In trouble waters I had to learn how to float

from Jay Z (Ft. Frank Ocean) – Oceans Lyrics on Rap Genius

Meaning

Hov is referring to his rough upbringing in his early years. His childhood home was the Marcy Projects, and as mentioned in the previous line, he was a crack dealer. The Marcy projects are the “trouble water” where he had to sell crack to survive (stay “afloat”). Hov had to turn his life around, culminating in the 1996 release of his debut album, Reasonable Doubt.

Today, Hov is one of the most successful musicians/businessmen in America, with an estimated net worth of $500 million. He has ventured into the world of sports as well as clothing, has a stable family, and has certainly learned “how to float.”

Troubled water recalls John 5:4

For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.

Jay-Z went through the troubled waters (A metaphor for his drug dealing past) and came out of them clean, able to float, just like Jesus. He’s the God MC after all, isn’t he?

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