I went to Rapgenius and read some of the comments... the ? are they smoking?

LUClEN Members Posts: 20,559 ✭✭✭✭✭
I can't tell if these are serious
I guess this is what English majors do with their time since they can't find employment
by sglancy

However, I am unconvinced. I suspect that Jay-Z has invented this interpretation to deflect (in my opinion, undeserved) criticism of misogyny.
The narrator of the song is talking to someone he refers to as “son”. Apparently this “son” has been complaining to the narrator about his girl problems. The narrator’s response is dismissive, saying that he has “99 problems, but a ? ain’t one”. The obvious interpretation is that “? ” refers to a bad girlfriend, such as the one troubling “son”. Although “? ” refers to a woman, I see no misogyny in the lyric. There is no implication that all women are ? , only that some women — those that cause “girl problems” — are ? .
In the three verses, the narrator describes three problems: (i) “beefs” and his public image, (ii) being pulled over while smuggling drugs, (iii) violence. In verse 2, the police threaten to bring a K9 to smell for drugs. In 2010, Jay-Z, says that all uses of “? ” in this song refer to that dog, but that interpretation can’t be justified in the narrative structure. Each verse tells about a problem that seems more serious than the “girl problems” of “son”. After describing one of his 99 problems in each verse, the narrator taunts “son” who is complaining about his relatively mild girl problems. The narrator also emphasizes he does not have these girl problems when he says “a ? ain’t one".
If, as Jay-Z said in 2010, “? ” always refers to the police dog, we must ask: why does every verse and the chorus refer to the police dog? Why does he respond to “son’s” girl problems by explaining that a police dog is not a problem?
For these reasons, I believe that Jay-Z’s 2010 interviews give a revisionist interpretation that is designed to help improve his public image. The interpretation of “? ” as the K9 is just not supported by the lyrics from 2003.
What is your opinion of “? ” and its meaning of this song?

By Loni

It’s plausible that he could be talking about the dog. You all mention the fact that he says “If your having girl problems I feel bad for you son.” This line connects with the dog because the cop calls him son. “Son, do you know why I’m stopping you for.” The girl could also be referencing the dog as a ? is a female dog. Even in the third verse he’s not talking about a girl. “A ? like myself had to strong-arm a ?
This is not a ? in the sense of having a ?
But a ? having no ? sense, try and push me
I try to ignore him, talk to the Lord"
He’s quite obviously talking about a guy which if you watch the music video you can see. Just highlight the words and you can watch it. Even at the end of the third verse he’s not talking about a woman but a weak man.
by MisterKansas

So Jay-Z feels bad for you if you have girl problems, yet the fact that he has 99 problems, but a ? aint one is complicated. Does he mean that he has 99 problems but a ? aint one because he has a girl who is not a ? and therefore not a problem, or does it mean that there is not a girl in his life, so he lacks that problem specifically?
Jay Z’s answer that the ? is a female canine also makes no real sense. If he is pulled to the side of the road, awaiting the arrival of a K9 unit, and if he is apparently holding some form of narcotic, then indeed a ? would be a problem. A ? would be his main problem if the ? ’s canine nose determined that he had illegal substances in his vehicle; indeed if this ? found the contraband it’s his only problem since his knowledge of the law has already stymied the law enforcement who pulled him over. The only possibility then that is realistic is that the ? is indeed human and female despite any protests to the contrary. The problem remains with the problems: does he lack girl problems, or lack ? problems, and are these the same thing in his estimation?