Eyes and ears everywhere have been patiently waiting for JAY-Z’s next move. Following his wife’s personal and epic visual masterpiece, Lemonade, tensions were high. Beyoncé has always had a certain standard of honesty in her records. However, none of them are as painfully transparent as her sixth studio album. Its themes of infidelity, jealousy, and liberation opened mass discussion on the stability of the world’s most influential couple. Over 14 months later, Shawn Carter has decided to step out of the shadows and put the speculation to bed. I was certain Hov would not drop an album this year. Amidst the rumors and his newborn twins, I figured Jay would be in full dad mode. Hearing this new album, though, I couldn’t be happier to be wrong. The curious trailers leading up to 4:44 made me believe a short film was coming. Turns out, it’s all happening.
Jay’s opening bars firmly set the tone: “Kill Jay Z, they’ll never love you”. Anything but literal, this line exposes the rap legend’s ego, burying it six feet deep. 4:44 is all about vulnerability, honesty, and the culture. Spanning ten tracks and 36 minutes in length, Hov’s 13th album is a concise window into his mind. No I.D.’s expertly crafted soul beats lay a smooth and mature mood for Jay to spit through. This is some of his most cohesive work to date. These instrumentals were specifically designed for his brand of bravado. Yet they also embody lighthearted traits that give Mr. Carter a chance to right his wrongs. He admits to unspeakable acts of immaturity and adultery. His list of regrets is lengthy, but completely justified. Whether Bey is an international superstar or a high school dropout, no spouse deserves that level of disloyalty.
There is so much substance here. My personal favorite track “Smile” features Jay’s mother Gloria. He reveals her homosexuality and the struggles attached to it. Hov sends a message of love and acceptance to her and others who may feel sexually oppressed. The Stevie Wonder sample emits a carefree vibe for Jay to brag and educate. No I.D. pulls from greats like Nina Simone, The Fugees, and Randy Newman, creating a cozy, hammock-like soundscape. JAY-Z has always projected an aura of sophistication. But here his honesty and earnestness separates this album from his previous 12. 4:44‘s features include Frank Ocean, his wife, Damian Marley, and The-Dream. These guests are just that, fitting in where they can and never overstaying their welcome. His newfound commitment to his family is admirable and authentic. It does not erase his mistakes, however. Regardless, 4:44 is his most compelling work in ten years.