Jay-Z is astoundingly open and honest on 4:44, but one of the album's most personal moments comes with “Smile,” in which he reveals that his mom is a lesbian. The song acts as Gloria Carter’s public coming out to the world, and now the mother of four has opened up about her son’s emotional reaction to hearing the news for the first time.
“Me and my son, we share a lot of information. I was sitting there and... I just finally started telling him who I was,” she said during a recent appearance on the Roc Nation-affiliated D'ussé Friday podcast. “Besides your mother, this is the person that I am, this is the life that I live. So my son actually started tearing, because he was like, ‘That had to be a horrible life, Ma.’ And I was like, ‘My life was never horrible, it was just different.’ So that made him want to do a song about it.”
On “Smile,” Jay 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 / Cried tears of joy when you fell in love / Don't matter to me if it's a him or her.” It’s one of the album’s most emotional moments, but Carter went on to reveal that it almost didn’t happen.
“The first time I heard the song, I was like, ‘Eh, I don't know, dude. I ain't feeling that,’” she explained. “When it first happened, I was sharing myself [with Jay], not to share myself with the world.” But after a few conversations with her son, she finally gave him the OK to use the song. “I was never ashamed of me,” she said. “But in my family, it was something that was never discussed. I'm tired of all the mystery. I'm gonna give it to 'em . . . Now it's time for me to live my life and be happy, be free.”
That powerful sentiment echoes the tone of Carter’s beautiful spoken outro on “Smile”: “Living in the shadow feels like the safe place to be / No harm for them, no harm for me / But life is short, and it's time to be free / Love who you love, because life isn't guaranteed.”
Listen to the full hour-long chat below, and jump to the 25:42 mark to hear Carter's backstory on “Smile.”