#349: Jay-Z, "The Black Album" (2003)

If I could be all-knowing, I don’t know if I would want that. Now, I don’t get anxious all that often but I imagine I would; there’d always be this anxiety of knowing—knowing that something was going to hit you at a certain second of a certain day, knowing that there would be nothing you could do to stop it because how could you stop it? You would know when your mom, your dad, your first love was going to exhale for the last time. And if that wasn’t painful enough, you’d be able to see the progression of somebody falling out of love with you, with themselves. And babies would be born, babies would be lost, nothing would be exciting anymore. There’d always be pain, and I’ve had enough pain with my own ungodly life. I don’t think it’s easy being God, or a genie, or anything immortal and all-too-powerful. To be something looked up to for instruction, to be the only perfect thing in existence—that’s got to lead to a lot of self-doubt and, if you really think hard about it, doubt in others. What if you do something wrong?

Look at me getting all philosophical on my nightly walk.

I’m watching my girls now, walking back and forth across the street, fishnet stockings and leather skirts their resumé. And, well, they’re not mine yet, but when these ladies are bored with Tuck and his track suits, they’ll come to me, and that never takes too long. I know these ladies feel like they’re making their own choices, but Tuck does all the selling. And he’ll make them do anything; they’re just the product he has to rent out.

Now, just hear me out, I’m not like Tuck. I don’t wear track suits and Reeboks, I wear Ralph Lauren and Italian leather. I treat these women right—I make sure my girls are comfortable and have a place to stay when the customer’s “other half” comes home, and I make sure my girls know they’re allowed to walk away if they don’t feel safe. I’m not going to walk around with blood on my hands, or on theirs. Tuck’d rather board them up in a commune and give them one loaf of bread a day. Fuckin’ Communist, Oliver-type bullshit.

I take my ladies to a nicer street; right now I’m just scouting. I have to put this whole persona on here though, that’s something Talia noticed right away. She went by Bambi on the street, but I always called her Talia. But please believe me when I say I’m really trying hard to forget Talia. Some things are harder, y’know? The first time we met she asked, “Why you wearing those glasses? Ain’t you know it’s dark out or are you blind?” And so I said back, “In the business I’m in, ma’am, I need a signature look. I mean, think about this,” and I got real close, “Tuck’s signature is track suits, but you already know that.” Talia’s eyes twitched small real quick, and I knew she hated Tuck and that I knew she was part of his business. That was the night I proposed she come with me. I don’t do it so fast usually—I visit the girls a few times when he isn’t around, then take them to see what I can bring them. But she came with me before I had to do any of that, so why don’t I just tell you the rest of that story right now right fast: She came with me, I put her up with the others, one of my customers put his anger into his thrust, she got hurt. I try hard to not think of her. Her smile was so wide; she had beautiful teeth. I hear now she’s a bartender over in Newark. I try hard to not think of her.

Tuck listens to a lot of Jay-Z. His house and car are filled with it and it makes me angry. And he fuckin’ quotes it. There’s been more than many a time I’ve heard him talk to one of his girls and say, “Look I’ve already got ninety-nine problems, and a bitch ain’t one. K? Don’t make it a hundred and don’t be a fuckin’ bitch.” He doesn’t even quote it well. And, really, I don’t think he actually likes Jay-Z; I think he’s just playing the part, putting on this pimp persona, buying into the stereotype. That only a pimp listens to rap—that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.

Now, me, I’m a real Jay-Z lover. Not like the Beyoncé kind of lover—in that case I’d rather be Jay-Z. But Tuck makes me feel like I shouldn’t like it, like I’m just feeding into some stereotype. But I take care of my girls! I have a home for them down on 9th street, way far up from 16th, way safer. I’m a smart man. I went to MIT. I was supposed to be an engineer—Dad and I always dreamed of that. But then I watched Not My Life, and I saw people—thirteen year olds too, my god—who got hustled into sex and stripping, and then they were sold, and I realized that slavery never really ended. It just changed. Switched meaning, switched causes. It’s not just about color anymore, it’s about sex. And money. Everything’s about money.

So I left MIT and moved down here, and I met Tuck. Tuck introduced me to the business—we used to be partners, y’know. I got a lot of money from working with him; I’m not proud to say it, but he was dumb and swindling was easy. So I got his money and I bought a house for the girls, and then it was easy to show them they could be helped. But I didn’t want to make them leave their job, I didn’t think they wanted to and I wasn’t gonna rule their whole lives. No, that ain’t right. They can make their own decisions. But these people give up their whole bodies and their intimacy—it’s the least anybody can do to protect them.

So that’s why I’m here, if you wanted to know. I usher these girls into a home, I buy them groceries and help them pay for the weekly tests I make them get. And sometimes they look at me, they come to me, as if I were God, and god it’s rough. I may be helping these girls but I don’t have many answers for them. Empowerment is all I’ve been able to stress. But I can’t even listen to Jay-Z around them, around anybody really, and that’s not empowering at all.

—Nicole Efford