4:44 x @S_C_

As numerous billboards, plastered with the mysterious 4:44 began to pop up around New York, rumors of potential music from hip hop elder statesmen Jay-Z began to crop up right along with it. At midnight on June 30th, Tidal and Sprint customers were allowed to be the first to take the newly confirmed thirteenth studio album. The album kicks off with a nod to famed HBO drama Game of Thrones’ infamous proclamation to “kill the boy”, where Shawn Carter takes jab after jab at the ego of own persona (and the ridiculous hyphen drop pre-Magna Carta) on “Kill Jay Z”.

Contrary to the belief that 4:44 is a direct response to his wife Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Jay-Z does not spend the entirety of the album on his infidelities; those largely remain self contained on the Kim Burrell-assisted title track. Guided by a beautifully naked Hannah Williams sample, Jay-Z sheds the musical hustler persona, allowing the man behind it to show contrition for pain and suffering inflicted on his partner. As beautifully melancholy a record as “4:44” is, it is the sole segment of sorrow.

Jay-Z goes full blown “Rain Man” on the dancehall inspired “Bam” as well as “Marcy Me”, a welcome 2017 update to In My Lifetime’s “Where I’m From”. Twenty years later, Shawn retraces his steps through the famed Marcy projects, both older and wiser yet maintaining his sharpened wit (“Hold a Uzi vertical, let the thing smoke. Y’all flirting with death, I’m winking through the scope”). 4:44 is essentially an album Jay-Z attempted to make in 2006’s Kingdom Come, one reeking of vulnerability and growth (emotional and sociopolitical) from one of hip hop and music’s enduring acts.

It took the right producer (No I.D. helmed the album’s entire score, calling the recording sessions with Jay-Z “therapeutic” at the right time (the Carters being several years removed from the “elevator” incident and just a year following Beyonce’s 2016 release, Lemonade) to get an album long look at the man behind the stage name. We’ve gotten a couple of glimpses with each album, but never had the curtains completely drawn until now. While not a perfect album, the La La Land-inspired “Moonlight” among the swings that fail to fully connect, 4:44 is a concise, ten track reminder that Jay (and his wife) are indeed human. Blood runs through their veins and both go through human experiences, celebrity aside, and discover strength in their own vulnerability.