Before I get started, I want to give a huge middle finger to whoever made this alternative tracklist for Hov’s album. I was too hyped for that Jay-Z and Andre 3000 collab.
On June 7, mysterious 4:44 billboards appeared all over New York City. It didn’t take long for someone to breakdown the code and tell the world TIDAL paid for the ads. Immediately, rumors began to spread that these billboards were the sign of a new Jay-Z album. Fast forward a few weeks and Hov releases his thirteenth studio album 4:44 exclusively on his streaming service TIDAL.
Jay speaks as one of Hip-Hop’s elder statesman on this album. A seasoned vet in the rap game, Hov uses these ten tracks to kick knowledge about racial injustice, financial literacy, the music industry, and plenty of social and cultural commentary.
Produced entirely by Chicago Hip-Hop legend No I.D., 4:44 is full of soulful samples that incite the Brooklyn MC to deliver his most personal album to date.
The album’s first song, “Kill Jay-Z” finds Hov having a man in the mirror type of conversation with his ego. He tells himself,
“Cry Jay-Z, we know the pain is the real, But you can’t heal what you never reveal”.
Also on this track, Jay-Z addresses his relationship with longtime friend Kanye West.
One of my favorite aspects of 4:44 would be how the selection of samples used by No I.D. helps to set the tone and theme of each song. The first example appears on the album’s assumed first single “The Story of O.J.”. The sample, “Four Women” by Nina Simone is a song about the lasting legacy of slavery told through the eyes of four black women.
Jay’s hook perfectly describes that no matter who you are and what you have, if you’re a Black man in America, you’re still a “nigga”. It was refreshing to hear Jay-Z echo the same sentiments that Lebron said after his home was vandalized. One can only assume Jason Whitlock won’t be signing up for TIDAL Henny time soon.
Another example is the title track “4:44”. In an interview with Rolling Stone, No I.D. says that he handed Hov this sample with the specific intent that it would be his response to his wife’s Lemonade. Jay takes blame for miscarriages, calls his newborn twins miracles, and reveals that he constantly thinks about what his life would be like without his family.
When celebrities reach the status that Jay-Z has attained, it’s easy for fans to lose touch with them. On his last album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, Jay rapped about copping Basquiat paintings and Tom Ford suits. Shit the everyday listener can’t relate to. With him discussing his infidelity and other personal issues, it humanizes the work and makes Jay-Z relatable.
One of my few takeaways from this album is Hov’s flow on a couple of songs. He does more talking than rapping. Spoken word like. This method left a lot of empty space on beats and came off a bit lazy.
Aside from those couple of songs, Hov proves he can still rap with the best of them. On the Damian Marley featured “Bam”, Jay paints a clear picture that Hov and Shawn Carter are two different people. He couldn’t have said it better when he exclaims
“Fuck all this pretty Shawn Carter shit nigga Hov”.
He continues with,
“Shawn was on that Gospel shit, I was on the total fucking opposite”.
Jay-Z uses the tracks “Family Feud” and “Moonlight” to give his thoughts on the current state of Hip-Hop. He reminds “old” rappers that ‘Pac wore a nose ring and schools the new rappers on having their masters stolen while they’re partying in Calabasas. The album closes with a nostalgic ode to Brooklyn on “Marcy Me”, and Jay giving his children a verbal will so to speak on “Legacy”.
4:44 is Jay-Z’s first time using one producer for the entire album. I always thought Kanye would receive that honor, but none the less No I.D. delivered top notch production that wasn’t overly complicated, and allowed one of the all time greats to give music to fans worldwide.
“A million dollars worth of game for 9.99”
Or however how much TIDAL costs.