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Mace & Crown | August 22, 2017

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Jay-Z’s '4:44' Delivers His Societal Critiques to Listeners with Poetic Ambiences

Donyá Price | Contributing Writer

Jay-Z’s “4:44″ is heavily composed of hard-hitting personal, political and cultural critiques, as well as, well-sculpted artistic elements complementary to his greatness. Those elements alone are enough to lead any listener into deep thought about the various themes discussed. Four years after the spontaneous release of “Magna Carta… Holy Grail,” the hip-hop mogul dropped his long-awaited thirteenth studio album earlier this month in the same manner.

“4:44” is our invitation to a therapy session with Shawn Carter. With each track, we are given Jay-Z’s take on various situations from his struggle with letting go of his egotistical ways (“Kill Jay-Z”), to his frustration with the divide and commonalities of the hip-hop culture. Tracks like “Kill Jay-Z,” “Smile,” “Legacy” and “4:44” are flooded with the rapper’s personal confessions and affirmations paired with perspectives on his familiar relationships.

These songs also show the emphasis he places on family as three of the tracks listed feature Jay-Z’s wife, Beyoncé Knowles, mother, Gloria Carter, and daughter, Blue Ivy Carter. It is important to note that other than those three, the album only features R&B artist Frank Ocean on “Caught Their Eyes” and son of the legendary Bob Marley, Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley on “Bam.” The rest is composed of Jay-Z delivering his atonements and wisdom solo.

The title track, and one of the most talked about tracks on the album, “4:44” is Jay-Z’s open apologetic love letter to his wife, Beyoncé. It contains an admission of infidelity and indifference earlier in their relationship. Starting off with a musical sample, the track opens with a woman singing “Why do I find it so hard, when I know in my heart, I’m letting you down every day…” The song samples R&B/Soul Artist Hannah Williams’ 2016 single “Late Nights & Heartbreak,” a song that is similarly centered around the theme of infidelity. It is the creative edit and cutting off the R&B track that allows the portrayal of Jay-Z’s feelings while providing a strong lead into his poetic confession.

During an interview with iHeartRadio, Jay-Z explained that “Legacy,” the album’s tenth track, is “like a verbal will. Just a song about speaking to my daughter.” The song opens with Blue Ivy Carter inquiring “Daddy, what’s a will?” We hear his sincerest wishes of Blue and her new siblings, Sir and Rumi Carter, being able to thrive in the future while the artist also tackles the account of his past that influenced his own ambition to succeed.

“The Story of O.J.” can be described as a wake-up call-of-action to black America. The song cleverly samples Nina Simone’s “Four Women” repeating ‘My skin is black’ throughout. It is with this song that Jay-Z shares some tips on how he advances as a black artist and business man. The black-and-white cartoon depicting the song stars a character by the name of Jaybo. Jaybo is a spinoff to the term Sambo, a derogatory term popular during the Jim Crow Era to describe a black person who embodied stereotypes to dodge threats from white America. 

The music video contains more images, such as lynchings, the KKK and slaves in cotton fields, that controversially support the idea of post-racist American being non-existent. While this music video has been under heavy critique by the social culture, Jay-Z deserves praise for the out-of-the-box thinking that helped creatively depict the assessments of culture that seamlessly pair with his lyrics.

Overall, the framework of “4:44″ provides listeners with artistically-pleasing and contemporary confessional poetry served the melodious beats constructed from the samples of artist such as Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, The Clark Sisters and Jacob Miller.

We also hear tracks that tackle the direction our social culture is headed in (“Moonlight”), the need for cohesiveness within the hip-hop culture and advancement among the black race (“Family Feud” and “The Story of O.J.”) and the importance of being aware of what’s happening right in front of our eyes (“Caught Their Eyes”). The album provides deep listening to discover the deeper means with each song clearly showcasing Jay-Z’s veteran-status in the hip-hop culture, talent as a poetic artist and awareness of society.