Forget Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, who were stabbed to death in Brentwood in 1994.
When New York Times editor Dean Baquet and Jay-Z. –whose new album features a song entitled "The Story of O.J."–sat down for an interview ( bizarrely headlined "Jay-Z & Dean Baquet"), two names never came up: Nicole and Ron.
You see, the editor and the rapper have located O.J.'s real sin: he wasn't black enough.
Saying that he found the O.J. song "very powerful," Baquet recalls that O.J. was a hero of his. He adds (without a trace of irony):
But O.J. was not a perfect hero for young black boys [me: !!!!!], even though he launched himself from poverty in San Francisco to superstardom. He was racially ambivalent. At a time when other athletes were starting to make their blackness a cause, he was trying to make his a footnote.
Too bad the basketball player didn't think to kneel for the national anthem.
So when I was invited to interview Jay-Z, I wanted to talk about his song “The Story of O.J.,” from his most recent album, “4:44,” in which he quotes the legendary, maybe apocryphal, Simpson line “I’m not black, I’m O.J.”
This is as close as Baquet comes to mentioning that unpleasantness with Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman:
O.J. must have locked down part of himself when he presented himself as the noncontroversial star who never talked about race, the perfect foil for his fellow football player, Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown, who seemed more threatening, angry. I had to wonder if the pressure of that denial caused him to explode decades later.
Poor, poor O.J.
Race is the theme of the conversation between these two rich and prominent men. Baquet writes in the introduction::
I was less engaged by the rapper’s marital troubles or his infamous, caught-on-video 2014 elevator dust-up with his sister-in-law. But I did want to try to understand how, with an $88 million Bel Air mansion a freeway ride from neighborhoods where black people endure with so little, Jay-Z holds onto his younger self — a black man who grew up in the ’70s in the Marcy projects of Brooklyn.
It seemed from his new body of work that examining this high-wire act of straddling two places had been stirring more deeply within him — much the way it stirs in me, a Southern black man who grew up revering O.J. and whose own success is infinitely greater than anyone in my early life would have imagined for me.
Just for the record: As a cub reporter for a now-defunct alternative weekly in New Orleans, I interviewed Mr. Baquet many years ago. I interviewed him because he was a graduate of a New Orleans prep school, St. Augustine's. Yes, it served African-American boys, but I was writing about it because it was a truly fine school that sent more graduates to Harvard than any other private school in New Orleans.
I called young Mr. Baquet at his Columbia University dorm. St. Aug's grads played a prominent role in New Orleans. Success is part of the St. Aug's DNA. You don't have to be white to be privileged, which is a wonderful thing about our country. But, if you are privileged, be grateful and admit that you had a leg up.
The interview is unhinged. Identity politics so consumes these two successful men that they forget the most important thing about O.J. Simpson. It's understandable that they admired him as kids–most boys did–but the shocking aftermath is not a minor thing.
I would have loved to ask Jay-Z about his vulgar lyrics, possibly a fruitful line of inquiry in light of recent developments.J-Z graciously admits regretting any harm done to people to whom he sold drugs.
Jay-Z has not yet met O.J., but he hopes to connect soon.
Let the love fest begin.