A Common Misunderstanding of the Lyrics of Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind"


If you’re like me (and the rest of America, according to the Billboard Hot 100), you love the Jay-Z song “Empire State of Mind.” But here’s the thing: there’s apparently a frequently-misunderstood lyric regarding popular NBA players LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, one that seems to leave a number of people befuddled. Maybe you’ve heard this line? It’s in the second verse and goes something like this, “I got it made/If Jeezy’s payin’ LeBron, I’m paying Dwyane Wade.” A lot of people think this has to do with an NBA franchise, of which Jay-Z is a part-owner: the New Jersey-soon to be Brooklyn-Nets. Those people are wrong.

The lyric in question is usually misconstrued in one of two ways. Either:

1) It’s misheard as: “If Jesus paying LeBron, I’m paying Dwyane Wade.”


2) It’s heard correctly, but taken literally, as: “If Jeezy’s paying LeBron, I’m paying Dwyane Wade.”

Here’s how the different scenarios break down:

1) “If Jesus is paying LeBron, I’m paying Dwyane Wade.” A lot of people assume that this means that there’s someone named Jesus who owns a large equity stake in an NBA franchise who is vying for LeBron James (one of the best NBA players of all time, and close friend of Jay-Z) when James hits the market as a free agent in 2010. Well, you know what they say about happens when you assume, and that’s just what you’ve done. No one named Jesus, pronounced like the son of God and not in the more commonly used Hispanic way, owns any part of any NBA team. Sorry.

2) “If Jeezy’s paying LeBron, I’m paying Dwyane Wade.” So now you might think, okay, maybe the popular rapper Young Jeezy owns a bit of an NBA team, just like Jay-Z does, and he’s saying that if Jeezy signs LeBron, Jay-Z will then settle for Dwyane Wade. Again, you could not be anymore incorrect, I’m sorry. Young Jeezy also does not have any points in an NBA franchise. It seems weird that you even thought that.

The actual answer is a bit more complicated.

In Young Jeezy’s song “24–23 (Kobe-Lebron),” Jeezy uses the players’ jersey numbers to articulate the price he’s paying of a kilogram of cocaine.

The chorus of that song goes, “I used to pay Kobe [24], but now I pay LeBron [23].” This means that he used to pay $24,000 for a kilo of coke, whereas now? He only pays $23,000, you see.

So. In “Empire,” Jay-Z takes this one step further, so as to show his impressive status in New York. He suggests that, while Jeezy may be paying $23,000, Jay-Z is paying a mere $3000 (expressed as Dwyane Wade’s jersey number) for a kilo of cocaine.

David Cho is the publisher of The Awl.