I woke up this morning, looked at my phone and steering at me was the time 4:44 am. I was planning to review Jay-Z’s album 4:44 within the first week of its release, but I kept putting it off. I was waiting for the right time. It was time to get it done.
4:44 finds Jay-Z in a place where music is a work of art and a self-examination of life, where confessions are made, apologies flow freely, and egos are calmed. 4:44 shows what we can do with music when we are not pressured to please anyone. Flowing from 4:44 is a poetry that speaks to the people it was meant for, Black people. Jay-Z comes across like the Black Moses of Rap prophesying a future of possibilities for the Black community. He has the entire Black economic wealth wrapped in one hand, and his wife Beyoncé has the other half wrapped in one hand. The question now is what are they going to do with it. Jay-Z uses the educational role of teaching Blackanomics. He stresses the importance of good credit, and making wise deals. Jay-Z leads by example. He signed a $200 million deal with Sprint before the album even dropped. He showing Rappers the new way of doing business. With that said, let’s dive into the tracks.
In “Kill Jay-Z” the sirens are sounded and Jay-Z comes out blazing. He is being hard on himself, but he also being sympathetic to himself. The song runs like an autobiography and while Jay-Z is Rapping, the beat is swinging us like Tarzan on steroids. Jay-Z uses the Eric Benet line which reveals something that many of us wondered for some time. Did Jay-Z cheat on Beyonce? The Rap dies, and we get to enjoy the music that supported the Rap for about one minute.
“The Story of O.J.” OK? Here Jay-Z is reminding his audience that no matter how far you go in life, you still a “N””ga. He also reveals the secret to freedom. He gives examples of investing in art, having good credit, and making good strategic deals. If the lyrics is educating us, even more moving is the crooning voice of Nina Simone singing, “My skin is Black,” as he samples “Four Women.”
If you’re going to tell an effective story in Rap, then you probably need some help from Stevie Wonder, and that’s what Jay-Z does in “Smile.” Here Jay-Z is in full Black Moses mode. He is “bobbing and weaving” through “Smile,” like Muhammad Ali in a boxing ring. He reveals that his mom is a Lesbian. He lets her know that it doesn’t matter to him. He tells of flying paper planes through the projects to parking jets and owning the projects. He talks about the exploitation in the music industry here some are contented with owning houses and owning only a slice of the cake, while he wants the whole cake. Just when you thought “Smile” was over here comes the voice of Jay-Z’s mother with a skin crawling narration of her struggles with authenticity. “Living in the shadow can you imagine what kind of life it is to live? ……. The fear of someone hurting your family or someone you love, ……… no harm for them, no harm for me, but it’s time to choose freedom because life is too short.”
If you thought 4:44 was too deep and you needed to be lifted a bit, then here comes “Caught Their Eyes” to put a little Jigga in your Igga. With a beat that sounds like a Bob Marley Reggae original with a splash of Hip Hop flavor you will be hopping around on one leg to this. But wait there is a message in “Caught Their Eyes,” that can’t be ignored. He raps about how people disguise their truths revealing stories of friends who kill their friends and hug their friend’s mother at the funeral. Heart breaking is his revisiting Prince’s death and the conversation he had with Prince before he died. Could Jay-Z be revealing what we all suspected about Prince? Will he fulfill what Prince started? Does that mean Jay-Z has the mark of death on his back? I think Jay-Z is reminding himself of that throughout the album.
“4:44” is the most moving song on the album. Not often thus a singer steals the spotlight from Jay-Z, but Hannah Williams stands out in the sample of “Late Nights and Heartbreaks.” In 4:44 we get to walk arm in arm with Jay-Z in a relationship in ruins as he desperately tries to put together. He does it through 4:44 minutes of confession. This is a desperate Jay-Z taking responsibility and putting it all on the table. This is something no man should have to do, because he shouldn’t put himself in the situation in the first case. The question then is, “Did Jay-Z do enough or is it too late to apologize?” Only time will tell. One thing I know is that that mistrust lingers in the back of the mind and it doesn’t go away, and then one day it explodes. 4:44 feels like the Black Moses is desperately trying to put the pieces back together of the shattered Commandments. Is it even possible?
“Family Feud” fuses gospel with Rap. Is he pulling out a page from “Chance the Rapper?” Here Jay-Z is having a bit a fun. The kind of release we need after listening to 4:44. “Nobody wins when the family feuds,” fells like Jay-Z has successful mended the pieces of the Commandment. Is that Beyonce giggling in the background? After all what’s better than one Billionaire? Two? There is too much at risk here. This is an empire on fire and we got to put out the flames.
“Bam” is my favorite track on the album as Jay-Z collaborate with Damian Marley to infuse Gangster Rap for the perfect Summer concert beat in the park. Hands in the air, put your lighters on, Bam. “Bam” allows us to release the heavy burden of emotions of 4:44 and have a good time. I could play put this track on repeat.
“Moonlight” keeps us in the party mood. The sample of The Fugees, Fu-Gee-La will leave us parked on the highway in rush hour in La La Land dance on our cars, but don’t fooled for the message is still in the Rap.
“Marcy Me” is Jay-Z revisiting and winding down his autobiography and give out some shout out. It is him bringing down slow the final curtains on an exhilarating album that catches your breath and makes it hard to breath. I can’t breathe. Exhale slowly.
With “Legacy,” Blue Ivy asks, “Daddy, what’s a Will? Jay-Z then spits out the vision of the Black Moses and his mission to free his people.
4:44 is a total project that not only involves music, but plays, and movie scripts in the future. Every video that comes out featuring songs from 4:44 will be widely sort after and embraced through the eyes of art. There will be many interpretations of the album. This is Jay-Z’s greatest work. This is an artist that knows what it’s like to be free. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the best album of 2017 so far.