Release Date: Jun 30, 2017
Record label: Roc Nation
Genre(s): Rap, East Coast Rap, Contemporary Rap
This album is necessary. Not so much for you, the listener - though you will it makes a strong case for that, as well - but, for Jay-Z. Rather, Shawn Carter. Here, yes, the distinction very much matters. While Jay-Z the businessman has long threatened to consume Jay-Z the artist, he long danced a ….
Before June 30, 2017, a universal poll would have convincingly shown rap fans had no desire for another JAY-Z album. The classics have been archived. His empire is incorruptible. The record will show that after three decades, he’s earned GOAT points in every statistical category -- several times over -- and even grew noticeably bored repaving his victory laps.
4:44 isn't JAY-Z's Lemonade, a response to Lemonade, or a Lemonade companion piece. The album is certainly built around a betrayal, but his duplicity, the corresponding apology, and his reassessment are vehicles for his own maturation. Before, he was unfadable, the supreme hustler without error. Fatherhood has eroded some of that cool, but 4:44 deconstructs an entire worldview.
“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” That's the hook from the last song in Hamilton, but it could just as easily be a line from Jay-Z's 4:44. This is an album concerned with legacy—about what we leave behind, about how we're remembered. It's about atoning for our shortcomings and shining a light for those who follow after us.
"My pops knew exactly what he did when he made me/ Trying to get a nut and he got a nothing." The astute JAY-Z (he's all about the caps now) fan may remember this classic line from 'Can't Knock The Hustle', the first song on his 1996 debut album Reasonable Doubt. Twelve albums later and JAY-Z is far from a nothing: in 20 years he's completely transcended music and pop culture. The masses really didn't take notice of his starpower until his third album, Vol.
Jay-Z's June 2017 was momentous. The 44th President of the United States inducted him as the first rap lyricist into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The Beyoncé Knowles-Shawn Carter family added fourth and fifth members. Going by a jocular shot at specific Al Sharpton social media activity within, there was also the completion of 4:44, delivered on the last of the month.
If you know anything about Jay-Z's illustrious and groundbreaking career as a rapper, label owner, entrepreneur and "business, man," it's that the Brooklyn native rarely has had time for apologies. He's kept reinventing himself in varying degrees of gangsta rapper, pop star and wise veteran: brushing off pretenders to his throne on 2001's The Blueprint, canonizing himself on 2003's The Black Album, turning retro storyteller on 2007's American Gangster, topping the pop charts with 2009's "Empire State of Mind" and turned his soaring wealth and fame into luxury boasting on 2013's Magna Carta Holy Grail. So it's unnerving to hear him apologize to his wife, Beyoncé Knowles, on the title track to his 13th album, 4:44.
On 4:44, 47-year-old Jay-Z becomes a man, puts away childish things. Fans have watched him age over the years, but here, 13 albums into his formidable career, we finally see him mature. No I.D.'s production throughout feels rich, soulful and nostalgic. With understated boom-bap percussion, dusty piano keys and thoughtful sample selection, No I.D.
B eyoncé's last album - 2016's Lemonade - provoked a range of reactions. The internet's conspiracy theorists felt its tale of adultery and resolution to be an elaborate hoax, perpetrated to extend the Knowles-Carter family brand. Others reflected that pop is often a soap opera, and that the Beyoncé-Jay-Z double narrative produces arresting art that ignores rulebooks.
Jay Z likes to bill himself as anything but human. In his eyes, he's hip-hop's holy prophet, a certified billionaire and an innovator. He's compared his work to renaissance sculptures. No sitting down, no being humble. All these things considered, 13th album '4:44' feels like a revelation. It's a ….
It feels completely bizarre to say that the biggest rapper of all time has only just now at age 47 released his most lyrical album ever — this being his 13th official album and 18th if you count his collaborations with MTV Unplugged, R. Kelly, Kanye West, and Linkin Park. But the biggest rapper of all time wouldn't be ordinary in the slightest, and this one's a friend of sorely missed president Barack Obama and married to Beyoncé, probably the most fervently beloved pop artist in America.
