With all that has changed in hip-hop — for better or worse — over the last decade, one thing has remained the same. When JAY-Z releases an album, all ears in rap stop what they’re doing to pay attention.
The release of Hov’s 13th solo album, 4:44, was no different. When the clock struck midnight on June 30, 2017, we all dropped everything and logged on to Tidal. Ironically patrons at his official New York City album listening party, held at JAY’s 40/40 club, experienced playback delays due to technical difficulties in the DJ booth.
However, the Rap Internet was tuned in together to experience the legend’s most autobiographical project to date. JAY has been open about his personal ups and downs, and has shown vulnerability plenty of times before — see “Song Cry,” “Where Have You Been,” and “New Day” — but he opened his diary up deeper than ever before on 4:44. Off the bat, the Marcy Projects graduate opens about his strained relationship with Kanye West and infidelities on “Kill Jay-Z”
“But you got hurt because you did cool by ‘Ye
You gave him 20 million without blinkin’
He gave you 20 minutes on stage, fuck was he thinkin’?
“Fuck wrong with everybody?” is what you sayin'”
Clearly, Hov is referring to Yeezy’s infamous rant in 2016 where he publicly called him out. Even more brutal honesty quickly follows as he uses another man’s public divorce as a metaphor for his own blunders in marriage. For the record, Benet also heard these rhymes loud and clear.
“You almost went Eric Benét
Let the baddest girl in the world get away
I don’t even know what else to say
Nigga, never go Eric Benét !
I don’t even know what you woulda done
In the Future, other niggas playin’ football with your son
You wouldv’e lost it”
JAY also makes a major revelation about his mother that the general public and media had no idea about. On “Smile,” he talks about his mother’s sexuality and how it may have played a part in her past drug use. There are hundred of articles and unauthorized documentary pieces about Shawn Carter, but this uber personal fact was unknown until today. Later on the song, Hov reveals that he also has sought the help of a therapist — the same way Robert DeNiro did in Analyze This and Tony Soprano did in The Sopranos — in secrecy. After all, like both Mafia dons thought this news could be damaging to a boss’ career.
“Mama had four kids, but she’s a lesbian
Had to pretend so long that she’s a thespian
Had to hide in the closet, so she medicate
Society shame and the pain was too much to take
Cried tears of joy when you fell in love
Don’t matter to me if it’s a him or her”
“My therapist said I relapsed
I said, “Prehaps I Freudian slipped in European whips”
God sent me to break the chain
I’m the true and livin’
God in the flesh, the rest of these niggas is vain”
The man who once famously rapped “I can’t see ’em coming down my eyes/so I gotta make this song cry” finally admits to getting teary eyed on the super deep track, “4:44”. JAY very carefully goes back into his relationship mistakes with Beyonce. He puts his heart on his sleeve like never before and enters a new realm of honesty by referring to his still born baby and the deeper consequences of cheating — and the effects it could have on his children.
“I still mourn this death, I apologize for all the stillborns
‘Cause I wasn’t present, your body wouldn’t accept it
I apologize to all the women whom I Toyed with you emotions because I was emotionless”
“I never wanted another woman to know
Something about me that you didn’t know
I promised, I cried, I couldn’t hold
I suck at love, I think I need a do-over”
“And if my children knew, I don’t even know what I would do
If they ain’t look at me the same
I would prob’ly die with all the shame
“You did what with who?”
What good is a ménage à trois when you have a soulmate?
“You risked that for Blue?”
If I wasn’t a superhero in your face
My heart breaks for the day I had to explain my mistakes
And the mask goes away and Santa Claus is fake
And you go online and see”
For Blue’s tooth, the tooth fairy didn’t pay”
Throughout 4:44, the Brooklyn icon who once prided himself in being an emotionless womanizer shows his true growth not only as a rapper, but as a man. It’s deeper than just one MC opening about his maturity and shortcomings, though. JAY is still one of the most influential figures in hip-hop, and has the ability to change the mind-states and behavior patterns of enitre generations. While hip-hop culture has always had a very stereotypical view of masculinity, 4:44 helps to break the cycles of celebrating the evils living within the most popular type of rap — the violent, greedy, pimping kind. Hov is showing young people that being true to yourself and a provider of your loved one are the most macho and masculine traits of all. Forget money, fame, cars and fast women.
JAY’s wisdom and willingness to admit his past faults on a level that is on par with the common, working class man — not the untouchable-slash-invincible music business empire that he has become — puts this album in place as his best work since The Black Album.
We need more chapters from his 4:44 diaries moving forward and less Magna Carta.
[Lyrics via Genius]