Ready To Love

Jay-Z’s 4:44
Reviewed by Seren Sensei

One line on 4:44, the 13th solo album by rapper Jay-Z, implores listeners to “Stop me when I stop telling the truth.” If that’s the case, you can’t stop this album for its entire 34 minutes. Featuring some of his most introspective and lyrical wordplay since 2007’s American Gangster, 4:44 is essentially a comeback record after a series of projects that were commercially successful but weren’t particularly critically well-received by reviewers or fans. It finds the 47-year-old drug dealer-turned-rapper-turned-multi-millionaire businessman at a crossroads of sorts, reflecting on his choices thus far and laying out the motivations for the directions he’s going in next; each of the ten tracks weave the musings of the man Shawn Carter against the rap mogul Jay-Z and back again.

From the minute the intro begins, horns blaring, “Kill Jay Z” sets the tone for the record. Shawn Carter is talking to and eventually “killing” Jay Z, a concept he has played around with before (remember the infamous final scene of the “99 Problems” video?), and on this song he’s basically saying goodbye to the worst parts of himself. This is about growing up as a person, as a father and husband, and recognizing that being a closed off person with no emotions — being Jay Z — was ruining his life, his marriage, and possibly even his future relationship with his children. Delving deeper into the psychological aspects of his behavior, he questions his rough upbringing in the Marcy projects of Brooklyn and wonders about the intergenerational trauma that often leads black people to build protective armor around ourselves. When you quite literally have to create various personas in order to function in a racist society designed specifically for you to fail, you’ll find yourself doing everything from code switching with your white boss at work to creating braggadocious, abrasive personalities intended to mask emotional inner turmoil.

The album moves swiftly through the lean nine tracks after “Kill Jay Z,” touching on topics of race, family, capitalism, wealth, community and oppressive systems. True to the times, it is unapologetically pro-black. But contrary to the belief that Hov is merely bandwagoning, 4:44 matures and expands on content he has previously explored throughout numerous albums and tracks like “Allure,” “Can’t Knock The Hustle,” and the aforementioned “99 Problems.” Even “Watch The Throne,” the collaboration album between himself and what appears to be former friend Kanye West, dealt with themes revolving around what it meant to be rich and black in a world designed to conspire against you. It’s never more apparent than on the Grammy-award winning smash hit “N*ggas in Paris:”

Ball so hard, this shit weird / We ain’t even supposed to be here,
Ball so hard, since we here / It’s only right that we be fair…
Ball so hard, I’m shocked too / I’m supposed to be locked up too,
You escaped what I’ve escaped / You’d be in Paris getting fucked up too.

On 4:44, Jay moves beyond merely observing and relating his thoughts and circumstances to listeners and enters into the realm of action. He encourages black listeners to understand financial literacy and details how and why he invested money in various businesses and real estate ventures in order to get ahead.

Similarly, he talks about the music industry as a system that makes black people — the talent — a little rich and other people a LOT rich, championing artists to take back control of their creations and build wealth. While his acquisition of the streaming service TIDAL received jeers at the time, with the release of this album it makes much more sense as a power play by a black artist fed up with the system.

Capitalism as something walking hand in hand with systemic racism is touched on in practically every song. He questions a society that discourages financial literacy and all but ensures black people are unable to make money, urging his peers and listeners to consider an appreciation of economic awareness. Arguably, Jay’s entire discography could be said to have been about capitalism and the use of things as a way to prove self-worth, but 4:44 isn’t trying to sell you anything; it’s trying to tell you something. It’s more of an anti-capitalism album, or one, rather, that discusses ways of using capitalism to your advantage. How do artists take back control from an industry, a system — a country and world, really — that wants nothing for black people? What do they do personally in their own lives to get that power back?

To read the rest of my ‘4:44’ review, click here:

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