As the world slowly filled with advertisements of nothing but a timestamp backed by Tidal in early June, nobody was quite sure of what to expect. That, plus a trailer that teased a scene with Lupita Nyong’o, Danny Glover, and Mahershala Ali complete with brand new music left many to wonder whether or not Jay Z was releasing a new album. The question was answered soon enough, and Jay’s 13th studio album was announced for a June 30th release date. In just a little over two decades, the impact left by the Brooklyn native can be seen in both Hip-Hop and the culture at large. But in the case of 4:44, this latest album is not only filled with stories of the past, present, and future — it’s also the most transparent Jay Z has ever been.
In just over 36 minutes, 4:44 takes a trip down memory lane as a reflection on life choices, and topics within the Black community. With veteran producer No I.D. executive producing the album in its entirety, the beats that echo throughout the project have been proven to be more fitting for Hov than 2013 predecessor, Magna Carta Holy Grail. The samples used for the album are not just aesthetically pleasing, they also play a major role in the messages Jay is trying to relay onto the public.
For example, the use of Nina Simone’s “4 Girls” as a sample in “The Story of O.J.” speaks volumes in a manner that can’t necessarily be expressed verbally. There is also talk of buying from Black businesses — even as far as creating Jaybo, a cartoon created from racial stereotypes. Not to mention the family affairs with daughter Blue Ivy who asks on the final song, “Legacy”, “Daddy, what’s a will?” as well as her freestyle featured as one of three bonus songs; his mother Gloria Carter, coming out as a lesbian in “Smile”, and even Beyonce, his wife and mother of his children — whose unmistakeable vocals can be heard on “Family Feud”. Not to mention that every song had to be approved by her, as she is what No I.D. called, their “de facto A&R”. There is a clear sense of Jay being a family man — or at the very least learning how to become one.
Under no circumstances is 4:44 a Lemonade response or Hov’s version of Lemonade. “We just wanted him to respond and then let it be and still touch on other things,” No I.D. said in an interview with The New York Times. “I created that beat to box him into telling that story … He went home, wakes up at 4:44 [a.m.] and calls Guru over [to record]. I was blown away. I just walked out of the studio and wanted to go find my wife and hug her. I told him that’s the best song he’s ever written.” Instead, it shows growth, transparency, and pride being put aside in favor of the ones you love. Jay has even gone far enough to explain the meaning behind each song in an exclusive audio with iHeartRadio. Plus, all of the songs that inspired and were sampled by the album have been compiled as playlists exclusively on Tidal. There’s even footnotes about “The Story of O.J.” featuring commentary from Van Jones, Kendrick Lamar, Chris Rock, Mahershala Ali, and more also exclusively on the streaming service.
“We get to a place, and we just [think] — we separate ourselves from the culture…That’s ‘cause we don’t have our own sh*t. We can say, ‘let’s have our own streaming services’, ‘let’s have our own Grammy’s’…” – Jay Z, Footnotes for “The Story of O.J.”
Jay Z’s 13th album bridges a gap between generations with word play while remaining visually tasteful. 4:44 in itself paints a picture of his personhood — admitting to infidelity, the killing of one’s ‘ego’, financial stability in the Black community; and among other things, nostalgically walking through his childhood home and stomping grounds — Marcy Projects.
According to No. I.D., 4:44 began production last December, and was finished just hours before the album’s midnight release on both Tidal and their partnership with Sprint (which would explain the Al Sharpton line, nonetheless). The original release date was April 4, coinciding with Jay Z & Beyonce’s wedding anniversary, but was ultimately pushed back. What’s interesting about the particular date of June 30, is that it is five days after the anniversary of the release of Jay’s first album, “Reasonable Doubt.” Whether or not coincidental, it subtly shows Hov’s evolution both as a person and as an artist.