Early Jigga was always tightly coifed in typical New York style. A high fade, rarely a part—something I surmise he may have considered extravagant or even childish—cut so low to his head it nearly blended in with his skull. At the time, this haircut was something you recognized as a rule if you weren’t some fly-guy; it was serious. But in his advancing years, Jay-Z has begun an act of extravagance. He dares grow his hair out now, leaving it as a quilted patchwork adorning his crow’s nest, a sub-conscious luxury he affords in a life lived in adherence to an inward, perhaps contradictory set of laws.
Maybe he thinks he is Samson now, his tight curls dotting his skull. Or maybe he wants to feel wild again in his bones. Not so neat, maybe. I imagine he starts to wash his own dishes as album mode cometh; begins to take Blue Ivy to ballet practice himself. It’s been subtle, Hov’s move into unbuttoned impresario, but his journey has been filled with tense moments. Working to stay with his wife, Beyonce Knowles-Carter, was the most disquieting.
On the title track off his album 4:44, he inscribes his desperation. “I don’t deserve you,” he says. “I harass you out in Paris. Come back to Rome you make it home.” The track glitters with regret, a grown-man companion piece to “Song Cry,” when he seemed to consider emotions other people’s problems.
Suddenly they were his. He’d built a life he seemed hell-bent on destroying. For one of the first times, he had something—someone—in the tale of Jay, he couldn’t lose. Then came the hair. Stewing, maybe, pacing, unable to sleep, his Afro became a suggestion, growing for the purpose of putting down his past as Mr. Knowles-Carter, shedding his skin. “I said ‘Don’t embarrass me’ instead of ‘Be mine,’” he rapped. “That was my proposal for us to go steady.” Against blaring background vocals, the song is a controlled panic. A wildfire rages as he apologizes, in some sense, for all the ill-begotten love men have ever received. The accompanying dance that Storyboard P and Okwui Okpokwasili affect is at times arresting and violent. She seems everywhere to be falling. Him, arching toward her sunlight—her rage—to grow. It’s a familiar scene, this cotillion between women and men. Always before men realize pink matter is more than a tool or gift, it’s a human being and so unfathomable.
So again it is with The Carters. What was once mere happenstance is now a signature. A new album means a baroque Afro and a chin with a wisp of hair, tight like a knotted rope adoring his impressionist visage. Over the years, his pulsing mane has become more foreboding. Crinkly hair Hov’ has given way to quasi Gil-Scott Heron Hov’. And he’s prone to marginalia, the meanings of his words more times than not tend to give way to sentimentality and melancholy. That is until he nails it again. In the lead single for The Carters album, “Apeshit,” he says, “I said no to the Super Bowl, you need me I don’t need you.” Sticky.
He still has a way about him, but he’s no longer walking along the knife’s edge he described in his earlier work.
He still has a way about him, but he’s no longer walking along the knife’s edge he described in his earlier work. His hair, perhaps, is an indication of that. What’s next, I think? Afro-futurist Jay sporting an Andre 3 Stacks forest of intricate design like in Erykah Badu’s “On and On”? This loosening of his tie, of his hair, is sometimes delicate to behold. The imagination around Jay-Z is so strong it makes you forget you’ve never met him. He’s still motivation, whatever that means to you. Now, though, he’s letting his hair march onward, wrapping itself in tentacles like roots married to a new tree in the forest.