4:44 offers us a rare view behind the veil of the world's most prolific artist. Reminiscing on the woes of infidelity, failure, and self-doubt, we are offered a raw insight into Hip Hop’s most enigmatic figure.
4:44 in many ways can be described as the death of a legend.
In the eyes of many, Jay exists as the pinnacle of what an artist can achieve: a creative, a social critic, and an entrepreneur. Throughout the course of his career he has cultivated such an image that it wouldn’t have been an exaggeration to regard him as almost faultless. This album in every way directly challenges those ideals. Every line, every declamation, every soliloquy parts the clouds and humanizes the icon known as Jay-z.
Kill Jay-Z in 3 minutes destroys this monolithic persona built throughout his career up to and including MCHG. In Jay-Z’s magnum opus The Blueprint he boasts how he “came into this motherf**ker a hundred grand strong. Nine to be exact, from grindin' G-packs”. Kill Jay-Z opposes this, expounding to say that the same riches he boasted about previously came at a personal cost, lamenting with “You have people you love you sold drugs to." Kill Jay-Z places keen interest on relationships lost from Solange, Kanye West, and even taunts his fans trust where he reveals that he shot his own brother.
4:44 lyrically offers Jay-Z at his best. In recent years, Jay has made some questionable appearances on tracks, though the music is great his approach to the track seems forced. DJ Khaled’s record "I Got the Keys" featured Jay-z rapping at an uncharacteristically fast tempo; while the rhymes may be strong they’re ultimately forgotten in the speed of the track. Family Feud to that point exhibits Jay-Z in perfect form. Jay-z bounds across No I.D.’s rolling beats in classical fashion with no bar wasted. This maximalist composition is topped off with Beyoncé’s melodic chorus alongside The Clark Sisters adding a fiery energy to the record.
No ID delivers a career defining project with 4:44. ID’s production delivers a shockingly warm mood which is surprisingly rich with pathos and poignancy. The choice of samples are brilliant both in their auditory beauty but also in how they add to the overall narrative. “Ha Ya” from the Clark Sisters spells wishes of long life and prosperity but when played in Family Feud wishes life for an ailing community. With jabs to Al Sharpton and Bill Cosby, Jay loses trust in the black leaders of old, opting to embrace new figures such as Puffy and Himself to fill the void. In Family Feud Jay continues the motif of communal self-empowerment which he began in The Story of O.J. In the The Story of O.J., an ode to ones inability to escape their own blackness, the politically charged Nina Simone proves a most fitting backdrop proudly chanting “My skin is black”.
“Al Sharpton in the mirror takin' selfies
How is him or Pill Cosby s'posed to help me?”
Musically, 4:44 is gloomy and a true volte-face from his previous life. Jay shares none of the flash of fame were accustomed to hearing from him, opting to chronicle the fires of his life and career. Sadly enough, this album is amazing because of the rich tapestry of pain Jay-z had to endure to produce it. Whether it be the death of innocence, trust lost, unrequited love, or community in rising, 4:44 masterfully shares a number of stories all of which should be heard.