Jay-Z’s 4:44: A black album
I’ve never written a music review before because well, I hate em. I know I know strange to say for someone working for a radio station. But the reviews always happen too soon, usually within 24 hours of the release. You know who else hates album reviews? Hovito, who once asked, “How you rate music that thugs with nothing relate to it?” Luckily for me both Jay and I’s thug days are over. That was made quite clear on his most recent LP 4:44.
Showing tremendous growth as a black man experiencing success that most only dream of, Jay finally gave us the album Hip Hop needed since he first announced his “retirement” back in 2003. It took some broken friendships with figures such as Dame Dash, Lyor Cohen, and maybe Kanye West? As well as a relationship of 14 years, nine of marriage, and three beautiful children with Beyoncé. Yes Beyoncé. It hasn’t been easy though, that was made clear on her hit album Lemonade. And again, on Jay’s album, “I’ll fuck up a good thing if you let me. Let me alone, Becky.” While this comment on their relationship stole headlines, and was the source of some great memes Jay dug even deeper.
Within the album, Jay touched on major social issues in a personal manner when speaking on his mother coming out to him as a lesbian on the track ‘Smile’. In music genre where homophobic word play is a norm this was huge coming from the big homie. He didn’t stop there heavily touching on issues of being black in America. Something that isn’t it easy no matter your status or personal wealth. He made that quite clear on ‘The Story of OJ’, with the line “I’m not black I’m OJ, OK” ‘nough said.
What’s the point of having knowledge if you can’t share it? Jay knows the importance of sharing information with the next generation. Telling the upcoming rappers to not sign deals on multiple tracks, “Y’all out here still takin’ advances huh?” on “The Story of OJ” and on “Moonlight”. “Y’all niggas still signin’ deals? Still? After all they done stole, for real? After what they done to our Lauryn Hill? And y’all niggas is ‘posed to be trill?” I find myself asking the same question when I think about what happened to essentially every Motown artist, the Birdman v. Lil Wayne saga, or even the success Chance The Rapper has enjoyed as an independent. Y’all niggas still signin’ deals, for real? After the most recent class of XXL Freshman featuring a bunch of Lil’s, I hope they take this advice from Jay.
Additionally, Jay briefly touches on the lack of role models that exist for young black men today. The OJ line is an obvious one but on “Family Feud” he throws some much-needed shade, “Al Sharpton in the mirror takin’ selfies, how is him or Bill Cosby posed to help me?” Jay name drops three huge figures within the African-American community. When Jay was my age OJ, Al, and Bill were all held to higher status. Now all three for obvious reasons no longer hold that cache.
Jay seems to be transitioning into the phase of becoming one of those role models. He has the finances to do so, hosting multiple benefit concerts through his streaming service Tidal. Even giving a million dollars to a social movement focused on Criminal Justice Reform, Black Lives Matter. Jay knows that financial freedom is one of the major keys to truly reach equality. He touches on this idea on multiple songs, “Family Feud”, “The Story of OJ”, “Moonlight”, and “Legacy”. Including these lines from “Legacy”, “A nice peace-fund ideas from people who look like we, we gon start a society within a society.
So, after multiple listens the question is how did we get here? How does one go from making a song called “Jigga What, Jigga Who” to “Kill to Jay Z”? Some say experience is the best teacher, which while true, Jay’s is certainly unique. Although he and his wife have a team that crafts their image that any politician would die for, but all his success and failures are eventually made public. For a guy who knows how important he is to his community he has had quite the character makeover.
This includes isolating himself from who most consider his little brother, Kanye West. You can’t go toe to toe with Apple Music or Hennessey and still associate yourself with someone apart of the Kardashian Empire. Nor can you still make it rain in the strip club when you have billionaire aspirations. Jay understands most billionaires aren’t the same hue as he is however, he has studied the way Bill Gates and Warren Buffet carries themselves the way Kobe Bryant studied Michael Jordan’s fade away. Kobe didn’t become a potential hall of famer 81 by watching his 81-point game, a huge issue for anyone is admitting their faults, and Jay finally got around to that on this album.
This is his most personal album. This isn’t an album by Jay Z but one by Sean Carter. In a time where most of the music is boasting about their drug addiction, the diamonds in their chain, the car they just bought, or how attractive the woman their sleeping with is, Jay is bringing Hip Hop back to Hip Hop. Now, he’s not alone in doing so I believe Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Joey Bada$$, and his formal rival Nas among others served as inspiration for the album. The album plays like a letter to himself saying “damn Jay it’s time to grow up.” It left me feeling damn, black people, it’s time for us to grow up.
Thank you, Jay Z, this one was for the Culture, 7/7.