Mahershala Ali, Kendrick Lamar and Other Black Artists Talk Candidly About Race in ‘Story of O.J.’ Footnotes

By Sameer Rao Jul 05, 2017

On "The Story of O.J.," Shawn "JAY-Z" Carter’s first single off of "4:44," the MC and entrepreneur reflects on both the obvious and subtle ways that racism affects Black people regardless of socioeconomic level. On Monday (June 3), Carter’s Tidal streaming service released the first in an exclusive series of video "footnotes" on the album.

In "Footnotes for ‘The Story of O.J.,’" which requires a Tidal subscription to watch in full, Black artists and activists including Van Jones, Kendrick Lamar and "4:44" promo star Mahershala Ali discuss their own views and experiences with racism. A few key excerpts:

  • I knew something wasn’t right when I saw a man get killed in front of our apartment building, a Black man. Police come up, my moms come out the house and…the disrespect and the manner that this officer—he was a bad officer, I will say that for sure—that he approached my mother with was completely out of line. I was 5. This is my first experience, to the point where I wasn’t thinking about what just happened, I was just looking at, ‘Why is he talking to her like that? She’s just trying to see what’s going on.’—Kendrick Lamar
  • What people don’t understand about things like slavery is, yeah it was a 150 years ago, but those people that were slaves, they raised children. And then those free children raised children the way they were raised. And those people that owned slaves raised children, so a lot of those teachings are still there that are from 150 years ago. Michael Che ("Saturday Night Live") 
  • Being Black in America is like being in a tiny, compressed box anchored at the bottom of the ocean, with 10,000 pounds of pressure on you at all times, and not really feeling like you can speak your truth." —Michael B. Jordan
  • The difference between Black men and White men is this: We move through the world playing defense. We don’t have the capacity to play offense, because we are constantly looking for the moment where you are going to be disrupted. So you walk through the world very aware that the world views you a certain way, so you got to play defense and you got to play it real smooth. —Mahershala Ali

"The Story of O.J." takes its name from the disgraced athlete‘s failed attempt to use the markers of White success to transcend his Blackness. In "Footnotes on ‘The Story of O.J.’" JAY-Z elaborates on the idea of Black celebrities who try to distance themselves from Black culture and racial justice: 

With O.J. to get to a space where he’s like ‘I’m not Black, I’m O.J.’ Tiger Woods would get to a space and think, ‘I’m above the culture.’ And that same person, when he’s playing golf and playing great, you’re protected. But when you’re not, they’re going to put up pictures of you drunk driving and embarrass you. That world will eat you up and spit you out. 

Check out a short excerpt of the first "Footnotes on 4:44" video above.