In order to drop a bomb, you have to build one first. This past summer, Jay-Z unleashed the explosive album 4:44, four years after his previous release.
New tracks from the hip-hop megastar generated much excitement, partly because of a desire to hear what he might have to say about his wife, Beyoncé.
Not that fans’ obsession with the couple was anything new. We live in a nosey culture that monitors the couple’s every move — from art events to vacation spots and dinner with the Obamas.
This time, though, the intrigue went deeper. And darker.
Fans wanted to know if Jay’s new album included responses to Beyoncé’s Lemonade, the critically acclaimed, gut-bomb of a masterpiece that dropped a little more than a year prior.
On her album, Queen Bey alluded to acts of infidelity committed by her husband, tackling the layered trauma and relationship drama.
Examining strengths and weaknesses, she found her grit and delivered. Would Jay-Z bother owning up? That was the question.
Fuck yeah, he bothered.
Though he never made an official public confession, in this revealing and deeply personal collection of songs, 4:44 does find Jay-Z addressing those call-outs from his wife.
The record includes some critical takes on society and an analysis of the black experience in America that uses O.J. Simpson as an example. Music industry greed is another topic on his hitlist.
Now, haters, they’re gonna hate. Some folks find it hollow when a guy with a net worth reported to be over $800 million and ownership in companies like Tidal and Rocawear calls out greediness in others. On the flipside, it’s the words he’s chosen thus far that have given him the success he has today.
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Less Hova and more humble, the Jay-Z on 4:44 has a new air. It’s a subtle-yet-intense delivery that pierces you and continues to twist for the record’s duration.
Jay-Z’s vocals are always solid, and the production is tight. Where 4:44 has an up on 2013’s Magna Carta…Holy Grail is that delivery. That former release had an overall restlessness that made it harder to embrace.
The record’s focused and direct, as it brings his lyrics to the fore.
The title track gets into the deserved sorrys. From the actual words “I apologize,” he moves to dialogue that highlights intimacies and promises. “We’re supposed to vacay ’til our backs burn / We’re supposed to laugh ’til our hearts stops / And then we in a space where the dark stops / And lets love light the way.”
There’s your peek, people; that shit is personal. With performers like Kid Rock pulling stunts to sell records, like announcing a fake political campaign, it’s not surprising that some folks found 4:44 an opportunistic move to capitalize on Lemonade’s success.
The self-reflection present in 4:44, however, elevates it and gives it the pervasive authenticity that listeners want and need it to have.
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“Legacy” has a smooth and jazzy background while Jay ponders what he’ll leave for his kids and how they’ll remember him.
His daughter, Blue — who has been featured on records by both her parents — kicks off this track with a question, “Daddy, what’s a will?” The song turns haunting, as Jay raps about his own upbringing, in part as a cautionary tale. The urgency surges as he repeats the word “legacy” over and over, while conjuring memories.
Yep, Jay-Z is flawed just like the rest of us. And his 4:44 Tour is a chance to soak up the ways in which he’s addressing his transgressions.
Jay-Z is scheduled to perform on Friday, November 3, at Talking Stick Resort Arena, 201 East Jefferson Street, with opening act Vic Mensa. Tickets are $24 to $227 via ticketmaster.com.