jay’s beloved nephews, Colleek Lukie, was tragically killed in a car accident in 2005. Colleek had been driving the car Jay gave him as a graduation gift and was expecting a child of his own at the time of his passing. On “Lost One,” Jay speaks of awaiting Colleek’s unborn child and finds a sense of consolation in knowing that he would be part of that child’s life.

“Sorry junior, I already ruined ya/Cause you ain’t even alive, paparazzi pursuin’ ya/Sins of a father make your life ten times harder/I just wanna take ya to a barber/Bondin’ on charters, all the shit that I never did/Teach ya good values so you cherish it/Took me 26 years just to find my path/My only job is cut the time in half.” – “New Day,” Watch The Throne (2011)

When Beyoncé performed a now-classic rendition of “Love On Top” at the 2011 MTV Music Video Awards, and announced that she was pregnant, Hov left some lines on his collaboration with Kanye West to have a conversation with the child (Blue Ivy). Speaking on just what it would be like to be born into this world and their family, we see Hov as a father, and his excitement in all the little things that could come with it.

“You’re a child of destiny/You’re the child of my destiny/You’re my child with the child from Destiny’s Child/That’s a hell of a recipe.” – “Glory” (2012)

The words of a man who’s embraced his unknown journey into fatherhood, Shawn Carter welcomed Blue Ivy Carter into the world with a standalone record. “Glory” is pure pride, bewilderment, and joy in audio form, as Jay speaks on everything from Blue’s conception, miscarriages suffered in the past, and everything in between. He ends “Glory” with Blue sharing a couple bars of her own.

“Please don’t judge me/only hugged the block I thought my daddy didn’t love me/

My baby getting chubby/Cue that Stevie Wonder music, aww, isn’t she lovely?” – “Jay Z Blue” (2013)

Grand opening, grand closing, Jay speaks to finally seeing his new daughter Blue grow before his very eyes, all the while closing the chapter on his criminal past and the impact of his own father’s absence.