4:44, Jay-z’s self-critical response to Lemonade, is the real hip-hop we’ve been waiting for

Matt Barron

Following his induction to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Jay-Z sets his ego aside and confronts infidelities hinted at in Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” with his latest album, 4:44.

Through this album, listeners have finally been granted access to the newly matured, repentant mind of the 47 year-old Brooklyn rap mogul. In 10 tracks, Jay-Z candidly raps about being wrongfully unfaithful, battles his ego with vulnerability, addresses a handful of issues within the hip-hop community and somehow still manages to give us “$1,000,000 worth of game for $9.99.”

In a genre often characterized by hypermasculinity and the objectification of women, recognizing one’s own faults is rare. With 4:44, Jay-Z shifts this norm to mirror his wife’s efforts in Lemonade, using his album not as a platform to produce modern club bangers like “Tom Ford,” but to relinquish his pride and publicly address the internal issues of his life.

“You almost went Eric Benét, let the baddest girl in the world get away,” Jay raps comparing his infidelity to that of the Eric Benét / Halle Berry affair.  Jay continues, “I don't even know what you would've done, [if] in the Future other men playing football with your son.”  

Lyrically and sonically, 4:44 is what hip-hop heads have longed to hear from Hov, signaling an end to a streak of lackluster albums. No I.D.’s nostalgic drum kits and sample-heavy production are a refreshing detour from the 808/digital compositions of modern rap producers and bring back a familiar yet seemingly forgotten depth to Jay’s lyrics.

However, if you are not an active follower of Jay, or someone who seldom finds interest in rap, you are unlikely to return for a second listen. This album is no way intended to be a source of heartbreak ballads or party anthems. Admittedly, the relatability of this album falls short in exchange for a fresh breath of originality.

Devout hip-hop fans will notice that 4:44 deviates from the typical way older rappers work their way back into the spotlight. There are no hints of Jay-Z trying to align his content or sound with that of today’s modern rap-stars. Instead, we are introduced to what it sounds like to be a tenured icon. Jay, a father of three with decades of experience and knowledge under his belt, delivers mature verses that all hip-hop connoisseurs can appreciate.

Song like “Family Feud,” “The Story of O.J.” and “Legacy” echo Jay Z’s dreams of the African American community accruing generational wealth instead of, “living rich and dying broke.” He even calls for unity within the hip-hop community and repeatedly refers to his peers as “family” and pleads for rappers to end tension between new and old-school rappers. After all, “nobody wins when the family feuds,” and if you ask Jay, the only thing better than one billionaire… is two.

While rumors of album-length visuals and CD-exclusive “secret songs” continue to circulate, only one thing seems certain — as a project that juggles multiple social issues while adding perspective to the delicate situation of hollywood’s primetime marriage scandal, 4:44 promises to be the ongoing music blockbuster of 2017.

Rating: 9/10