Winfrey finally embraces rap—or at least Shawn Corey Carter.
If I write a book on hip-hop history, Jay-Z’s appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show will be in a timeline of the culture’s high points. I enjoyed it. It made me remember a lot of other hip-hop/Oprah moments. Oprah and hip-hop haven’t been the best of friends.
I remember when Ice Cube took the talk-show mogul to task for having never invited him on the show. "I've been involved in three projects pitched to her, but I've never been asked to participate," Cube told FHM magazine. “And if I'm not a rags-to-riches story for her, who is?" Cube had a point.
I remember when Chris "Ludacris" Bridges appeared on Oprah alongside his fellow cast members from the Oscar-winning film Crash—he was reprimanded by Winfrey for his music’s lyrical content. Ludacris later accused the show’s producers of editing out a lot of his comments. I believed him.
And of course, I remember Oprah’s infamous, two-episode Hip-Hop Town Hall of 2007, a smear campaign waged against the music that Don Imus blamed for his “nappy-headed hoes” remark about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Seeing Oprah Winfrey and other critics accost geniuses like Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons and the rapper/actor Common for the music’s misogynistic and crime-ridden lyrics was, in my opinion, a definite low point for the culture.
Two years later, though, Oprah is singing a very different tune. Having Jay-Z on her show wasn’t just cool, it was awe-inspiring.
Cool was when I found out Jay-Z was appearing on her show in the first place; awe-inspiring was finding out she invited him to appear on the same day as Barbra Streisand—who is to Middle America what Jay-Z is to my bicoastal America. Cool was when Jay-Z—decked in a cardigan, crisp white T-shirt and dark blue jeans—sat center stage in Oprah’s Chicago studios; awe-inspiring was when the cameras followed Oprah to meet Jay-Z at his old stomping grounds, Brooklyn’s Marcy Housing Projects. There the two of them were, sitting on the stoop of his grandmother’s house, which was also where they did their one-on-one interview that appears in the current issue of Oprah’s O magazine. Cool was Oprah welcoming Jay-Z with open arms on her show and respecting all he'd accomplished. Awe-inspiring was Jay-Z recognizing the gravitas of the moment: He greeted Oprah in front of his old housing project with “I’m going to faint right now.”
For all the Jay-Z fans who tuned in, Jay-Z's answers to Oprah’s questions about his father, or about what he said to Rihanna after the Chris Brown incident—those remarks were old hat. I was tuning in for moments like at the end of the interview where Oprah asks Jay-Z to teach her how to freestyle and over a basic beat he rhymes, “Little boy from Brooklyn, made it from the ‘Stuy/girl from out the South made it to the ‘Chi/Only goes to show that the limit is the sky/if life give you lemons then you make lemon pie.”
I never thought that hip-hop would take it this far. And you know who I'm quoting.
Jozen Cummings is a former editor at VIBE and lives in Harlem. His new blog is Untiligetmarried.