Kanye West and Jay-Z are two of the most iconic artists in hip-hop history. They have had their fair share of collaborations through the ages, and it all culminated with their collaborative album ‘Watch the Throne’ released in 2011. However, their relationship did not fair well afterward.
Kanye, being Kanye, was seemingly too much to handle for Jay-Z. In an interview with Zane Lowe, Jay-Z told “He’s going to challenge everything because he’s really trying to test it and poke holes to make sure that it stands up. I admire that. It kind of works for me.” However, Kanye started calling out Jay-Z for not being there in his times of need, as Kanye seemingly looked up to Jay-Z as a ‘big brother.’ With so many more little twists and turns, Kanye West and Jay-Z end up on not-so-good terms.
That is until now…or so it seems.
Jay-Z is on a track titled “Jail” by Kanye West from his tenth studio album ‘DONDA.’ The album was released on August 29, 2021 (after being delayed for more than a year). However, many people have had the chance to listen to the “Jail” track and parts of the album from Kanye’s ‘Donda’ listening party at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Stadium held on July 23, 2021, to a sold-out crowd of about 70,000.
Jay-Z is said to have finished his verse on “Jail” just hours before the listening party at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Listen to a “Jail” by Kanye West Ft. Jay-Z
Buy ‘DONDA’ on Apple Music & Amazon
“Jail” Lyrics Meaning and Song Review
Let’s explore the ideas and meaning behind this much-anticipated collaboration between Kanye West and Jay-Z.
Kanye West screams at someone to take whatever they want from him. Is he being robbed at gunpoint? Or is he hinting at the divorce settlement with his ex-wife Kim Kardashian? Or he could be just screaming at life itself. Life is also about a lot of giving and not receiving.
In the first verse of the song, Kanye West confesses that he has been a liar. In fact, we have all been liars at one point or the other in our lives. Can we let it go? Can we be forgiven? Kanye West confesses his sins on the track seeking salvation.
Kanye also talks about ‘priors’ which means previous criminal convictions. West sings;
do you have any priors?
Well, that one time, I’ll be honest
In these lyrics, Kanye continues to repent. Seemingly, he is bothered by his priors and the lies that he manifested to cover his priors?
He says that if he gets pulled over, he knows that he is going to jail. In the song, ‘jail’ might be a reference to hell, as opposed to actual jail. This is further explained by the lyrics below, in which Kanye thinks that God would post his bail.
Guess who’s goin’ to jail tonight?
God gon’ post my bail tonight
In the second verse of the song, Kanye West collabs with the music group Francis and the Lights.
In these lyrics, Kanye is seemingly talking about his relationships. He sings “Guess who’s getting ‘exed.” The word “exed” is the past tense of being an ex–as in an ex-husband or ex-boyfriend.
The lyrics by Francis and the Lights compliment this narration; “You made a choice that’s yo’ bad, single life ain’t so bad.” The singers might be thinking about all the wrong decisions they made that lead them to be single at this point in their lives.
Kanye West did go through a divorce with his wife Kim Kardashian in 2020. However, showing that there’s no bad blood between the two, Kim Kardashian did appear at the ‘DONDA’ album listening party held on July 23, 2021.
Jay-Z opens his verse with a killer double entendre to show his link with his faith.
God in my cells, that’s my celly
Made in the image of God, that’s a selfie
Hov says that he is so intuned with God, that it runs in his blood (in his cells). Drawing a parallel to Kanye’s theme of ‘jail,’ Hov also says that God is his cellmate–often considered to be the closest person in a prison for an inmate. ‘Celly’ could also refer to a cellphone, thus showing that Jay-Z is always in touch with God.
Why does Jay need to be in touch with God so much? Because of all the felonies, he commits. He can only hope that the Lord will be there for him to post his bail when it is his time to serve the sentence.
Next, Jay-Z turns his attention towards Kanye. He starts by calling up Donda and saying that he is taking care of his baby boy-Kanye. Donda West is Kanye’s mother who passed away in 2007 due to complications from cosmetic surgery. The album is dedicated to her memory.
Jay-Z says that he told Kanye to stop his political movements, especially supporting Donald Trump, who was painted in the light of ‘white supremacy.’ Kanye probably lost many fans due to this political stance during the 2020 election. He also wore Trump’s red caps with the slogan ‘Make America Great Again.’ Jay-Z wants none of this from Kanye and wants him back home–back in hip hop where he belongs.
One of the most exciting lines by Jay-Z is when he sings;
This might be the return of The Throne (Throne)
Hova and Yeezus, like Moses and Jesus
The lyrics send a strong hint that the Jay-Z and Kanye West beef might be officially over. ‘The Throne’ is a reference to their 2011 collaborative album ‘Watch the Throne.’ Since then, the duo was identified as ‘The Throne.’ Jay-Z draws comparisons between him and Kanye to that of Moses and Jesus.
Next, Jay-Z goes on to tell that he is not one to be manipulated or controlled by anyone. His life (his thesis) is something that only he will have writing credits to. No one else can tell his story.
The lyric “don’t try to jail my thoughts” is both in tune with the prison scheme running through this song, and also a message on artists being denied of their creative freedom by media and institutions.
In the last line in Jay’s verse, he says that life itself can be hell sometimes, and oftentimes if you came through poverty.
“Hell of a Life” is also a reference to Kanye’s 2010 track of the same name and “yikes” is a reference to his 2018 single of the same name.
If you were to go to jail today, who would be there to post your bail?
Let us know what you think about this song in the comments below. Check out the complete lyrics on Genius.