JAY-Z AKA Sean Carter has finally released his highly anticipated 13th studio album, 4:44. This album, produced entirely by longtime collaborator No I.D., was expected to be a response to his wife Beyoncé’s claims of infidelity on her hit album, Lemonade.
This was JAY-Z’s big chance to explain himself, spin a tale of being seduced by the nefarious “Becky with the good hair”, to share that “everyone makes mistakes”, or even ignore the rumors of a speculated divorce all together.
Except, he didn’t.
4:44 serves both as a response to the infidelity referenced in Lemonade while simultaneously doing something most artists have attempted to do for their entire careers: growing up. 4:44 operates as the other side of the Lemonade “coin”, while also being an album, not of firsts, but of “most’s” for JAY-Z.
Notably, this is the most raw and honest we have ever seen JAY – in a song, album, or otherwise. Throughout the opening track, “Kill JAY-Z”, Sean Carter is seemingly talking to his stage persona and detailing all his shortcomings as a person, as well as the hurts done to him by others. These deep lyrics cover a gamut of personal issues, ranging from his recent falling out with Kanye West, almost losing his marriage, to the stabbing of his own brother, resulting in a metaphorical killing of his ego.
A standout track for its honesty is “Smile”. Over a bass-heavy Stevie Wonder sample, he lets the listener in on the joy he felt when his mother came out to him as a lesbian with lines like “Mama had four kids, but she’s a lesbian/ Had to pretend so long that she’s a thespian”, and “Cried tears of joy when you fell in love/ Don’t matter to me if it’s a him or her”. “Smile” is only made better with an appearance from his mother, reciting a beautiful and empowering spoken word piece, which was so moving that GLAAD tweeted its praises.
One of most ear-catching songs on 4:44 is the highly popular “The Story of OJ”, in which JAY plays financial adviser to the Black community. “The Story of OJ” serves as his message that financial freedom may be the only way for African American’s to achieve true equality in America, seemingly combating a culture he helped create in the 90’s and 2000’s.
But there is still one piece missing to the JAY-Z puzzle.
The title track, “4:44”, along with “Blue’s Freestyle/We Family” and “MaNyfaCedGod”, serve as his answer to the infidelity raised in Lemonade as well as the controversy that followed. “Blue’s Freestyle/We Family” and “MaNyfaCedGod” are JAY waxing about his newfound appreciation for his family, while most of the emotional weight is carried in “4:44”.
“4:44” is JAY-Z’s lesson in heartbreak. Over a soulful choir sample and including lines like “Took for my child to be born, see through a woman’s eyes”, JAY addresses his transgressions and instead of just trying to make up for them, he’s attempting to understand the gravity of what he’s done as well as who he has been as a person. He seems so caught up in the emotion of what he’s revealing that he almost loses track of the beat at points, careening between bass hits and weaving through the samples vocals.
Sonically, this album is a departure from what fans may expect from JAY-Z. Lacking a high production value sound, the album gives a stripped down, sometimes disjointed, sounding product. Many parts of 4:44 feel and sound as if it was recorded at home, rather than at a huge recording studio. Even the sample placements can be described as clunky, almost like they were just dropped into the song rather than carefully placed. All of this in addition to lacking any club hits, 4:44 would not be categorized as “turn up” music.
None of this is meant to make it sound like it is a bad album, but the opposite. Its recording, production value, and lyrical content all create for an intimate experience. Because that’s what this album was meant to be; an intimate journey into the mind of Sean Carter, not JAY-Z.
- “Caught Their Eyes”
- “Marcy Me”