Jay Z’s 4:44 – Honest Hip-Hop or Self-Serving Indulgence?

‘4:44’ is Jay Z’s first offering since ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’ (2013) and it feels like a lot has changed in the last four years. Namely, the release of wife Beyonce’s visual album ‘Lemonade’ (2016) which caused a lot of controversy surrounding the pair. In her song, ‘Sorry’, the last lyric goes: ‘He better call Becky with the good hair’, which drew speculations on who Becky was and how that was linked to Jay Z. I, like many others, began to question whether this was an accusation of infidelity, and this seems to have been addressed in 4:44. More than anything, I was anticipating the release of this album in the hope that it would answer all the questions thrown down by ‘Lemonade’. For better or worse, it certainly does.

Opener Kill Jay Z creates a raw start to the album. With lyrics ‘you gotta do better boy, you owe it to Blue’ it’s clear that Jay Z is no angel, not that he ever confesses to be. What he does throughout the album is write truthful, cynical lyrics but pairs them with some old school No I.D. beats to balance the whole thing out.

It’s still open to debate whether this album is in response to ‘Lemonade’ (2016) but the eponymous 4:44 can be taken as such. The track is an open apology to Beyonce, which for fans, confirms any previous suspicions that he was unfaithful. Lyrics ‘You did what with who?/What good is a menage-a-trois when you have a soulmate/You risk that for Blue?’ confirm a sad story, and again, the focal point is his daughter, who he knows one day she will find out that her Santa Claus is fake. The writing is astonishing and honest.

The only thing that makes this album openly honest is that the lyrics show the person that Jay Z feels most guilty towards is his daughter, Blue. Many of the tracks are a wonderment of what could happen if she knew and if he’s been a bad father. In a way, this album could be considered as an apology to Blue, years in the future, if she discovers her father’s infidelity. Self-serving as it may be, Jay Z has put more thought into further implications and it adds a lot of depth to what is already a very complicated album.

Is this album filled with self-serving catharsis? Definitely, but that’s what Jay Z knows how to do and he does it well. In reality, all of Jay Z’s albums are filled with self-serving catharsis but we’re here for it. You could say that Jay Z only does music for himself (besides the money), but it doesn’t come always across arrogant because he does it so well. What he does with 4:44 is allow it to remain subtle if it’s playing in the background but if you put a focus on the album, it’s very raw. It’s clear that 4:44 was a way for Jay Z to own up to any mistakes he’s made but it’s like by doing so, he’s rid himself of any guilt. Maybe this album was just a way for Jay Z to feel better or maybe it was sincere for the good of other people? Whatever it was – keep doing it Jay.