The release of JAY-Z's highly anticipated visual album 4:44 exclusively on Tidal last week had fans clamoring to sign up for the rapper's own music streaming service, or at least to score a friend's login information. Those who couldn't were in for days of FOMO as their neighbors' speakers started blaring, the think pieces started rolling, and the album quickly went platinum. Now, though, the visual partner of one of the album's most affecting tracks has broken free of its Tidal confines and is finally available to all, so here's how to watch JAY-Z's "The Story of O.J." music video — with or without that coveted Tidal account.
The animated video for the song, which JAY-Z himself directed alongside longtime collaborator Mark Romanek, first graced Tidal Friday, the same day the full album did. But on Wednesday, the lot of the Tidal-less flipped, at least a little, when the video surfaced on YouTube. Now, the masses can finally get their first glimpse of Hov's latest project, beyond desperately reading the lyrics of his ten new songs on Genius and wondering in vain what they must actually sound like. JAY-Z fans will certainly agree that "The Story of O.J." was worth waiting for — and it's sure to make them anxious for more.
It's much more than just an impressive track from a master, though. It's a cultural commentary. According to Slate, the video tackles the history of racism in cartoons in this country, as well as stereotypes about African Americans in the form of caricatures like Uncle Toms and mammies. It also depicts real-life horrors black Americans have endured: slave auctions, lynchings, and burning crosses. "'The Story of OJ' is really a song about we as a culture, having a plan, how we're gonna push this forward," JAY-Z explained to iHeartRadio when the album debuted. "We all make money, and then we all lose money, as artists especially. But how, when you have some type of success, to transform that into something bigger."
On Monday, JAY-Z released another visual component to complement the song, a mini-documentary called Episode One: Footnotes for "The Story of O.J." The eight-minute video features famous black men like Mahershala Ali, Michael Che, Kendrick Lamar, Will Smith, and more talking about "racism, violence, wealth, and power in America," as Vulture's Halle Kiefer wrote. "Success is still in many ways a synonym for white," The Daily Show Host Trevor Noah says in the video, now available only on Tidal, for example. "And so once you attach successful to the black man, there’s a little key that has been given to you that may give you access to the white world."
In addition to delivering this vital commentary, the "The Story of O.J." music video also offers the first glimpse of the twins that JAY-Z and Beyoncé just welcomed — sort of. In one quick scene, when JAY raps about leaving his wealth and assets to his children, his character sits surrounded by cartoon kids, but holding two newborns. The logical assumption to make is that they are a cartoon renderings of the real-life twins, whose arrival JAY-Z and Beyoncé have yet to personally confirm, and who are believed to be named Rumi and Sir.
The good news is that now anyone can analyze this and debate it — as well as engage with the important themes of societal racism — all they want, just by heading on over to YouTube and playing the video over and over and over.