“Before the narrative changes of who we are, we have to change it”.
So Shawn Carter has finally released his new record “4:44”, that is his first album since Magna Carter Holy Grail, which hit the charts in 2013. This album includes ten tracks that feature the likes of Frank Ocean, Damian Marley alongside his own immediate family- Gloria Carter and Blue Ivy, that being said, it was awful nice of Blue to allow her father to rap in her new album. In all seriousness, there’s an obvious and evident difference with this album compared to his previous. It continues to push the importance of introspection, accountability, betrayal and living an examined life but also his duplicity with the corresponding apology, and his reassessment that are vehicles for his own personal maturation and inner growth. An open-diary , tell-all document that has caused a media frenzy for weeks. So if you expected a bunch of bangers to play in the car with your friends on the way to the next summer festival or Ibiza nightclub tracks…you couldn’t be more wrong. Throughout this album you can tell that Hov isn’t interested in connecting with this new generation of artists, so if you’re already tired of the Migos, Yachty’s and Lil Uzi Verts- Jay understands. This album certainly was not made for your average “rap fan”, nor for the average Jay Z listener, this album wasn’t even made for those that adore Jay and want to listen to him for his fantastic, clever wordplay and double entendres. This record is more like a confession to his side of the story. It’s difficult to pick and choose the standout tracks, moreover, it’s just a complete body of work. Some have called it a response to Lemonade, a collaborative or a Lemonade companion piece. One can even say it’s a “cultural event,” but of course it is: He’s Jay Z. This is entirely on his own terms.
From the get-go of the record, he essentially uses a subtle instrumental backdrop to draw and bring in the listener which then “spills the beans” on his personal life, his perceptions on his family, fatherhood, rap culture, black culture and just society at large. My favourite song that pulled in and certainly intrigued me the most, other than the track about his mother ‘Smile’ has to be “The Story of OJ”. Besides the thought-provoking video references presented in a vintage-style and subverts references to racist cartoons that include stereotypes and blackface. The song itself shows powerful commentary and a statement chorus which traces the political struggles of black people in America- from racism that persists in society today, the 1968 Olympics through to the classifications to slavery years ago.
Longtime collaborator No I.D. handles production work on all ten songs, as I read on Apple Music’s caption to JAY Z’s album, fusing samples and builds a dusty soul feel that suits Jay. Going from Sister Nancy, The Fugees, and Nina Simone, creating rather sublime moments for JAY-Z’s springboard confessionals. He utilises Stevie Wonder’s ‘Love’s in Need of Love Today’ on ‘Smile’, and the Songs in the Key of Life masterpiece is a perfect complement to the invigorating aura of the track. JAY’s mother makes her first cameo since ‘December 4th’ from The Black Album, but this time the stakes are higher as she confesses to the world that she is gay. But like the majority of 4:44, the song is mainly a source of catharsis for her son, as he fluctuates from speaking about myriad issues, including the pain his mother endured in secrecy, his years of struggle to ascend to his current stratum, and his continued battle to convince defamers that his message is mainly one of hope as opposed to materialistic debauchery.
Even with hundreds of songs proving his lyrical ability, 4:44 arguably exhibits JAY-Z’s most ingenious poetics to date. There is a multitude of uncanny metaphors and germane allusions throughout the album. He links up with Frank Ocean on ‘Caught Their Eye’, rhyming: “I seen eyes wide as they’re about to shoot/ You can be a hairpin off and you can trigger your roots.” Not only does’ “hairpin‘ denote a condensed distance, but also alludes to the prominent Afro Pick Questlove of The Roots constantly wears in his hair. The line also has maternal implications, with the hairpin symbolising the anguish mothers feel when their offspring are mixed up in violence, thereby upsetting their roots (family heritage). Furthermore, for an album that contains so much self-bashing, ‘Bam’, featuring Damian Marley, underscores the importance of the decisions the man Shawn Carter made under the egotistical JAY-Z moniker with shrewd lyrics: “Once upon a time in the projects/ Shawn was in flight mode, I bought a Pyrex.” He equates his stealth status as Shawn to a cell phone in flight mode, keeping off the grid and maintaining a low profile while dealing drugs to evade cops and rival dealers, all the while using a Pyrex to cook up his product. But his status as the arrogant, Teflon JAY-Z allowed him to escape this treacherous life and have a sort of superhero effect, donning a figurative cape and choosing to soar in a choice of ‘fight or flight’.
Apropos to the album’s motifs, JAY-Z directly responds to his wife’s, Beyonce, much-publicised ‘Sorry’ on ‘Family Feud’, featuring Beyonce herself. But the song is mostly about his desire to see his black peers drop vendettas against each other and focus on becoming wealthy. The real crux of the album might be ‘Legacy’ however, where JAY-Z leaves his fortune to his children while dredging up the past, speaking about how his reverend grandfather’s sexual abuse of his aunt personally caused a dichotomy of both rejecting and canvassing different religions, allowing him to become a more spiritual person in the process.
As a whole, 4:44 is for certain sophisticated, raw, yet vulnerable- a true reflection on his character traits and flaws. One that certainly shook the world as well as himself to the core and have not recovered since.