“But you can’t heal what you never reveal.”
The idea of Jay-Z awakening at 4:44 am, to write the lyrics to this album, is something simple. However, it speaks to the deeper conflict that plagued the mind of one of the greatest lyricists of our time. Hov’s fourteenth overall studio album and thirteenth solo album, is played by a frustrated, embarrassed, and, above all, revealing Jay-Z.
In the first ten seconds of 4:44, Jay-Z has already cursed himself and claimed that he can never measure up to what people, perhaps his fans or family, would want from him. This is clearly a different Jay-Z, who has always spit lyrics with such confidence and bravado over his career. This long career included a famous beef with Nas and the building of a rap empire in Roc Nation.
Overall, Jay-Z unveils his pain and anguish through a teachable lens. His apologies in the song “4:44” to his significant other Beyoncé, show that wealth and status cannot shield someone from failure. In fact, it magnifies the opportunity for failure, because of one’s ability to mask one’s flaws with his or her own fame and fortune. As a result of his mistakes, Jay-Z now has to explain his infidelities to his children, and therefore reveal that “Santa Claus is fake”.
Some people may find this album lackluster because of its approach. Not only does Jay-Z sound distraught and use rhyme schemes that are uninspiring at times, but he also does not discuss topics that are new in music. Artists have discussed their relationship issues before, and also provided commentary on racial issues, as Hov does on “The Story of O.J.”. Nevertheless, Jay-Z somehow provides this harsh and introspective analysis in a unique way. Even though he admits to cheating on Beyoncé, it feels different than if someone else has claimed to have cheated on his or her significant other. This is solely because of the individuals at play. Hip-hop is driven by the heavy-hitters, and what happens in their lives matters to the general populace. Jay-Z’s album seems to matter, because the album reveals the inner life of an individual who has inspired us for over two decades.
Ultimately, people should be aware of what this album amounts to as a total package. We must remove ourselves from the hype surrounding a new Jay-Z album, even with its fresh content, and put this album in proper perspective. Does 4:44 measure up to Reasonable Doubt or The Black Album? Is the album in the ballpark of The Blueprint One, Two, or Three? In an even broader perspective, does this album measure up to the likes of a typical MF Doom album? The answer is likely no. Overall, I am certain that the hyperbole surrounding this album is a bit far-fetched. 4:44 is a great piece of work, but it is not a masterpiece.