With his thirteenth studio album, once again, Jay-Z changed the game. As he did with his previous LP, Magna Carta Holy Grail, Hov set new rules.
4:44 is what grown man hip-hop sounds like. To hell with ignorance and debauchery. Jay-Z had an intimate conversation with his listeners.
The most amazing accomplishment of the album was on “The Story of O.J.” which is a critique of the hip-hop community’s fiscal responsibility and an instruction manual for accumulating wealth. My highlight of the record is “You know what’s more important than throwing money away in the strip club? Credit.”
This preaching is necessary for our hip-hop community which currently tends to value the appearance of having money over actually having money, which is backwards and ludicrous. My father is a banker and taught me the value of money at an early age. Yet, I still couldn’t resist the urge to pop bottles in the club during my youth due to the hip-hop narrative. Somehow, blowing money equates to balling instead of saving it. It doesn’t make sense. I’ve been saying this for years and I’m ecstactic that our rap god, almighty Hov, proclaimed it from his mountain top.
Maybe now Blacks in the hip-hop community will think twice about blowing money and more about making their money grow, which will ultimately increase our stake in the marketplace and the power schematics. That conversation and that narrative switch was so necessary. And, it had long been overdue.
Aside from Jay-Z’s references to money and wealth, the most glaring content of the album is undoubtedly him admitting to cheating on Beyoncé on the title track “4:44.” I don’t have much to say about it except that no matter how rich and powerful he is, as we’ve seen time and time again, a man is still a man.
Jay-Z is a mogul, but in his heart he is still a true artist, which is what made him successful in the first place and part of what sustains him. My guess is, as an artist, he couldn’t resist the urge to bare his soul on the record. For every true artist their work is their therapy. It was probably cathartic for him confess his infidelity. I’m not judging him for cheating or Beyoncé for staying with him. Those issues are solely between them as a couple.
In terms of the production on the album, No I.D. totally hit the nail on the head. His jazzy samples were so pleasing to the ear that they made Jay-Z’s baritone voice flow smoothly on the beat in a remarkably unified fashion. I delighted in Jay-Z’s decision to forego singles in favor of a purely soulful concise presentation like a soundtrack to the educated and successful Black man’s life. Jay-Z’s choice to use the legendary No I.D. as the only producer for the album proved to be an excellent decision.
A highlight of 4:44 was Jay-Z’s song “Bam,” which sampled the reggae classic, “Bam Bam” by Sister Nancy. “Bam Bam” is one of the most sampled reggae songs of all time in hip-hop. Released in 1982, a timeless record, “Bam Bam” still gets played in hip-hop and reggae clubs to this day. No I.D. and Jay-Z’s use of the sample is my favorite utilization of “Bam Bam” by a hip-hop record thus far. And, that’s quite a feat because there’s at least 29 other songs that sampled it. On the track, the looping of the horns jumps out of the speakers with high energy. It’s as if you can feel the “bam” from creation that Sister Nancy spoke of in her original record. Jay-Z’s braggadocios baritone let it be known that his and his team’s ambition would not be denied, as it came from within as well as without.
With this album, Jay-Z earned my selection as G.O.A.T., Greatest Rapper Of All Time. Really, the title should have already been his. How is it fair to compare his actual body of work to Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.’s hypothetical albums had they been alive? They’re not. And the fact is Jay-Z has done it time and time again. And, this is, yet again, another number one album.
Jay-Z’s ability to set trends and change the narrative and the conversation is unparalleled. That’s power. Guys out here quote Jigga lines like the Bible. Forget hip-hop, who else do you know in any arena with that type of influence? Not many. Aside from all the categories of lyrics, flow, delivery, wordplay, hooks, content, beat selection and authenticity in all of which Jay-Z is ranked near the top, if not at the top, it’s that je ne sais quoi that something you can’t describe that makes Jay-Z the G.O.A.T. Like Jay-Z said a while back, “It’s just different.”
And, with 4:44, Jay-Z completely switched up his content to something more positive and beneficial to the Black community, as opposed to usual trap drug dealing, shoot ’em up, banged your girl records. It had a jazzy and mature feel. Yet, it still appealed to the mainstream, which so desperately needed a popular voice in hip-hop saying the right things. Content-wise mainstream rap music had become so lopsided in terms of negativity. Jay-Z’s album 4:44 was food for the soul.
With this album, we saw the evolution of Jay-Z from the smooth hustler getting re-upped on his first album in 1996 called Reasonable Doubt to the grown man talking about his legacy with his children in beyond. It is Jay-Z’s longevity, versatility and growth that has made him the G.O.A.T. You can argue whether or not he is a better rapper than the Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac. What you can’t debate is that he outlived them to make better music.