Jay Z’s new album 4:44 dropped last night. Were you scrambling to reinstall TIDAL on your phone like I was? Needless to say, 4:44 lit up Twitter. Here’s one of my favourite tweets:
When you've not listened to Jay Z 's album but everyone is talking about it pic.twitter.com/tgX1IGV7fW— Omoniyi Israel (@omoissy) June 30, 2017
And of course what’s dominating the conversation is how 4:44 relates to Lemonade. In a way, it’s definitely a companion piece. Whether or not it’s a masterpiece like Lemonade remains to be seen. But they connect on many levels, and not just THAT level. But let’s start there. The infidelity. And apology. Because this is what Jay is offering – an admission, that he did indeed cheat on the “baddest girl in the world” and confirms that what went down in that elevator, with Solange, had everything to do with him stepping out on his wife.
On the song Kill Jay Z:
You egged Solange on, knowin’ all along
All you had to say you was wrong
You almost went Eric Benét
Let the baddest girl in the world get away
I don’t even know what else to say
N----, never go Eric Benét
And on the song Family Feud:
Yeah, I’ll f-ck up a good thing if you let me
Let me alone, Becky
With the good hair…
You can hear Beyoncé, by the way, on that song, Family Feud. So, you know, if there was any doubt that the Carters, in art-ifying their narrative, are also controlling their own narrative, this is your answer. This is Jay Z calling out Jay Z. Which he’s obviously already done privately, as revealed on the title track 4:44…
We talked for hours when you were on tour
Please pick up the phone, pick up the phone
….and now he’s doing it publicly, prostrating himself before his wife for the world to see, as if to say, look at me, look what I did to her, shame, shame, shame, shame, shame.
Vulture has a great roundup of all the Beyoncé-inspired lyrics here. And another thorough summary of the other conversations Jay is trying to have on the album here. Because there are other conversations, some shade thrown at Kanye West, Future, and maybe even Drake, and, perhaps most important, a discussion about black determination.
Lemonade was more than just an album about Beyoncé’s personal heartache. It was also a tribute to black women, black female resilience, and black girl magic. You might say then that Jay Z’s 4:44 is an indictment of all the men who did those women wrong, including himself, an appeal to a generation of black men, including himself, to do better – by their women and by themselves. It is also a study of black ambition and, as Kathleen texted to me this morning, “all the things that come with it: Power. Temptation”. Also, in Kathleen’s words, “redefining how a black man should respond to those things”. In the song The Story Of OJ he encourages his peers, his followers, to invest, to build credit, to build up their wealth, not just financially but in character – and in community which includes business, his business: TIDAL. I mean, that might be where he gets some heat, but this is what he says is the end goal, the song Smile:
Black entrepreneurs, free enterprise
That's why it's a black market, that's why it's called "the trap"
That's why it's called the projects
Cause it's exactly that
Within Smile, though, there’s also a moving revelation about his mother. She’s gay. And the song ends on her voice, coming out. As she says, she’s being “living in the shadow”. As Jay says:
I just wanna see you smile through all the hate
Marie Antoinette, baby, let 'em eat cake
So, again, just as Lemonade was more than a “I was cheated on” album, 4:44 is more than just a “I was a cheater” album. Beyoncé took her game to a new level. And in doing so, she may have compelled Jay Z to do the same. 4:44 is currently only available on TIDAL. I’m looking forward to the thinkpieces that happen as soon as more people are able to hear it.