4:44 presented fans with something different. Something that most fans never expected from Jay Z. Jay Z’s latest album is a journey led by introspection towards self-improvement, atonement, and Black excellence. The eternally private rapper crafted an album that was transparent, vulnerable and, full of apologies for past transgressions. One of the biggest apologies on wax was to his wife, Beyonce. Cheating rumors had been swirling since Jay caught Solange’s fade in the elevator. The rumors were further flamed when Beyonce dropped her masterpiece “Lemonade.” The couple never publicly addressed all of the media and fan speculations (officially). Instead, They let their musical projects speak for them.
Cheating is scandalous and entertaining. Some will say that Jay and Bey are opportunists using the public’s penchant for Nosey-ness to advance their billionaire aspirations. Others will gripe about how “men ain’t shit” and how even the “baddies” get cheated on. This is not an album about how men should change when they meet a “real one” that holds them down. This is not an album about how you “should never play your down bitch for a clown bitch.” Nor is this a cautionary tale about how you should never take a bad bitch for granted. If those are the only themes that you took away from 4:44 then you missed the point.
Here are 4 of the many themes that 4:44 expounded upon that are more important than a superficial “I gotta get my girl back” narrative.
Ego Must Die
The first track on 4:44 is titled “Kill Jay Z.” The title is a metaphor for killing ego. Jay Z has always been the cocky super ego of Shawn Carter. This song is laced with introspection and chronicles the demons of Jay’s past. The song references many instances where ego and pride led Jay down the wrong path. The song also mentions Kanye and some of his ego-laden antics. Ego is a necessary accomplice to confidence (in some instances) but too much ego is destructive. The destruction is not just isolated to the egomaniac individual but the others in that person’s community. “Kill Jay Z” is positioned as a thesis to the whole album and sets the pace for Jay’s evolution.
“Let go your ego over your right shoulder/ Your left is sayin’, “Finish your breakfast!”/ You egged Solange on/ Knowin’ all along, all you had to say you was wrong…”
Introspection That’s A Major Key
The entire album is filled with self-reflection and admittance of wrongdoing. Jay is not only apologizing for the wrongs he committed in his marriage. Jay is looking in the rear view and presently admitting things that he got wrong in his music, interpersonal relationships, and career. He addresses certain strongholds that influenced his decision making and takes a back to basics approach. In a since Jay takes a “Sankofa” like approach. Looking at not only his past but the past generations that shaped him to jump over his present hurdles while preparing for a peaceful future. The content of 4:44 gives listeners a front seat to Jay Z’s self-examination. The transparency and honesty of this album address some of the common tropes of Jay’s music that made him either the problematic favorite or the most hated.
“You know you owe the truth to all the youth/ That fell in love with JAY Z”
Hood Rich < Wealthy
Most people associate Jay Z with bragging and flossin. More recently, some fans have even complained that he discussed his art collection and business deals too much ( Hi Drake). Jay is taking a sage stance on this album. He is dropping gems and promoting financial freedom and generational wealth to his community. Hip hop has consistently been critiqued for promoting materialistic ideals. At times, Jay Z was used as an example in those critiques. Jay even admits that he was once a rapper who promoted a hood rich lifestyle but is now focused on changing the narrative. Several songs on 4:44 almost become a requiem for an economic revolution in the Black community.
“I bought every V12 engine/ Wish I could take it back to the beginnin’/ I coulda bought a place in DUMBO/ before it was Dumbo/ For like 2 million/ That same building today is worth 25 million/ Guess how I’m feelin’?/ Dumbo”
One of the interwoven principles of the album is honesty which makes Jay Z very vulnerable. The songs on this album insist that honesty is essential to the sanctity of interpersonal relationships. Quite often strength in the Black community is accompanied by silence. The strong Black man and woman are not supposed to expose their hurts or even speak of past pains. Healing is liberating. Healing cannot occur until we are honest with ourselves and our community. Jay is also hinting that the community cannot advance until we collectively place an emphasis on healing through transparency.
“You see, my father, son of a preacher man/ Whose daughter couldn’t escape the reach of the preacher’s hand/ That charge of energy set all the Carters back/ It took all these years to get to zero in fact…”
“We know the pain is real…but you can’t heal what you never reveal”
There are far more than 4 themes that lead this album. Listeners and fans are dubbing this album as a direct response to Beyonce’s “Lemonade.” Others may feel that the album’s controversial content is no more than a ploy to drive album sales. 4:44 maybe Jay’s “Lemonade.” Not because it aligns with the theme of infidelity that drove the plot of “Lemonade.” Jay’s 13th studio album is honest, vulnerable, and engaging. The conversations that have ignited in response to the album, the echoes of wisdom targeted at Black Men/The Black community and, The emphasis on healing through truth/vulnerability is what makes 4:44 “Jay Z’s Lemonade.” On the surface 4:44 is an album about one individual atoning for their infidelity and abuses of trust. In essence, 4:44 is a call to action for evolution and maturity through introspection, honesty, vulnerability, atonement, and leading by example.
Have you listened to 4:44? Did you miss the point? Let #TeamTruestory know in the comments below.