Album Review: “4:44” is the Closest Thing We are Going to Get to Old Jay-Z

It’s been about two weeks since Hov released his latest album “4:44”, and it has taken me some time to come to a final verdict on Jay’s thirteenth feature album. Whether that is because it was a Tidal exclusive and I’m an Apple Music user or that it’s a deeply complex album that requires a few listen throughs to get the real picture Jay-Z is trying to paint. I’d like to start off by saying I really did enjoy “4:44”, even though it wasn’t Jay’s best outing. When most people look at “4:44” they focus on Jay-Z long awaited response to Beyonce’s “Lemonade”, an album which strongly hinted at the couple’s problems and issues which mostly stemmed from Jay-Z’s infidelity. This is addressed throughout the album, but mostly in the title track “4:44”. “4:44” is definitely a highlight track of the album, but the true star is producer No I.D’s soulful samples and beats, which pair beautifully with Hova’s legendary flow.

The Chicago based producer, No I.D., produces the entirety of “4:44” and uses samples of R&B legends such as Nina Simone and Stevie Wonder which gives the album a classic feel to it. The soothing beats make the album approachable to new and old Jay-Z fans alike and everyone should be able to find at least one song they play over and over again. For me that track is “Caught Their Eyes”, which uses a sample of Nina Simone’s “Baltimore” and an always welcomed feature from Frank Ocean. Jay-Z discusses the exploitation of the late great Prince after his death. I really enjoyed hearing Jay-Z’s opinion on the treatment of a music legend after his death. You can see how Jay-Z wonders about his legacy and questions how he will be remembered. This is a common theme on “4:44” and is by far one of the most interesting aspects of the album. You can tell that this is the mogul Jay-Z rapping, the billionaire Jay-Z rapping. We have heard from this Jay-Z before on 2013’s “Magna Carta Holy Grail”. What makes “4:44” far superior, is that this album truly feels like New York and let’s be honest Jay-Z is New York and New York IS Jay-Z.

Another stand out track is “Family Feud” featuring Beyonce. This immediately hops to the top of couple shared tracks along with “03 Bonny and Clyde” and “Crazy in Love”. Hov delivers by far my favorite lyric of the album here. Jay-Z raps “y’all stop actin’ brand new/Like Tupac ain’t have a nose ring too, huh”. In this line Jay-Z firmly stands behind some of the new faces of rap like Young Thug and Lil Uzi Vert, who have faced some flack recently from older members hip hop community for their flamboyant and rocker influenced style. It’s nice to see Jay-Z support the younger stars of the game and give his blessing to the way the genre is heading. Some listeners speculate that Jay-Z tossed shots at his estranged friend Kanye West in “Kill Jay-Z” . These rumors are only furthered in Kanye’s erupted exit of his contract of Jay-Z owned Tidal. Whether the two former friends will settle their beef or Kanye responses in his follow up to “The Life of Pablo”, music fans are definitely in for a treat.

A strong theme of the album is the current state of America, which isn’t a surprise from maybe one of the most influential rappers of all time. Jay-Z discusses still being treated differently as a black man in America even though he is a billionaire. Jay-Z references this in the track “Moonlight”, where he compares his treatment to the 2017 Oscar Moonlight/La La Land mix up. The track was co-written by the former Fugee members Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean. The Caribbean influences don’t stop there, we also get another track “Bam” which features reggae god Bob Marley’s youngest son Damian Marley. Jay-Z faces another one America’s most polarizing issues in “Smile”, where he explains his growth and acceptance of his mother’s sexuality.

In closing “4:44” might not reach the heights of his 2001 historical album “The Blueprint”, but it’s hard to top what I consider one of the best rap albums of all time. Jay-Z is one of those few artists where middle of the road Jay-Z, is better than no Jay-Z. “4:44” produces many good songs and maybe a classic here or there. Only time will tell. “4:44” gives us that old Jay-Z feel, and by far our best Jay-Z album since the early 2000’s.

Listening Recommendations

  1. “Caught in Their Eyes” (featuring Frank Ocean)
  2. “Family Feud” (featuring Beyonce)
  3. “Bam” (featuring Damian Marley)

4 out of 5 Stars

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