4:44 — Empowering, Cathartic, Vulnerable — Jay-Z At His Finest

The day we’ve all been waiting for — HOV Day.

Over 3 years since his last album, Jay-Z (hyphen and all) returns with his 13th solo album. The mission? Not to own the season like he did for “7 straight summers”, but to empower and uplift rap’s consciousness.

In 36 captivating minutes, Jay-Z recorded what will become one of his most important albums.

4:44 is raw, intimate, educational and uplifting all at the same time.

The album starts with “Kill Jay-Z” and ends with a Legacy, a verbal will. This is no mistake. Throughout the album, the listener is treated to quite a journey.

Remember that scene in Fade To Black when Jay’s in the studio wanting to speak more about issues that affect the hood? This is THAT album.

Cry JAY-Z, we know the pain is real
But you can’t heal what you never reveal
What’s up, JAY-Z?
You know you owe the truth to all the youth
That fell in love with JAY-Z

- Kill Jay-Z

For the record, the tap at Kanye is vintage HOV (I’m sticking with the caps. Ha!)

Next up is The Story Of O.J, which is the antithesis of Money Cash Hoes. Instead of bubbling “hard in the double R”, financial planning take centre stage.

You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a strip club? Credit.

A reference to Drake’s misplaced comments regarding HOV is also addressed.

I bought some artwork for one million
Two years later, that shit worth two million
Few years later, that shit worth eight million
I can’t wait to give this shit to my children
Y’all think it’s bougie, I’m like, it’s fine
But I’m tryin’ to give you a million dollars worth of game for $9.99.

Pay attention to the last line. Jay is offering to give you a million dollars worth of game for $9.99, which happens to be the price of a Tidal subscription.

Later, in quite possibly one of the best bars on the album:

Y’all on the Gram holdin’ money to your ear
There’s a disconnect, we don’t call that money over here

Not only is Jay mocking those who choose to hold a wad of money to their ear, but is also clever enough to link it to phones — the very thing we use to take the picture.

Smile is a mature look at life. Reflecting back on life experiences and learning from them (A loss ain’t a loss, it’s a lesson).

And, in amongst all of that, there’s a bit of street knowledge.

Black entrepreneurs, free enterprise
That’s why it’s a black market, that’s why it’s called the trap
That’s why it’s called the project ’cause it’s exactly that
All these people was gon’ kill me, heh
’Cause the more I reveal me, the more they ‘fraid of the real me

On Caught In The Eye we gain insight into how the streets prepared Jay-Z to be hyper-observant.

I survived reading guys like you
I’m surprised y’all think you can disguise y’all truths
I seen eyes wide as they about to shoot.

4:44 is cathartic. A fable on the impact of infidelity. Listeners also get Jay-Z at his most vulnerable. Something we’re not used to hearing.

I never wanted another woman to know
Something about me that you didn’t know
I promised, I cried, I couldn’t hold
I suck at love, I think I need a do-over
I will be emotionally available if I invited you over
I stew over what if you over my shit?

Age in Hip-Hop is a contentious issue, particularly when it comes to the 47-year-old rapper. Family Feuds deals with this head on with a rather pertinent question.

Hovi’s home, all these phonies come to a halt
All this old talk left me confused
You’d rather be old rich me or new you?

The song also touches upon the in-fighting within the culture.

Nobody wins when the family feuds
We all screwed ’cause we never had the tools
I’m tryna fix you
I’m tryna get these niggas with no stripes to be official
Y’all think small, I think Biggie

There’s also a nod to supporting black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs.

Fuck rap, crack cocaine
Nah we did that, Black-owned things
Hundred percent, Black-owned champagne
And we merrily merrily eatin’ off these streams

And later:

What’s better than one billionaire? Two
I’ll be damned if I drink some Belvedere while Puff got CÎROC
Y’all need to stop

Bam is a welcome addition to the album. Firstly, Damian Marley is a legend for channeling Jacob Miller.

Secondly, no Jay-Z album is complete without a flurry of boastful lyrics.

Put that drum in your ear, don’t get Srem’d
I’ll Bobby Shmurda anybody you heard of Niggas could not be further, I fathered your style
Birth of a Nation, Nat Turner style
Uh, y’all make me turn up all this talkin’ down
Uh, niggas is skippin’ leg day just to run they mouth
I be skippin’ leg day, I still run the world

From fake Dracos to self-snitching, Moonlight is an uncompromising take on the current state of rap. It’s designed to make people uncomfortable.

Y’all fuck the same fuckin’ chicks
I’m in the skrt with ya — yeah, right
I’m the skrt with ya — cool story
I’m on the ch — ‘nough of this
Look, I know killers, you no killer, huh?

Please don’t talk about guns
That you ain’t never gon’ use
Y’all always tell on y’all self

As the album winds down, Marcy Me takes the listener on a trip down memory lane. There are nods to the livest one, Kane and HOV’s old stomping grounds.

Shout out to Nostrand Ave., Flushing Ave., Myrtle
All the County of Kings, may your ground stay fertile
Shout out to Big Poppa, Daddy Kane, heroes
Thus concludin’ my concerto; Marcy me

The album end poignantly on the topic of Legacy.

There was a time America wouldn’t let us ball
Those times are now back, just now called Afro-tech
Generational wealth, that’s the key
My parents ain’t have shit, so that ship started with me

Overall, the album is stellar, there’s no doubt about it. The production from No I.D. is excellent. Young Guru has Jay sounding incredible. This album will connect most with fans of my generation.

4:44 signals a distinct shift from what we usually expect. There is no ‘hit’ in the conventional sense and that’s okay. The album isn’t about that. On the contrary, it’s about raising the bar. Once upon a time, Jay-Z influenced us to ditch jerseys and auto-tune. Now he’s trying to empower us, keep us honest, and lead the culture forward.

A new blueprint has been laid down. Time to study and then follow it.