Video down below –>
Yeah _ 3 in the morning on the Westside highway, top down baby
- “Top down” refers to being in a convertible top car.
F*** y’all _ The motivation for me was them telling me what I could not be _ Oh well
- “Oh well” is a common response to an ironic situation, or to a situation that is out of your or another person’s control. It’s meant show that something was not a big deal. “No! I dropped my ice cream. Oh well, I’ll just buy another one.”
This a special dedication _ I wanna thank you for the fuel
- *This is a special dedication. “Fuel” here refers to something that drives Jay-Z to be successful, much like fuel in a car.
No really, thank you
- “No really” is said to confirm that you were serious about what you said. “Joe, I like your artwork. No really, I do.”
I felt so inspired by what my teacher said _ Said I’d either be dead or be a reefer head
- “Reefer” is another word for cannabis, or weed. We often add the word “head” to say that someone is an addict, such as with Crackhead, Cokehead. It’s a terrible thing to say to a student though. Poor Jay.
Not sure if that’s how adults should speak to kids
- *I’m not sure…
Especially when the only thing I did was speak in class _ I teach his a**
- *I’ll teach his… A note, when people use the “a” word like this, they don’t literally mean “I’ll teach his behind.” Unless it’s a clear reference to a person’s butt, the “a” word is meant just to emphasize the statement. “I’ll teach him.” /correct/ “I’ll teach his a**.” /more emphasis/
Even better’s what my uncle did _ I pop my demo tape in and start to beat my head
- “Pop something in” here means to put it in, so he put the demo tape into the tape player. “Beat” here means to move his head to the rhythm of the music.
Peeked out my eye, see if he was beating his _ He might as well have said beat it kid, he’s on the list
- “Peek” is to look secretly or subtly at something. Here he changes the meaning of beat. “Beat it” sometimes is used to tell someone to go away, get lost. It seems that his uncle didn’t approve of his music, so he’s on “the list” of people who didn’t approve of him in the past. Similar to a “black list.”
It’s like I’m searching for kicks like a sneaker head
- He uses two meanings of “kicks” here. “Searching for kicks” refers to him looking for excitement or adrenaline. But “kicks” can also mean tennis shoes. Again, “head” is used here to compare him to a shoe addict. He plays on the two meanings of kicks in the same line.
He gon’ keep pushing me until I reach the ledge _ And when I reach the ledge I’ll tell ’em all to eat a d***
- *He’s going to keep… “The ledge” is the final point of what someone can handle under pressure, much like the edge of a cliff. That last part is just an insult that people say sometimes.
Take a leap of faith and let my eagle wings spread _ Spread spread
- “A leap of faith” is to put yourself into a situation in faith that it will all be okay. Eagle wings remind me of the song “Fly Like an Eagle” by the Steve Miller Band. He won’t fall, but he’ll fly like an eagle. Figuratively, of course.
The motivation for me was them telling me what I could not be _ Oh well _ I’m so ambitious _ I might hit two sisters
- “Hit” can be used sensually to say that you will sleep with someone. “Sisters” and “brothers” is usually an affectionate way for the African American community to refer to each other, or to black people in general.
Hey, I’m on a mission _ No matter what the conditions _ Forget the personal issues _ When you know what I been through
- *What I’ve been through
Hey if you believe it _ Then you could conceive it
- You have to believe in something to make it happen.
I had to lace up my boots even harder _ Father is too far away to father
- “Lacing up bootstraps” is a common idiom that means you have to be strong and endure through something that is difficult. He’s saying his dad was not around to be a good father.
Further-more of the kids either smoke reefer _ Or either move white, there’s few writers in my cipher
- He separates the word “furthermore” so that it makes sense in the lyric. *More of the kids… He uses a different pronunciation of “either” here to rhyme with cipher later on. Both pronunciations of “either” and “neither” are acceptable in English, by the way. To “move white” is to sell crack or cocaine, not that you’ll need to know that. *There are few writers… A “cipher” is a set of raps that a rapper does, or a situation where rappers come together to practice rapping with each other.
