Jay-Z Cried When His Mother Came Out to Him: 'She Was Free'

When your son is international superstar rapper Jay-Z, your coming-out story won't be a quiet affair. That's what happened to Gloria Carter, who recently revealed to the world that she is gay through her son's critically acclaimed, best-selling album 4:44.

In a recent interview with David Letterman on the host's new Netflix talk show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, Jay-Z (whose real name is Shawn Corey Carter) divulged that while he had long known about his mothers' sexuality, she had only opened up to him about it shortly before the album was released. The rapper confessed it was an emotional conversation for him.

"For my mother to have to live as someone that she wasn't, to hide and protect her kids—didn't want to embarrass her kids, to hide for all this time and then for her to sit in front of me and tell me, 'I think I love somebody,' I really cried," the 48-year-old told Letterman. "That's a real story. I cried because I was so happy for her that she was free."

Letterman, presuming that this had happened when the rapper was much younger, asked Jay-Z how old he was at the time. "This happened eight months ago, when the album was being made," Jay-Z responded. "Like she just told me. I made the song the next day."

The song in question is "Smile," the third song on Jay-Z's 4:44 album, which dropped last June. The track outro features a sound bite of Gloria Carter delivering a speech about what it was like for her to live life in the closet. Carter recites, "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."

Jay-Z clarified to Letterman that he knew his mother was gay, "but this was the first time we had the conversation." What particularly moved him was that she revealed she was in love with another woman, her partner. "She said, 'I feel like I love somebody.' She held that little bit back still," he laughed.

In an interview with the New York Times from November, Jay-Z said he realized in his "teenage years" that his mother was gay. "We never spoke about it. We — it just exist. It was there. Everyone knew."

His strong emotional reaction to his mother's words took him by surprise, Jay-Z said. "I just cried. I don't even believe in crying when you're happy, I don't even know what that is. What is that?"