Some of the greatest works of art are also some of the most controversial, which could certainly be said for Jay Z's new album 4:44. The rap mogul has been relatively quiet since the release of 2013's Magna Carta Holy Grail, focusing instead on entrepreneurial ventures like Tidal, the streaming service that debuted 4:44 on June 30 and is still its exclusive distributor. At 47 years old, Jay Z is established enough as a businessman and cultural influencer that he doesn't really need to rap anymore.
It wasn't Independence Day of 2013, when he released Magna Carta Holy Grail, which by that point was the fourth consecutive album he'd put out that came complete with a veritable truckload of shallow braggadocio and not a great deal else. Watch the Throne, his 2011 collaboration with Kanye West , contained much of the same, as did the bloated and scattershot The Blueprint 3, now best remembered for the breakout radio smash that was "Empire State of Mind". Before that, we got Kingdom Come, ostensibly a comeback effort after his farcical 'retirement' just three years earlier; in fairness, it was such a self-satisfied vacuum of a record that it made the time away since The Black Album feel like a hell of a lot longer than it actually was.
There are lots of reasons to feel cynical about a new JAY-Z album in 2017. There's the U2-esque corporate synergy: not only is 4:44 an exclusive for his fledgling streaming service, Tidal, but also a cellphone partnership that at first required anyone signing up for a free trial to be a Sprint customer. There's the built-in "response album" hype created by Beyoncé's Lemonade.
B ack in the 80s and 90s, rap albums just got released. No matter how big the artist, it was simply another album, and rarely a cultural event that had people up in the night, waiting to analyse every lyric. How Jay-Z must wish it were 1996 now, the year he released Reasonable Doubt without the weight of the world on his shoulders. No major rapper can release an album in such a vacuum in 2017, and in the case of Jay-Z's 4:44, he can expect a special kind of attention.
Cry, Jay Z, we know the pain is real. Mark Zuckerberg is running for president. You might not have heard; his presidential exploratory campaign disguised as a goodwill tour has snaked through Alabama, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Indiana, with all the electoral expertise of a man intent on an unwise 50-state strategy. In photos, he points his finger in the way that Willie Stark might, rolling up his sleeves and promising to reach out and connect with people with the inherent coldness of PR expertise, each handshake sanitized both metaphorically and literally.
We all know JAY-Z is one of the best to ever do it. He's a modern day Shakespeare, the first rapper ever inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, an extension of the late, great Notorious B.I.G. As an executive he's given us Roc-A-Fella Records, Rihanna, Kanye West, Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Just Blaze and Young Guru -- to name just a few. He's an incredibly successful businessman (or a "business, man").
He didn't tweet. He didn't post on Instagram. And he certainly didn't spill his guts to a dude with a camera from TMZ. So where did Jay-Z turn when the fiercely private but closely watched rapper was finally ready to make some announcements? Get this: his music. On "4:44," the stunning new album he ….
This is a better comeback album than Kingdom Come, and though JAY-Z (formerly Jay Z, and before that, Jay-Z, and before that Jaÿ-Z) hadn’t officially retired before 4:44, he might as well have. Excepting Watch the Throne, the best use of Jay-Z’s swagger since 2009’s The Blueprint 3 was on Pusha T’s “Numbers on the Boards”. By which I mean that a sample of Jay-Z from 1997, deployed like a cameo, was worth more than the entirety of Magna Carta… Holy Grail.
JAY-Z is a concept that comes at Shawn Carter's expense. His ego caused him to shoot his brother over a stolen ring, stab a record executive over a bootlegged record, and nearly destroy his marriage despite being married to literally Beyoncé. This justified hardness didn't spring up out of callousness, though, and throughout his career he's peeled layer after layer away from his hard knock life to show how it started.
Four years ago, when "Magna Carta... Holy Grail" dropped, I considered it mostly a lyrical exercise in an indulgence that was just as pervasive in hip-hop as it was redundant. Though hip-hop music is a youth-oriented institution, if you can spit proper, then age is irrelevant. But my reservations at the time about Jay-Z didn't concern his age, but rather his unparalleled accomplishments, both personally and professionally.