Jay-Z accused of using anti-Semitic lyrics in "4:44" song "The Story of O.J."

In "The Story of O.J.," Jay-Z raps, "You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America?"

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published July 7, 2017 11:55AM (EDT)

Jay-Z   (Getty/Ari Perilstein)
Jay-Z (Getty/Ari Perilstein)

Jay-Z is being accused of including anti-Semitic lyrics in one of the songs on his most recent album, "The Story of O.J."

The lyrics in question read as follows:

You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a strip club? Credit/

You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America? This how they did it.

The lyrics are embedded in a song that — overall — highlights the fact that, no matter how successful, pliant to the white establishment or light skinned a black person is, they are still perceived of black. This is forwarded as both a cruel sign of racism and a compelling reason for African Americans to positively embrace their blackness. As well, the song stresses the value of African Americans investing in themselves and their community financially.

Within this context, Jews are being praised for their longsighted financial planning. The notion that Jewish people are the controlling force behind American capitalism or have any kind of essentially superior understanding of finance, however, is where Jay-Z gets into trouble. The assumption that financial prowess is embedded in Jewish culture is not only inaccurate, it is dangerous and offensive

The Anti-Defamation League is hesitating to accuse Jay-Z of outright anti-Semitism, instead telling Rolling Stone that while they know that "Jay-Z is someone who has used his celebrity in the past to speak out responsibly and forcefully against the evils of racism and anti-Semitism," they are concerned that "the lyric does seem to play into deep-seated anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews and money."

They added, "The idea that Jews 'own all the property' in this country and have used credit to financially get ahead are odious and false. Yet, such notions have lingered in society for decades, and we are concerned that this lyric could feed into preconceived notions about Jews and alleged Jewish 'control' of the banks and finance."

Russell Simmons is also defending Jay-Z, albeit with a characterization of Jewish culture that seems ill-informed and stereotypical.

It's an attempt at positivity, but it also mischaracterizes Jewish culture as promoting good business values in a way that other cultures do not — an extension of a long-standing, biased misconception rather than a refutation of it.

Music manager Guy Oseary, who represents Madonna and U2 (and is Jewish himself), has also defended the lyrics, telling Variety that "if you read the lyrics out of context I can understand why people are jumping to that conclusion. But if you listen to the song in its entirety you will hear that the whole of the song is based on exaggerated stereotypes to make a point."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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4:44 Anti-semitism Entertainment Hip-hop Jay-z Jewish Jews Lyrics Music Partner Video Rap The Story Of O.j.