Jay Z’s 4:44 is an album that requires dissection. It’s a striking, emotional and vulnerable piece of art that is deserving of all the praise and analysis it has received. It’s got layers on layers of sh-t to process. I’ve listened to it multiple times almost every day since the album dropped and I’m still processing. Thankfully, Jay is giving us complimentary materials in which to better process 4:44. Since last week, he’s released two “Footnotes” videos that further explain the themes and context of 4:44.
The first is an accompaniment to The Story of OJ, one of the greatest songs of Jay’s career and an immediate hip-hop classic. In the clip, Jay and some of his famous friends share confessionals about the hardships that come with being black men in America. The second is a conversation about the album’s title track, a song that is essentially an apology to our Queen for her husband’s infidelity and his general shortcomings as a man – shortcomings that black men don’t usually discuss. In the 4:44 footnote, Jay, Kendrick Lamar, Chris Rock, Mahershala Ali, Anthony Anderson, Meek Mill, Will Smith, Jesse Williams, and more men of colour talk about dating advice, the reality of long term relationships, masculinity, black love and infidelity.
This video made me emotional for a lot of reasons. It’s a beautiful thing to watch black men – especially black rappers—talk about their feelings so openly and honestly. It was also hard for me to watch these men own up to their mistakes because of my own experiences. Before I get into my own sh-t, I want to acknowledge that I know you come to this blog for gossip. And there is some tea spilled in this video. Meek Mill was obviously most recently in a relationship with Nicki Minaj so when he talks about how he wasn’t able to love someone more than himself, you can’t help but think of Nicki. Will Smith says, “There’s some sh-t you just don’t want to know about your partner.” Of course, we want to know what those things about Jada are. Anthony Anderson talks about the pain he causes his wife and his family. His wife publicly announced their divorce and then cancelled their divorce earlier this year. Chris Rock has been candid about the end of his marriage and infidelity in the past. Each provides some insight into the dissolution of their relationships. Jesse Williams gives some headline-grabbing quotes that require a whole other piece. (It’s coming. Don’t worry.) Plus, this video is basically an explanation as to why Michael Bae Jordan and I aren’t married. My imaginary boo is just too scared to commit while he’s focusing on his career.
As for the Bey and Jay gossip, Jay reveals that he played 4:44 for Beyoncé and that it was “uncomfortable.” He also explains the line on 4:44 that has been met with a few eye rolls:
You mature faster than me, I wasn’t ready.
Beyoncé was 21 years old. Jay was 33. It sounds like a cop-out for a grown ass man to say something like this. But Jay posits that he wasn’t ready because he never had a father figure to teach him how to love or how to be faithful. Here’s how he explains it:
“I just ran into this place and we built this big, beautiful mansion of a relationship that wasn’t totally built on the 100 percent truth and it starts cracking. Things start happening that the public can see. Then we had to get to a point of ‘Okay, tear this down and let’s start from the beginning … It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
These are some intimate details we don’t typically get about this marriage. Beyoncé released Lemonade and let the rest of us analyze the sh-t out of it. She didn’t give us any insight into the why and the how of the lowest points of her marriage. Jay is talking. A lot. Jay talking about these particular details of his marriage is bigger than gossip. When Lainey and I first talked about 4:44 I called the album a redefinition of how a black man should respond to ambition, power and temptation. This particular footnote gathers some of the most famous black men in the world to talk about how a redefinition of black masculinity and family values is necessary.
The idea that infidelity and black love are intrinsically linked is a stereotype I have spent my whole life trying to discredit. I touched on this when I wrote about Lemonade but I used to get so offended by the idea. I grew up in a two-parent home. My big brother Sam is a black man who has never cheated on a romantic partner. For the first 27 years of my life, I thought my dad was a black man who never strayed from his marriage. I would get angry at the depiction of black men as adulterous because my family was living proof that black men can be faithful. Let me be clear that, of course, black men can be faithful. My brother is still proof of that. But my father, well, my father cheated on my mother for the entire duration of their 35-year marriage. Unfortunately, so many of my black girlfriends have similar stories about their dads. My father is now single at 72, living on his own for the first time. When I found out about his years of infidelity—the lies, the other kids he fathered, the crumbling of everything I thought to be true—I remember sitting across from him and listening to him talk about his own father’s inadequacies and how he was raised. He talked about how women reacted to him. He talked about why he did what he did but he never once apologized. My father’s ego lost him an incredibly strong, resilient, badass of a black woman and fractured his relationships with his children. He wasn’t raised to say sorry. He wasn’t taught, by his culture and by societal standards, to confront his vulnerability or how to say no to temptation. I’m not saying this Jay Z album or this video will fix any of that sh-t but maybe these men talking so openly about their mistakes will inspire the next generation to be more emotionally intuitive. These men are raising young men who, hopefully, will refuse to be a stereotype.
There’s a moment in the video when Jay talks about the advice that was passed on to him by the black men he grew up with. He says they had street smarts. He compares them to superheroes. But he explains that they weren’t able to pass on emotional intelligence.
“They knew that street stuff impeccably… Their super strength was on 10 but their emotional wisdom was on zero.”
Finally, I’ll leave you with a quote from the video that is essentially its thesis statement.
“I think the relationship between black men and black women is complicated by all these other things— things that we’re trying to talk about a little bit. [It’s] complicated by a black man’s historical inability to protect them [and] complicated by black men’s seeming unwillingness to commit to raising their families.”
If you’re a Tidal subscriber, you can watch both The Story of OJ and 4:44 footnotes here.
Attached - Jay at Soho House in Malibu yesterday.