Album of the Week: JAY-Z's '4:44'

At age 47, what more can he possibly say? After wooing us with his scintillating wordplay and drug-dealing tales for over 20-plus years, one could assume that JAY-Z has run out of talking points. Granted, he was embroiled in a muddy elevator spat with his wife Beyoncé and her sister Solange in 2014. Plus, he was dragged by Beyoncé after being accused of cheating on her with “Becky with the good hair” in 2016. One might think he would seek retribution and spike his wife’s Lemonade, right? Well, for JAY-Z’s 13th album, 4:44, the once-elusive Shawn Carter adroitly pens a project that conveys a man undergoing a whirlwind of emotions.

Guilt, remorse, pride, swagger, and black excellence, are simply some of the feelings that pervade this emotionally-driven album. For once, JAY-Z unabashedly puts his personal life on wax for his day-one listeners. Indelible shades of vulnerability are what propels this album. The intro track “Kill Jay Z” finds Hov in a rugged tug of war with his past street persona and his current self. “Cry JAY-Z, we know the pain is real/but you can’t heal what you never reveal,” he poignantly raps.

After living a double life seemingly anchored by a clandestine love affair, Hov allows the pen to spill his darkest secrets. “You almost went Eric Benet/let the baddest girl in the world get away,” he confesses. Then, on the album title track “4:44,” Hov uses Hannah Williams’ “Late Nights & Heartbreaks” sample as a truth serum to right his wrongs in his marriage. “I suck at love, I need a do-over/I will be emotionally available if I invited you over,” pleads the prolific MC.

On “Smile,” Hov once again finds refuge through his pen, as he ruminates about his mother’s sexuality. “Mama had four kids, but she’s a lesbian/Had to pretend so long that she’s a thespian/had to hide in the closet, so she medicate/society shade and the pain was too much to take,” he reveals. He then allows his mother, Gloria Carter – one of the three features on 4:44 including Frank Ocean and Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley – to recite an endearing poem at the end of the track. “Living in the shadow, can you imagine what kind of life it is to live?/In the shadows people see you as happy and free/Because that's what you want them to see/Living two lives, happy, but not free,” says Mama Carter.

Rather than drown in melancholy, Hov finds a way to regain his swagger on 4:44. On his Damian Marley-assisted track “Bam,” JAY-Z plows through his haters with a slew of lyrical jabs. "Put that drum in your ear don't get Srem'd/I'll Bobby Shmurda anybody ya heard of/N---as could not be further, I fathered your style/Birth of a nation Nat Turner style,” he raps. With No I.D. sampling Fugees “Fu-Gee-La,” Hov pounces on Instagram rappers with callous disregard on “Moonlight.” I don't post no threats on the internet/I just pose a threat, blame Lenny S for that/I don't be on the 'Gram goin' HAM/Givin' information to the pork, that's all spam,” says Hov.

For JAY-Z, after a four-year hiatus that found him serving as the media’s punching bag, he makes a triumphant return on 4:44, courtesy of No I.D.’s seamless production. Listen to Hov’s 4:44, available exclusively on Tidal and for Sprint customers for the time being. 

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