On Saturday, Jay-Z made history once again when he became the first living solo rap artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He thanked not only the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the incredible honor but also his business partners and family including his mom Gloria Carter for their support.
Carter, whose legacy is much bigger than raising the rap artist and entrepreneur, has said that the love of her son was key in helping her to come out. In spite of the many challenges she and her son have faced together, Carter only revealed her true self to her famous son in 2017 while he was writing his album 4:44.
For many years, Carter had been silent about her sexuality as society prevented her from living her true identity, she said. Her four children didn’t know she was a lesbian until they were adults. And she said in 2017 that she was never free until she came out to her rap mogul son Jay-Z, who couldn’t help but cry.
For 30 years, Carter worked for the New York City comptroller, moving from clerk to investment analyst. Following 13 years of marriage, she and Jay-Z’s father separated, and she had to single-handedly raise her four children — two sons, Eric and Shawn (Jay-Z), and two daughters, Michelle and Andrea. The New York City clerk, now a single mother living in a public housing complex, struggled to take care of her children, she said.
“We were living in a tough situation, but my mother managed; she juggled,” Jay-Z told Vanity Fair of how they lived at the time. “Sometimes we’d pay the light bill, sometimes we paid the phone, sometimes the gas went off. We weren’t starving—we were eating, we were O.K. But it was things like you didn’t want to be embarrassed when you went to school; you didn’t want to have dirty sneakers or wear the same clothes over again.”
Carter recalled in an interview with USA Today that she often took on an extra job as a security guard to make ends meet. Growing up in Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects, crack became a part of Jay-Z’s life as a way to make money. Jay-Z, who maintained that he never used crack, only sold it, said his mother Carter knew what he was doing, but had to force herself to deliberately overlook it.
“We never really had those conversations. We just pretty much ignored it,” he recalled to Vanity Fair. “But she knew. All the mothers knew. It sounds like ‘How could you let your son . . . ‘ but I’m telling you, it was normal.”
Things started getting better for Carter and her family when in 1996, Jay-Z, who would wake his siblings with his makeshift drum on the kitchen table, released his first commercial album. That album went on to reach 23 on Billboard200’s charts. Then came another album in 1997, which also did very well followed by the release of his then-best performing single, “Hard Knock Life” in 1998. Gradually, Carter’s son’s career began to take off. And in 20 years, he would release a total of 13 studio albums, eventually becoming hip-hop’s first billionaire now worth $1.4 billion.
But despite her son’s success, Carter continued to work. “Jay had a problem with that,” Carter recalled in an interview with USA Today. She said Jay-Z and his siblings eventually arranged a meeting to talk to her about retiring. She agreed, but after a year, she got bored.
By 2002, she and Jay-Z had founded the Shawn Carter Foundation – a not-for-profit dedicated to “helping individuals facing socio-economic hardships further their education at post secondary institutions.” The foundation has raised more than $4 million helping underserved students fulfill their dreams.
Carter was inspired to start the foundation after attending the graduation of a young man she had mentored in a work-study program at the comptroller’s office.
“He started speaking about this woman who had made an impact on his life. I didn’t even realize that I had been a mentor — I was just trying to help this young man. After that, I realized there are so many people who need to be touched.”
And the artiste’s mom has been touching lives since then, motivating and supporting children through school and life. In 2017 when she came out to her rap mogul son, she said he actually started tearing. “He’s like, ‘That had to be a horrible life, ma’. I was like, my life was never horrible,” Carter told Dusse Friday. “It was just different. So that made him want to do a song about it…”
On his album 4:44, Jay-Z celebrated his mother’s sexuality in a duet titled “Smile”. Carter initially didn’t like the idea. “First time I heard the song, I was like, ‘no dude, I ain’t feeling that. I was sharing myself with you, not with the world, I don’t know whether I’m ready for that’.”
“We talked about it and we talked about it, and I was going out to see him, and I said, I’m going to help him. We’re gonna do this. I wrote [my verse] while I was on the plane, going out to LA.
“I gave it to him, and he said ‘start reading this’, and he was taping me!”
In the song, JAY-Z raps: “Mama had four kids, but she’s a lesbian/ Had to pretend so long that she’s a thespian/ Had to hide in the closet, so she medicate/ Society shame and the pain was too much to take.”
The rapper in a subsequent interview explained how he really felt getting to know his mom was lesbian. “For my mother, to have to live as someone she wasn’t and hide and protect her kids, [not] wanting to embarrass her kids, for all this time and for her to sit in front of me and tell me, ‘I think I love someone’.
“I cried, that’s a real story. I cried because I was so happy for her that she was free.”