JAY-Z has certainly had a hell of a career. He’s a legend in the game, and for good reason. Starting with Reasonable Doubt way back when, leading up to what is now his latest album, his 13th solo album, 4:44. And we have watched him evolve, not only as an artist, but as a man all these years.
Many were speculating that this project would be Jay’s “response” to Beyonce’s Lemonade. That’s actually inaccurate to say. It’s not really a response to her. This album has JAY-Z talking about Jay-Z, himself as a man, husband, his faults and mistakes, and his growth. Yes, you can put the dots together. Bey basically insinuated that Jay cheated. Jay pretty much confirms that on this album. So, in that sense, you could call it a response but that’s still devaluing the album.
Hov managed to do something that not many rappers do. Especially at his age. Show real growth and maturity, baring his soul and revealing his deepest secrets. While still managing to flow over some pretty immaculate production by No I.D.. And the producer basically revealed that there are “three more songs that are coming out as bonuses. James Blake came in and joined into the process. There’s more coming shortly that’s equally as revealing.”
Jigga starts the album off in a very interesting way, with “Kill JAY-Z.” Letting us know up front what kind of album this is going to be.
“Kill Jay Z, they’ll never love you
You’ll never be enough, let’s just keep it real, Jay Z
Fuck Jay Z, I mean, you shot your own brother
How can we know if we can trust Jay Z?
And you know better,
nigga, I know you do
But you gotta do better, boy, you owe it to Blue
You had no father, you had the armor
But you got a daughter, gotta get softer
Die Jay Z, this ain’t back in the days
You don’t need an alibi, Jay Z“
He gets personal right from the jump. Basically telling us that his ego needs to die. This is Shawn Carter speaking to us on this album. Even though we had Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter back in the day, this is clearly different. This track includes a sample from “Don’t Let It Show” by The Alan Parsons Project and it works really well.
But what may be the most revealing personal song on the whole album is “4:44,” the title track. In terms of emotion, this one hits the hardest. Jay goes through his past and apologizes for a myriad of things he now regrets. Including relationships with other women he’s been with, not just Bey. He shows some true vulnerability, and the sample of “Late Nights and Heartbreak” by Hannah Williams and The Affirmations is used supremely well. In addition, it’s definitely one of the best songs Jay has ever written and really sums this project up with its lyrical content.
“Look, I apologize, often womanize
Took for my child to be born
See through a woman’s eyes
Took for these natural twins to believe in miracles
Took me too long for this song
I don’t deserve you“
And there’s even more to be said about the fact that he’s revealing this at the age of 47. He reveals that at the age of 21, Beyonce had matured faster than he did. At the time he was about 33. While there is a desire to applaud the man for his raw honesty, one can easily criticize for not “maturing” sooner. The song says a lot about men and women in our society in that way. The myth that women mature faster than men. There are layers upon layers here. Thinking about how his kids will be impacted if and when he ever chooses to tell them about himself. It’s a level of vulnerability that isn’t often seen in hip-hop.
Although JAY-Z does talk about other things beyond his personal infidelity and marriage. “The Story of O.J.” samples Nina Simone and discusses being black in america, as well as black wealth. With a pretty simple yet brilliant hook and hilarious intro with his first verse. What’s even more striking are the visuals that go along with the song. This idea of success and generational wealth is carried over into the final song of the album, “Legacy.” Literally using the term “black excellence” in the chorus.
Jay also goes back to his roots a bit in songs like “Marcy Me.” Reminiscing about Bedford Stuyvesant in the Marcy Houses. Acknowledging past pain and staying optimistic about a brighter future with “Smile.” Jay was also able to feature three very important people in his life on the album. His mother on “Smile,” where he acknowledges her sexuality and wishes nothing but good things for her. Bey on “Family Feud,” a song discussing the divide between old hip-hop heads and the new generation. And Blue Ivy on “Legacy,” asking what a will is.
“Moonlight” is an interesting track. With the title, and the hook containing the words “We in La La Land,” it’s a subtle nod to Moonlight winning the Oscar over La La Land. But beyond that, the song is about the current hip-hop culture. It’s short and to the point. Speaking of which. One of the best things about this album is that it’s so short. It’s only 10 tracks and under 45 minutes, which is truly perfect. This makes for plenty of replays upon replays.
And this album has plenty of replay value. It’s definitely going to be one of the most talked about projects of 2017. It certainly makes it seem as if JAY-Z has reclaimed the throne, or simply reminded everyone that he’s always had it and never walked away from it. Either way, 4:44 is going to remain as one of the biggest things to happen in 2017. Not just in hip-hop, or music. If you’re looking to hear Hov talk about some real ish and get raw and brutally honest, then this is certainly worth listening to. It may even make you ask some personal questions and reflect on yourself as a person.
Everything from the features to the production, it all works on the album. One could get away with saying it’s JAY-Z’s best album in years.