Jay-Z has plenty to say on his new album 4:44. From the current state of hip-hop to his infidelities with wife Beyoncé, fans are already praising it as one of Hov’s most mature works to date. Still, it is Jay’s mother, Gloria Carter, who provides the album with its most heartfelt moment.
In the song “Smile,” Carter affirms a long-standing rumor and comes out as lesbian. She appears on the latter half of the song, reciting a poem that asks: “Living in the shadow / Can you imagine what kind of life it is to live?”
To learn more about Carter, and her relationship with her rapper son, here are 5 fast facts you need to know.
1. She & Jay-Z’s Father Adnes Reeves Separated When He Was A Little Boy
Carter and Adnes Reeves had four children during their time together: Andrea, Eric, Michelle, and Shawn (aka Jay-Z), who was youngest. “He was the last of my children,” she told Biography, “the only one who didn’t give me any pain when I gave birth to him, and that’s how I knew he was a special child.” But the couple separated when Jay was only 11, leaving him and his siblings to be raised by their mother.
According to Encyclopedia, Carter worked as a clerk at an investment company to support her kids. Jay cut his biological father out of his life, telling Vibe magazine “To me, that was basically the end of our relationship. That was when the hurt and then the healing began for me, from that day right there.” The two would later reconcile before Reeves’ death from liver failure in 2003.
2. She Co-Founded the Shawn Carter Foundation As a Means of Helping People to Further Their Education
That same year, Jay and his mother co-founded the Shawn Carter Foundation in New York City. And though the Foundation is named in Jay’s honor, Carter has made it very clear that she is the driving force behind it. “There’s so many people that have a desire to go to college, but they can’t get the funding, she told Essence in May, “With me taking on this responsibility, we make dreams come true.”
She elaborated on this in an interview with USA Today, saying “The underserved have so many problems. Sometimes they need someone to give them a hand… My son says that if you can dream it, you can achieve it. All you have to do is put the work in.”
According to their website, the Shawn Carter Foundation has raised over $4M to support initiatives to empower youth and communities in need through programs like: Scholarship Fund, College Prep and Exposure, International Exposure, Professional Development, Scholar Support and Community & Goodwill Programs.
3. She Was Romantically Linked to New York Teacher Dania Diaz
Rumors about Gloria Carter’s sexual identity began in 2013, when she allegedly began dating Dania Diaz. According to Enstar, Carter and Diaz, a former school teacher, started their relationship shortly after Diaz joined the Shawn Carter Foundation. There were also allegations that the two were diverting funds from the Foundation to donate to various LGBT causes in the New York area.
Enstar and Hollywood Street King reported that “Tax returns from 2011 show the foundation had revenues of about $802,000, assets of nearly $630,000 … yet had given out roughly $100,750 in scholarships,” implying that Carter and Diaz were diverting funds off the record. These allegations were never addressed or confirmed by Carter or Jay-Z.
According to Diaz’s Linkedin page, she graduated from the Teachers College of Columbia University in 2002 and continues to hold her position as Executive Director of the Shawn Carter Foundation.
4. Her Son Jay-Z Announced That He Supports Same-Sex Marriage In 2012
While Jay never delved into his mother’s sexual identity publicly, he did announce that he supported same-sex marriage in 2012. In an interview with CNN, the rapper was asked what he thought of President Obama‘s stance on the subject, and promptly said:
“What people do in their own homes is their business and you can choose to love whoever you love. That’s their business. [It] is no different than discriminating against blacks. It’s discrimination plain and simple.” He added that restrictions on same-sex marriage was something “that was still holding the country back.”
On whether he thought Obama’s stance would cost him votes, Jay said, “I think it’s the right thing to do. It’s not about votes. It’s about people. It’s the right thing to do as a human being.” Jay’s wife, and Carter’s daughter-in-law, Beyoncé, also announced her support of same-sex marriage on her Instagram account. She posted a photo that read “If you like it you should be able to put a ring on it,” followed by the hashtag “We will unite 4 marriage equality!” Check it out here.
5. She Says That Coming Out Has Made Her Feel ‘Happy & Free’
Jay doesn’t mince words on “Smile,” rapping lines like “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.” He continues in this passionate vein, showing support for his mother by saying that he just wants her to be happy: “Don’t matter to me if it’s a him or her / I just wanna see you smile through all the hate/ Marie Antoinette, baby, let ’em eat cake.”
As Carter shows up for the song’s outro, her poem is at once weary and celebratory. Read the full poem below.
Living in the shadow
Can you imagine what kind of life it is to live?
In the shadows, people see you as happy and free
Because that’s what you want them to see
Living two lives, happy, but not free
You live in the shadows for fear of someone hurting your family or the person you love
The world is changing and they say it’s time to be free
But you live with the fear of just being me
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
When discussing the meaning of “Smile” with iHeartRadio, Jay said “[It] just what it is. There are gonna be bad times, and those bad times can do two things: they can get you in a place where you’re stuck in a rut, or it can make your future that much better because you’ve experienced these things.”
GLAAD praised Carter’s bravery on Twitter, as GLAAD President Sarah Kaye Ellis wrote: “Lesbian women are all too often erased or excluded from narratives surrounding LGBTQ people. By sharing her truth with the world, Gloria Carter is increasing visibility of lesbian women of color at a critical time and sending a powerful message of empowerment to the entire LGBTQ community that is perfectly timed with the end of Pride Month.”