Maturity doesn’t come with age. It comes with experience. As a kid I was always told I was more mature for my age than a lot of the kids around me. Part of that was coming from a broken home, part of it was being the oldest between my brother and I. What that prepared me for was life but it could never prepare me for how I would handle situations as they occurred. As I got older I started to convince myself I was robbed of a childhood because of maturing so fast as a child. I began regressing as a young adult; doing stupid things financially, caving to peer pressure, and blaming women for problems I didn’t know existed inside myself. When you have to separate yourself from your ego it’s difficult because your ego is a reflection of you.
No person on Earth is perfect but we view celebrities as having the perfect lives. That’s never the case as Beyoncè proved with Lemonade last year. The cheating rumors spun faster than a fidget spinner, leaving her fans to despise JAY-Z for his infidelity. If Beyoncé and JAY have issues then it doesn’t leave hope for the people who put so much value on the perfect lives that these two music titans had together. 4:44 isn’t a response album or follow up to Lemonade. This album is Shawn Carter looking at himself from the outside and vowing to be something much bigger than just a Hip-Hop artist. JAY-Z is becoming the father that this genre of music needs.
One producer albums are nothing new in Hip-Hop. Gucci Mane and Metro Boomin just made one last month. The quality of music that one artist and one producer can create together is amazing once they’ve locked into a zone. JAY-Z and No I.D. have worked together in the past but never on this level. JAY always shows out on tracks with Pharrell, has something outstanding with Just Blaze, and made some of his most soulful tracks with Kanye West. What No I.D. was able to do is something none of these producers have done with JAY in the past, and that’s make him open up and be the most vulnerable we’ve ever heard on record. The samples used on this album are perfect in terms of relating to the subject matter of each song (‘4:44’ samples Hannah Williams’ ‘Late Nights and Heartbreaks’ and is JAY addressing his infidelity). ‘Kill Jay Z’ is Mr. Carter holding a mirror up to himself and holding himself accountable for plenty of things over the years, including the Un stabbing, Kanye berating him on stage, and the infamous elevator incident with Solange over his infidelity. This is the separation of man from personality; JAY-Z is a public figure that we look up to while Shawn Carter has issues just like you and I.
The overall theme to this album exudes maturity and knowledge throughout. ‘The Story Of OJ’ is Hov kicking game about wealth and why it’s important to start saving instead of blowing all of your money. One thing I appreciate from this album is how none of it comes off as JAY preaching to you. 4:44 feels like your dad or uncle sitting down, having a drink with you, and telling you about all his idiotic mistakes as a young man so you don’t make them too. Essentially this is the grown up version of his, “Hov did that so hopefully you won’t have to go through that” line on ‘Izzo (H.O.V.A.)’. 4:44 contains no filler as its 10 track, 30 minute playtime are concise and to the point. It shows that an older artist still has time to grow for their art. JAY’s last album, 2013’s Magna Carta Holy Grail, was unrelatable in the sense that he told us all of the things he could now afford and how his wife is the hottest woman on Earth. Regular people like you and I could never relate to buying a Picasso painting or going home to Beyoncé. 4:44 breaks those barriers and has JAY talking to you one-on-one about how he obtained his wealth, what love is like with his wife, and what you need to do if you want to do the same.
By now you’ve read the tabloid headlines that most publications have run with upon the release of this album. The majority of them say JAY-Z admits to cheating on Beyoncé. This happens to be one of many subjects that he addresses on the album, yet none of the other publications want to mention how he’s talking about trying to uplift the black community or the wisdom he’s offering to younger generations. ‘Family Feud’ sounds like an apology song but it really deals with JAY addressing why it’s important for the black community and Hip-Hop to unite. There’s a disconnect between the young and old generation, heard on this record when JAY mentions Al Sharpton and “Pill Cosby” not liking what he represented as an artist in the past. ‘Family Feud’ serves as a message to work together to obtain the wealth needed in the black community to help prolong black establishments. There’s something for every JAY-Z fan on this album. You want a record of Hov talking his sh*t? ‘Bam’ with Damian Marley is for you. Want to hear JAY reminisce about where he’s from? ‘Marcy Me’ featuring The-Dream will fill that void. This record sounds like the more mature version of ‘Where I’m From’ as JAY takes us on a walk through the Marcy Projects with the sole intent of stirring up nostalgia for the place that made him. In no way did I have it as rough as JAY growing up but every time I return home, I drive around to remind me of where I came from and where I’m at now. ‘Marcy Me’ is the song I’m going to be playing every time I make that drive around Terre Haute, IN.
Hip-Hop has this idea that it’s only a young man’s game. Anyone in the genre that is over 30 is considered old and “has nothing of value” to bring to the table. We throw away our legends like they mean nothing to us; no other genre of music does this. I recently heard a co-worker say he wanted to get tickets to see Tom Petty on tour. He mentioned this is Petty’s 40th year of touring. If someone like Ice Cube or KRS-One tried touring this long our fans would laugh at them and tell them to hang it up. I think 4:44 is going to shift the climate of what older artists can bring to us because of the quality of music that Shawn Carter put into this album. I didn’t know what to expect going into this album but I was in the minority of people who thought that JAY-Z had nothing to prove at this moment of his career. I was completely wrong. JAY showed he still has it in him to innovate and change the game for the masses. Fatherhood changed this man and opened him up to share his world with us. A father’s biggest job in life is to teach his children. JAY-Z is beginning that chapter of his career for the Hip-Hop community with 4:44.
Repeatable: ‘Kill Jay Z’, ‘Smile’ feat. Gloria Carter, ‘4:44’, ‘Bam’ feat. Damian Marley
By Joe Coad