Turn Up the Music: 4:44
No need for a long-winded introduction for this one. As you already know, Jay-Z dropped his 13th (wow!) solo album, 4:44, a little over a week ago. Consistent with the Knowles-Carter regime, we only had a few days to prepare ourselves!
In an unusual feat these days, Jay had one person, No I.D., produce the entire album. This resulted in a cohesive album structure which we haven’t seen from Jay-Z in a while (or at least not with Magna Carta Holy Grail). The result...magic! Let's hop into our initial thoughts of the album:
Kill Jay-Z: In the album’s opener, we get a glimpse into the Hov’s problems with Kanye, his infidelity, and his overall coping with the perils associated fame and ego. “You egged Solange on/Knowin’ all along all you had to say you was wrong.” Accountability! Is this the death of Jay-Z and the emergence of Sean Carter? Later tracks imply this is complicated. The sample on the song repeats, “and they say I’m to blame.”
The Story of O.J.: The track opens up with a chorus emphasizing that despite how society likes to sub-categorize Black people, they all face the same issues (ala one of my favorite Kanye lines “Even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga a coupe”). Jay also discusses the importance of wealth in this country and the disparities involved in obtaining such wealth. “But I’m tryin’ to give you a million dollars’ worth of game for $9.99.” The production includes a wonderful Nina Simone sample (Four Women). The complimentary video provides us with depictions of blackface, minstrel characters which coincide with Disney’s history of racism.
Smile: The morning after the album’s release, there were dozens of articles regarding this track and Ms. Gloria Carter’s “coming out.” Excellent track to be released on the last day of Pride Month. We have a sweet verse from Ms. Carter at the end, which is super powerful and inspirational.
Caught Their Eyes: A song about greed and how it plagued both him and this culture. I always love a Frank Ocean feature. Nice track.
4:44: The title track and Family Feud are easily the best tracks of the album. Not because of their tabloid-worthy topics, but due to the level of personal-reflection and growth that Jay exhibits in his verses. We enter the world of Jay-Z making amends for his infidelity and forced to confront the long-term effects--including having his children learn about his indiscretions. Also, the sample is beautifully orchestrated. The sample is from Hannah Williams & the Affirmations called Late Nights & Heartbreak, which I was unfamiliar with until this album. GO listen to the original song! Hauntingly beautiful. Lastly, the video for 4:44 is amazing. I will leave it up to the viewer’s interpretation(s), but the whole video had me in tears at first watch. The 4:44 Footnotes video is also heart wrenching—telling the stories of men admitting to their difficulties navigating relationships and feelings of love.
Family Feud: Jay is further making amends for his past faults. It supplements 4:44 quite well, but transitions into the recovery period of his relationship. There are also beautiful vocals and ad-libs from Beyoncé overlaid on top of a sample of The Clark Sisters’ Ha Ya. “I be skipping leg day/I still run the world.”
Bam: This track has a Damien Marley feature with probably one of the most sampled reggae songs ever, Bam Bam by Sister Nancy. This isn’t one of my favorite tracks, but still strong lyrically.
Moonlight: The cadence of this song is reminiscent of sampled in The Fugees’ Fu-Gee-La. This song still needs a few listens to grow on me…
Marcy Me: This song is mellow. It’s one of my skip tracks—and it’s under 3 minutes, so I’m not missing too much.
Legacy: The song opens up with Blue Ivy inquiring, “Daddy, what’s a will?” The song is rightfully titled, as Jay is thinking about the legacy which he is leaving for his family, children, and the public. Also, him learning of transgenerational sexual trauma and coping with these insights about his family. Very existential in hearing him earnestly think about his purpose and legacy.
Excellent album. I hate trying to review it early because this album really requires several listens in order to pick up on some of the nuisances in the lyrics (and subsequent videos). At the time of this blog post, the album has already earned platinum status (sort of)…in less than a week! Even before the physical copies were released.
Side note: The physical copies had several bonus tracks on them. As a faithful Tidal subscriber, I was disappointed that we didn’t have access to these. Therefore, I’ve only heard Blue Ivy’s Freestyle thus far, which is flames. Also, this album is NOT a response to Lemonade. There is no response to Lemonade. Not possible. But I digress…
4:44 is a solid effort from Jay-Z. Definitely an improvement from Magna Carta Holy Grail and one of his most important albums in demonstrating his level of growth and maturity through his honest and vulnerable self-disclosures. “The more I reveal me, the more they ‘fraid of the real me.” THEN today, Hov announced the 4:44 national tour. I am super curious how this tour will be staged and presented given the content AND whilst incorporating his older material.