When penning the stream release for Jay-Z’s 4:44 album for a different publication, I alluded to the illustrious rollout of the effort by highlighting the contributions of Mahersala Ali and Lupita Nyong’o as “thespians.” I could have never pegged that the man who I grew with as a distant mentor to life, hip-hop and business would spit the same word in verse to bear his mother’s burden as a lesbian. As I grew in diction and syntax, Hov steadily grew on wax.
“Mama had four kids, but she’s a lesbian
Had to pretend so long that she’s a thespian
Had to hide in the closet, so she medicate
Society shame and the pain was too much to take” – “Smile” by JAY-Z
Approaching 4:44 it’s hard to decipher what was going to be delivered in content. Magna Carta… Holy Grail, Hov’s last offering, poured out bravado and high-class art bars, sports cars and a little bit of personal life at the conclusion with “Jay Z Blue” and “La Familia.” Beyond the tail end the album could be viewed as one of the least relatable albums the God MC released, albeit it full of jams, radio success and ever sharp bars. But immediately when 4:44 opens it’s a direct juxtaposition of content, with “Kill Jay Z” serving as a breakdown of all of what we knew to date. The honesty of “You’ll never be enough, let’s just keep it real, Jay Z” and holding himself responsible: “What’s up, Jay Z? You know you owe the truth/To all the youth that fell in love with Jay Z.” It was the teaser that the gloves were off, honesty hour, or 36-minutes was on.
As a fan, evolving with a career in hip-hop is rare. The genre itself hasn’t seen someone retain the popularity or have the drive to create a dominant cultural imprint that Jay-Z has. We have seen early hunger from Reasonable Doubt, cementing a legend with The Blueprint, a curtain call on the Black Album, Jordan in the “45” jersey on Kingdom Come, before it was business as usual in the “23” for American Gangster, but never have we seen a moment of vulnerability, personal anecdotes and offering life lessons than what came at that strike of 4:44 a.m. Those lessons – romance, financial, personal reinvention and responsibility – are just as important as his self-admitted therapy sessions that stretched from what can be assumed to be a couch back to the booth, the original source of treatment. For a fan, who mistakenly felt he heard it all, received these verses as some of the best pieces of personal growth since “If every nigga in your clique is rich, your clique is rugged/Nobody will fall cause everyone will be each other’s crutches.”
— TIDAL (@TIDALHiFi) July 5, 2017
The aforementioned 4:44 is stated by Hov to be the center of development for this album and as well as he paints a picture of his infidelity and miscues with Beyonce, credit must be handed to No I.D. for setting the canvas. The sample screams pain, draws emotions, make you feel every word that is laid on the beat. In fact, the Chicago producer proves himself to be the catalyst for this project’s maturation message by challenging Jay and finding a method to the madness of cohesion where topic after topic flows, not a sound is audibly a strong contrast from the other. In a time where classic sampling has been taken over by redundant sounds vibrating from the trap, the production value is refreshing and draws you in to learn the new gems Jay is dropping and the history in which they are being laid on – Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone and more.