So they made lighter
- They made it lighter, so good rappers started to fall away while he had more success. The bad artists were dropped like bad weight.
My type of dreams seem dumb _ They said wise up, how many guys’a you see making it from here?
- To “wise up” is to become wise. *How many guys do you see… To “make it” is to have success in general, with the idea of making it out of the ghetto (poor/bad neighborhoods) in this case.
The world don’t like us, is that not clear?
- *The world doesn’t like us. “Us” most likely refers to black people or poor/underprivileged people. It can also refer to people who make rap music, since rap was much less accepted when Jay-Z was younger than it is now.
Alright, but I’m different _ I can’t base what I’m gonna be off a what everybody isn’t
- *Off of what everybody… This is a great message. Be unique!
They don’t listen, just whispering behind my back _ No vision, lack of ambition _ So wack!
- “Vision” here refers to having dreams, wanting to do something big in the world. “Wack” means that something is not good, not cool, or has bad quality. He’s referring to people who don’t have ambition, or didn’t take the time to listen to his dreams.
Motivation for me was them telling me what I could not be _ Oh well _ I’m so ambitious _ I might hit two sisters _ Hey I’m on a mission _ No matter what the conditions _ Forget the personal issues _ When you know what I been through _ Hey if you believe it _ Then you could conceive it _ Had a couple of meetings no offers yet _ Maybe I ain’t good enough for these offices
- *Maybe I’m not good enough…
Back to the drawing board, ducking officers
- “Back to the drawing board” is a common phrase meaning to get back to work on a plan that failed. “Duck” here means to avoid or dodge something. Like when someone throws a rock at your head, a friend might yell, “Duck!” so that you can avoid getting hit. Basically, he’s going back to illegal activity since he’s trying to avoid police officers.
It’s all good ’cause the streets is A&R’ing this
- “A&R” (Artists and Repertoire) is a division of a record company that is responsible for scouting and searching for new talent. He means that the streets (the common people from his community) are going to support him, since he doesn’t get support from big music companies. “It’s all good” is a great way to say that things are fine, especially after a setback. “How do you feel?” “I feel a little sick, but it’s all good. I’ll feel better tomorrow.”
So with or without any of your involvement _ We coming for all of this, respect my conglomerate _ I went from pauper to the President
- “Pauper” is a very poor person. It’s not used very much anymore, but was made popular by old books and stories that tell of poor people turning into kings and nobles, especially from Britain. *We’re coming…
‘Cause every deal I ever made set precedent
- To “set a precedent” is to set a standard for how things should be done. It means that he made big changes in the industry.
N***** thought I’d fall without old buddy _ Oh buddy, what I do is make more money
- “Old buddy” is a common way for people in some communities to refer to a person indirectly when they don’t want to say the name. Same with “old girl,” and “old dude.” “Oh buddy” is a way to show excitement or to emphasize something. It’s usually used as a joke or to be funny. “Oh buddy, we’re gonna have a good time!”
Dear Teacher, your probably somewhere near a speaker _ I’m balling outta control, can you hear my sneakers?
- To “ball” is to have lots of success and make lots of money. In sports, it means to play extremely well, which is why he asks about his sneakers (sports shoes). He’s not really playing sports, but it’s a reference to the two meanings of balling. *Balling out of control. “Dear [Person]” is the way we usually start a formal letter in English. It’s as if Jay is sending his message directly to his teacher by song.
F*** y’all _ (Word up, Fly, High)
- “Word up” is a way to say that what you’re saying is true, or to call attention to what someone said. “Hey, word up. I’m about to make some real money.” To be “fly” is to be successful, stylish, have nice clothes, and have a winning attitude all in one.
The motivation for me was them telling me what I could not be _ Oh well _ I’m so ambitious _ I might hit two sisters _ Hey I’m on a mission _ No matter what the conditions _ Forget the personal issues _ When you know what I been through _ Hey if you believe it _ (Then be) _ Then you could conceive it (You see?)
- “Do you see?” is a popular way to ask if someone understands.
The motivation for me was them telling me what I could not be
Listen to the song here: