4.44: Why JAY-Z remains one of the all-time greats in hip hop
- Arusa Qureshi
- 4 July 2017
The rapper's 13th studio album confirms what we always knew
When Beyoncé released her visual album Lemonade in 2016, it prompted much discussion about its status as a piece of black feminist art. For many, the album was an insight into a journey of pain and redemption, the rebirth of a black woman, finding her strength among isolation and hurt. But it also hinted at Beyoncé's own personal story of heartbreak, with suggestions of infidelity on JAY-Z's part prompting the album to be seen as an act of retribution.
For over a year, there have been expectations of a comeback from JAY-Z with an appropriate response to the allegations. But no one could have anticipated that this response would come loaded with such vulnerability and self-awareness.
4.44 was quickly labelled a reply to Lemonade prior to its release, with many seeing it as a chance for JAY-Z to tell his side of the story. But it is anything but that; if Lemonade is an act of defiance and universal call to arms for black women, 4.44 is an admittance of weakness and a reminder to stay humble.
At just over 36 minutes, the album reads like a confessional, with bold claims, the disclosure of hard truths and a little self-mockery thrown in. Opener 'Kill Jay Z' sets the tone, with the rapper immediately distancing himself from the old JAY-Z and calling for the assassination of his ego. By letting go of this side of himself, he enables the rest of the album to continue in the same vein, with honesty and sincerity at the forefront of his intentions. 'Smile' takes advantage of this and plays as a definite highlight, exploring how the past can allow you to move forward positively, if you let it. The track features an unfamiliar openness from JAY-Z, with him even revealing that his mother, Gloria Carter, who appears in the song, is a lesbian: '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.'
Elsewhere, he delves into discussions of black American culture and identity, as on 'The Story of O.J', which makes use of a stunning sample of Nina Simone's 'Four Women'. The track includes perhaps the most witty and priceless lyric of the whole album: 'Y'all think it's bougie, I'm like, it's fine / But I'm tryin' to give you a million dollars worth of game for $9.99', a reference to the album being a Tidal exclusive.