"History" by Jay-Z Analysis

“Now that all the smoke is gone and the battle is finally won, victory is finally ours,” these are lyrics from Jay-Z’s song “History.” This was released November 5, 2008, the day after, the first African-American, Barack Obama, was elected President of the United States. These lyrics can be interpreted as progression for racism in America. “History” is my favorite rap song because the lyrics reveal a story that most people can relate to while expressing deep passion and emotion. The message is that there would be struggles in life, but we must continue, never give up trying to be successful, and that after success is gained one needs to continue working towards the next level, which is the level of victory. Through these lyrics, Jay-Z portrays the elusive allure of attaining success, and the beauty of reaching new possibilities.

The rhyme scheme in “History” is remarkable; Jay-Z uses imagery to describe victory and history. Jay-Z raps about three different females named defeat, success and victory, using personification to describe each of them. For example, when Jay-Z raps “I’ll be stuck with [victory’s] sister, her name is defeat, she gives me agony… she brings me so much pain, so much misery,” he is describing defeat as a woman who causes him emotional suffering whenever she’s around. Defeat is the first woman Jay-Z meets, and he is not satisfied with her, he wants someone better. Victory is a sister to defeat, because one cannot exist without the other, and defeat is the failure associated with victory. Like a baby that falls before it learns how to walk; we fail before we become victorious. Later in the song Jay-Z introduces success by saying, “success is like lust, she’s good to the touch, she’s good for the moment, but she’s never enough, everybody has had her.” Success has similar attributes to victory, but her flaws come when he realizes that she is not satisfying enough and anyone can have her. Anyone can be successful, but only a few people are victorious and make history. Finally in the last verse, Jay-Z describes victory as the perfect woman for him. “Now victory is mine, it tastes so sweet, she’s my trophy wife coming with me.” Victory is better than success in all aspects because no one has been with her she almost untouchable, and she is the prize that he has worked so hard for.

The song “History” has visual imagery and numerous descriptions of victory, who Jay-Z describes in the song. Jay-Z begins the song rapping “In search of victory, [but] she keeps eluding me, only if we can be together momentarily, we can make love and make history” Jay-Z is chasing after a very attractive woman who goes by the name of victory. Victory is not any ordinary woman, and her standards are extremely high. She does not pay attention to any regular guy, and she only likes guys who are very successful, guys with money and prosperity. Jay-Z is climbing up the ladder of success and wants to leave his mark by having a child with victory who will then carry on his legacy of success.

Another example of imagery can be found in the chorus of the song, “Now that all the smoke is gone and the battle is finally won, victory is finally ours, history so long , so long.” The chorus represents the end of the struggles and failure and finally reaching the goal of victory. The battles are over, the weapons are down, and the smoke is clearing. Some sacrifices were made to get to this point, but the feeling of victory makes it worth while.

Since “History” was released the day after President Obama was elected into office a real life connection can be made between the song and reality. The imagery given in the chorus can be interpreted as a step forward from racism. “History, so long, so long” is Jay-Z saying good-bye to racism and welcoming in President Obama to be victorious and presenting other people of color with the opportunity to make history. We can look at the struggles that President Obama has been through before he reached the oval office. He had the challenge of running against Senator Hillary Clinton for the democratic presidential candidate and the ultimate challenge of running against Senator John McCain for President. President Obama has faced many struggles during his campaign from racist comments to false allegations by the Republican Party, but that did not stop him from running for presidency. He simply dusted off his shoulders, as Jay-Z would do, and continued his campaign. After facing these challenges he came out on top and won the election and made history as the first African-American President to be elected into office.

The tone of “History” is humble and compassionate. Jay-Z sounds like he is pouring out his heart and soul through his lyrics, doing all he can to make history while being confident and self motivated at the same time. He sounds compassionate and sincere throughout the whole song, and raps with a soft tone. He is known for his countless types of rhyme schemes. The beat and rhythm of the song is alluring while the smooth bass drums come in at the right time to blend in with the pleasant snare drum and the attractive rhythmic high hats and goes well with the imagery presented.

The meaning of “History” is deeper than the lyrics, and Jay-Z conveys this by using visual imagery to express what it takes to make history. His comparisons of history to situations we encounter in everyday life are relatable and provide listeners with an intimacy with the lyrics and the artist himself. “History” is my favorite song so I give it five stars, I recommend anyone who has failed, but still has the determination to continue to listen to it because it is extremely motivational. When I have pile of work up to my neck to complete and become stressed I listen to “History” because it gives me that push I need to continue and reminds me never to give up.

The song “History” is one that most people can relate to, especially me. In life a common goal that many people share is to be victorious. In order to attain victory one must never give up and stay focused. Everyone can relate to this song even if they are not comfortable with their level of success. Everyone has struggled at one point and these struggles represent the battles that are mentioned in the chorus of the song. As a college student, my success is in the distance I see it, but I just have not attained it yet.

About Edmund Adjapong

Edmund Adjapong, a native of the Bronx, NY, is a student at Teachers College, Columbia University. He is currently pursuing a Masters of Science in Science Education and received a Bachelors of Science in Biochemistry with a minor in Africana Studies from The State University of New York at Plattsburgh. Edmund believes every student learns differently. He also believes that engaging young men with media–despite its unconventional method–is an effective way to educate. Edmund enjoys working with and mentoring youth, especially young men of color, as they are our future. He fell in love with Hip-Hop after memorizing Puff Daddy's song "All about the Benjamins," in the third grade. Following the completion of his masters degree, Edmund plans on teaching science in a New York City public school and pursuing his Doctorate of Philosophy in Science Education. His ultimate goal is to become a science educator and researcher. This blog is a reflection of Edmund’s thoughts during his journey toward a terminal degree. For more information about Edmund Adjapong please feel free to contact him at: E.adjapong@gmail.com
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