Prior to the abrupt release of Jay Z’s 13th studio album 4:44 released in late June, it had been quite awhile since we have heard from the GOAT. Jay’s last studio effort was roughly four years ago, and since, we have only received bits and pieces of his greatness with one off singles and features until now. 4:44 is constructed of 10 tracks spanning roughly 36 minutes solely produced by No ID delivering Jay’s most poignant self-reflections to date.
It is easy to let life’s circumstances good or bad, control who you become, yet it is far more difficult to remain true to yourself, and the most rewarding, the latter, greatness and/or self-love isn’t cultivated in facades.
Jay metaphorically kills his own ego on the albums opening track “Kill Jay Z,” which in any sense is refreshing, as for awhile there, Jay was quite difficult to relate to on many levels. I recall in an interview with the Power 105.1’s the Breakfast Club, between host, Charlamagne tha God and Jay, in which Jay responded without hesitation, “Of Course,” after being asked something along the lines of, “Do you have the President’s phone number?” Jay was quite casual with respect to a concept that is unfathomable to anyone on any level. Chalk it up to bravado, but the fact remains, Jay has infiltrated a set of inner circles that his contemporaries would not have access or understanding too, and that’s ok, we all evolve, but for a while there, I felt “we the people” lost him, and I think naturally he lost himself. We see this as he raps, “you got people you love you sold drugs to, you got high on life, that shit drugged you.” It is easy to let life’s circumstances good or bad, control who you become, yet it is far more difficult to remain true to yourself, and the most rewarding, the latter, greatness and/or self-love isn’t cultivated in facades.
On “Kill Jay Z,” Jay also envisions what life would be like if continued making similar decisions such as those well documented in Beyoncé’s Lemonade. He raps, “you egged Solange on, Knowin’ all along, all you had to say you was wrong, You almost went Eric Benét, Let the baddest girl in the world get away, I don’t even know what else to say, N****, never go Eric Benét! I don’t even know what you woulda done, In the future other n****s playin’ football with your son, You woulda lost it.” The last line is a subliminal reference to Seattle Seahawks Quarterback, Russell Wilson seen playing football with Future and Ciara’s son. Not only does Jay draw attention to the fact his feelings are penetrable, but the thought of another man raising your child, and having to witness this as Future did, is incomprehensibly painful and not worth his prior transgressions.
The most necessary and controversial track of 4:44, is “The Story of O.J.” which samples “Four Women” a song discussing the different “types” of black women, by Nina Simone, an American singer and civil rights activist most notable known for her work during the 60’s. Jay discussed this track with iHeart Radio, describing this song as blueprint to financial success and a way to provoke progressive understanding within the culture. “The Story of O.J.” spoke to me on a deeply personal level as it showcases the systematic oppression and the ideologies communities of color adopt willfully and un-willfully today.
“Im not black’ Im O.J.…okay”
Prior to the first verse, Jay unabashedly and sarcastically to perfection proclaims, “O.J., like ‘Im not black’ Im O.J’…okay” As of recent, there have been an influx of retrospective documentaries and television shows that have examined the racial tension between the white and minority community’s surrounding O.J.’s arrest juxtaposed with his unwillingness to adopt his “blackness.” Jay uses this as inspiration to illustrate that regardless of the progress made in race relations and a reformist stance towards inclusion in America, being a Black American, whether that be a billionaire like himself, doctor, lawyer, drug dealer, family man, warehouse worker, cannot transform opinion’s and stereotypes of Black Americans adopted by a large portion of White Americans, whether White and Black Americans have come to terms with this or not.
Instead of adopting O.J.’s stance, and the extremely naïve perception that color means nothing in our society, Jay provides insight on how the Black Community can leverage its ability to rise above being systemically disadvantaged from the beginning of our country’s history. He does so in lines like “Please don’t die over the neighborhood, that your mama rentin’ take your drug money and buy the neighborhood, that’s how you rinse it,” or “yall on the gram holding money to your ear, there’s a disconnect, we don’t call that money over here,” explaining that wealth cannot be had by advances from record companies or get rich quick schemes. But it requires, investing ones personal self and resources into a much more dense business savvy philosophy.
In the album’s titled track 4:44, Jay delves into the most vulnerable state we have heard him in since Kingdom Come’s, “Lost Ones” where hebriefly acknowledges his break up with Beyoncé. In 4:44 he viciously attacks his infidelities, shortcomings, and personal demons in an open apology letter to Beyoncé. He writes, “I apologize, our love was one for the ages and I contained us, And all this ratchet shit and we more expansive, Not meant to cry and die alone in these mansions, or sleep with our back turned, We supposed ‘til our backs burn” For myself personally, this life feels like a bad dream. I could not imagine being unable to enjoy the fruits of me and my wife’s labor, the foundations we built, over infidelity. I think we all can relate to this, and as we get older we start to realize what truly matters in life. Money fluctuates, friendship’s change, sexual partners come and go, but often, the person we love most, the one who would literally do anything for us and has proven such, is sacrificed at the expense of our selfish desires. And we are left with the remains of what was built for years together in a split second and it suddenly doesn’t mean as much, and that can be a very isolating feeling. You are what you value.
Superheros aren’t real, people are real, and real people make mistakes, and people must live with the reality of those mistakes
In fact, we see Jay, touch on this feeling of shame and isolation. He raps, “And if my children knew, I don’t even know what I would do, if they aint look at me the same, I would prob’ly die with all the shame, you did what with who? What good is a ménage a trois when you have a soulmate? You risked that for Blue? If I wasn’t a superhero in your face, my heart breaks for the day I have to explain my mistakes, and the mask goes away, and Santa Claus is fake, and you go online and see, For Blue’s tooth, the tooth fairy didn’t pay.” As millennial’s such as myself grow older, I think we can all agree, we start to realize the flaws of our parents. They may be our hero’s but not superhero’s. Superheros aren’t real, people are real, and real people make mistakes, and people must live with the reality of those mistakes. Jay has difficulty with the fact his decisions will ultimately affect the way his kids may see him one day, and he is determined to change the narrative.
Final Thoughts: There are many revelations on 4:44. Whether that be in “Smile,” where we learn for the first time that Jay’s mom is openly gay, or “Family Feud” where we see Jay’s current thoughts on the culture. No matter the case, Jay tackles his faults in the most transparent fashion we have seen him to date. He reminds us by his own experiences that we all face decisions big or small, which will impact the rest of our lives in ways we sometimes aren’t prepared for. Jay is committed to making decisions to ensure his legacy is protected, and he has given us a new blueprint in 4:44 to do the same.