Jay-Z’s 13th studio album 4:44 has arrived. Dropping exclusively through Tidal, the project is 10 tracks deep and features Frank Ocean, Damian Marley, Beyonce & his mother, Gloria Carter. If you’re a Tidal subscriber head over to the site now to bump it. Considering this is the first Jay album in years, I was too hyped not to write something. So here’s my first impressions. This isn’t a super deep review, just some thoughts on the project after the first listen.
Kill Jay Z
The narrative style is sure to draw comparisons to Kanye’s ‘I Love Kanye’ but Jay goes much deeper with this one. While Kanye used the approach to poke fun and laugh at himself, Jay looks inward at his life’s toughest moments: from shooting his own brother, to selling drugs to loved ones, stabbing “Un” and almost losing Beyonce. It feels like the Cole’s notes of his autobiography; reflective and serious with just a slight side smirk. Chopped soulful samples provide an outro that lets his words marinate.
The Story Of OJ
Retaining the soulful motif of the opener, twinkling keys and pitched vocals create a backdrop with gravity. Jay’s opening bars serve as the hook and explore his perspective on race. His flow weaves and changes throughout; at times breaking to give a spoken word delivery. Hov drops knowledge while stunting throughout with bars like, “Y’all on the gram holding money to your ear/ there’s a disconnect, we don’t call that money over here,” tempting a quick rewind.
‘Smile’ sees Jay getting personal. While it kicks off braggadocios with bars around slamming Bentley doors and popping Cristal, the track deepens as Jay gives listeners insight into his mothers struggle with sexuality. “Mama had four kids, but she’s a lesbian/Had to pretend so long that she’s a thespian/Had to hide in the closet, so she medicate/Society shame and the pain was too much to take/Cried tears of joy when you fell in love/Don’t matter to me if it’s a him or her.” Coupled with a poem at the end from Gloria Carter, this one is far deeper than expected.
Caught Their Eyes
Frank Ocean and an island inspired soundscape bring a summer vibe to ‘Caught Their Eyes’. The first verse has Hov going back to his project days while verse two explores his connection with Prince and distaste about how his estate was handled. Despite the upbeat sound the subject matter is less than light. Standout bars include, “This guy had ‘Slave’ on his face/You think he wanted the masters with his masters?/You greedy bastards sold tickets to walk through his house/I’m surprised you ain’t auction off the casket”.
From the production to subject matter, the album’s title track feels like ‘Song Cry’ part 2. It’s Jay bearing his soul on wax. “I apologize, often womanize,” kicks off the track and a long list of apologies. It’s honest and way too much to unpack right now. I never listened to Lemonade but from what I’ve heard about it, this seems like the response.
Jay gets on his black billionaire vibe while Beyonce sings the backing. Jay finds himself exploring his odd position, feeling like he’s never been embraced by the older generation and not one of the young cats. Verse two also has him throwing nods to lemonade with, “Yeah, I’ll fuck up a good thing if you let me/Let me alone, Becky
A man that don’t take care his family can’t be rich/I’ll watch Godfather, I miss that whole shit”
“Fuck all this pretty Shawn Carter shit nigga, HOV….Shawn was on that gospel shit, I was on the total fucking opposite…” With an opening like that, and a Damien Marley feature, ‘BAM’ flips the script. Hov isn’t fucking around and goes hunting season with piercing verses. Expect a ton of quotes popping up on you socials from this one. I mean…“Put that drum in your ear don’t get Srem’d/ I’ll Bobby Shmurda anybody ya heard of/Niggas could not be further, I fathered your style/Birth of a Nation, Nat Turner style” This is some ‘Threats’ level Jay-Z.
With a Fugees sample (“La La La”) Jay explores how the rap game is stuck in La La Land. From rappers posing with fake guns to everyone doing the same shit (women, watches, flows, etc.). It’s the king coming home to check the game and it is a stark reminder at how fucked up rap actually is.
Opening with an homage to B.I.G. this one is dripping with nostalgia. No ID crafts the perfect tapestry for Jay to take us back in time to his hometown Marcy houses. It’s rich with imagery from Slick Rick to Lisa Bonet. It’s ‘Where I’m From,’ 20 years removed.
As the title suggests ‘Legacy’ has Jay reflecting on his legacy. Passing on everything he’s built to his family. It’s an auditory will that also serves as checklist of Hov’s achievements and ownership. It also has him looking inward at his lineage and family tree; a further example of the personal perspective sprinkled through 4:44.
4:44 First Impression
Like all Jay albums 4:44 leaves fans with a lot to unpack. Upon first listen it’s everything I hoped for. The production is on point, the lyrics and song concepts are well thought out. It’s rich with double entendres and wordplay. It’s a Jay-Z album. It’s great. How great? Time and many more listens will tell. Given the last time he took this much time off between albums we got Kingdom Come, 4:44 is looking very strong. This is not Kingdom Come, let me get the rust off Jay-Z. This is Hov in his most mature and reflective form. And it sounds good.