Yes, 4:44 is a retort to his wife’s most critically acclaimed Lemonade (sort of)– the album that lifted the veil on the Knowles-Carter regime, and exposed JAY Z for his infidelity. For the first time in his career, JAY-Z’s immortally came into question. Lemonade humanized and humbled Hov, but to view 4:44 as just a response letter to Beyoncé would be dishonest and would be shredding it of its true intent. 4:44 is a bare-bones new take on the man Shawn Cory Carter–his JAY-Z moniker plays as a surname in what is considered his most intimate body of work to date.
For over 20 years JAY has made a living off being honest in his rhymes. Ever since the release of his 1996 classic debut Reasonable Doubt, JAY has never strayed away from giving us candid accounts of the life and times of Shawn Carter. We know of his drug-dealing past, the confession of shooting his brother, absentee father, and how he ascended to rap supremacy in the wake of the tragic deaths of 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. With that being said: just what in the hell does an elder hip hop statesman has to say on his 13th album that we haven’t already heard from him? The man that once asked on his faux swan song (2003’s The Black Album) “What more can I say?” Obvisouly still has a lot to say.
“4:44 is a bare-bones new take on the man Shawn Cory Carter.”
The album opener “Kill JAY- Z discusses much of the topics that were aforementioned above, complete with Lance “Un” Rivera mentions. JAY-Z recalling the night of December 2, 1999 that almost derailed his career with alleged stabbing of Un that had him facing up to 15 years in prison. “You stabbed Un over some records/ Your excuse was “He was talkin’ too reckless,” JAY says over an Alan Parsons’ sample. “Kill JAY- Z” will forever go down in infamy as the song that gave us an update on the status of JAY and his former protégé Kanye West’s illustrious, but at times toxic relationship. “You gave him 20 million without blinkin’/ He gave you 20 minutes on stage, fuck was he thinkin? “Fuck wrong with everybody?” is what your sayin’/ But if everybody’s crazy, you’re the one that’s insane.” Jay from the outset comes out swinging.
“ JAY- Z is at a point in his career where he has nothing left to prove.”
What makes 4:44 work was JAY’s willingness to take chances. For the first time ever, JAY chose to work exclusively with one producer to create soundbeds to push his narrative further. Enter Ernest “No I.D.” Wilson– a producer who’s storied career rivals that of some of the greatest Hip-Hop producers of all time, but for some reason is undervalued for his contributions to the genre. No I.D. has worked with JAY before on “Run This Town” and “Death of Autotune”–both from 2009’s Blueprint 3. But never have the two worked in a capacity such as this. No I.D. challenged not only himself as a producer but challenged Hov as an artist. He composed music for 4:44 that boxed JAY into a corner and made him figure it out for himself on how he would respond to it musically. While previous works from JAY- Z focused on JAY arrogantly answering his critics critiques about him, this album is JAY critiquing himself for others to see.
“What makes 4:44 work was JAY’s willingness to take chances. For the first time ever, JAY chose to work exclusively with one producer to create soundbeds to push his narrative further.”
Has JAY- Z ever been this honest? It took him 13 albums in to reveal to the world of his mother’s sexual preference, about 7 or 8 albums in to spill the tea on what life really is like being married to the most famous woman on the planet. The title track is littered with apologies, regret, references of miscarriages, embarrassment, and redemption. It’s the type of self-cleansing that peels back many layers of a man that was and still is multifaceted, but yet, still perceived to be one-dimensional in terms of subject matter. 4:44 is acts as the distant cousin of JAY Z’s most important album of his career, The Blueprint. JAY could’ve went the easy route and aligned himself with some of today’s most in-demand producers and rhymed over trap-infused beats (because he has in recent years), but he chose to revisit the sound that made him the household name he is today.
“It’s the type of self-cleansing that peels back many layers of a man that was and still is multifaceted, but yet, still perceived to be one-dimensional in terms of subject matter.”
4:44 sparse track list covers an array of topics. It’s perfectly crafted to say so much in such a short time. I read somewhere that 4:44 is a relationship counseling class, money management, a history lesson, and the Black Lives Matter movement all rolled into one.
It’s too soon to rank where this album stands amongst his other albums. JAY- Z is at a point in his career where he has nothing left to prove. He’s been beyond that point. Other rappers drop albums to compete with other rappers, Jay just drops albums to compete with himself.
He’s just different.