Jay ponders the generational effects of the transatlantic slave trade on this cut as he contemplates the lives of his ancestors who traversed the Atlantic Ocean. The aptly named Frank Ocean joins Hova on the song. The R&B singer previously appeared alongside Jay on two Watch the Throne tracks "Made In America" and "No Church in The Wild."
Jay also condemns colonialism. On one line he succeeds in both dissing Christopher Columbus and lauding The Notorious B.I.G:
"I'm anti-Santa Maria The only Christopher we acknowledge is Wallace."
(Christopher Columbus's ship was called the Santa Maria and Biggie Small's real name was Christopher George Latore Wallace).
Jay-Z explained the meaning behind the song in a video preview of the album. "It sounds like a celebration of where we are now on some big yacht, throwing champagne in the water," he told Rick Rubin. "But the undertow of the thing is that this is the same water that brought us here originally as slaves, so it has this whole duality and even how we re-write history, the stories we were told about the history of America."
This was the first song that Jay recorded for Magna Carta… Holy Grail. Ocean and Hova laid it down in 2011.
Kanye West wanted this and "Magna Carta…Holy Grail's title track" to be part of his and Jay-Z's joint album Watch The Throne. "[There were] no lyrics on 'Holy Grail' and I recorded 'Oceans' and I played those records for Kanye," Jay explained in an interview with BBC Radio 1's Zane Lowe. "And he was like, 'No those have to go on Watch The Throne, so we spent four days arguing about those records and I was explaining to him why it wasn't right for this project and I had a whole idea for making this album called Magna Carta... the Holy Grail [part of] the name came after."
Jay added that the argument never really turned nasty, describing it as "four days, four days literally arguing... not like fighting. Well, there was some pushing at one point but not between us, just everyone else got a little excited."