It only took about forty years, but Hip-Hop has finally produced its first blockbuster release for grown-ass men.
Conceived and executed by one Sean Corey Carter, 4:44 is the culmination of forty-seven years of bottles, bitches, and savvy business moves. Or at least that’s what his microphone-wielding public persona, Jay-Z, would have us believe. But it’s a new day, and after countless beefs, $810 million in the bank, fourteen studio albums, three kids, two record labels, and one tumultuous marriage (more on that later), his alter ego has finally decided to rid itself of puerile infatuations and grow the fuck up.
From the man who singled-handedly extinguished the throwback jersey craze, then subsequently embarked on an assassination attempt of auto-tune, Jay-Z has now declared war on the rampant stagnation and immaturity that inhabits The Culture Formerly Known As Ours: Hip-Hop.
Over the course of thirty-six minutes of introspection, he succinctly tackles the schism being forged between Hip-Hop’s underclassmen and elder statesmen (“And old niggas, ya’ll stop actin' brand new/ Like 2Pac ain't have a nose ring too”) on “Family Feud”, explores the importance of establishing financial sovereignty (“I told him, ‘Please don't die over the neighborhood that your mama rentin'/ Take your drug money and buy the neighborhood/ That's how you rinse it") on “The Story of O.J.”, and finally surrenders a conciliatory riposte to the marriage he chose over ménage à trois on “4:44”.
In a genre notorious for manufacturing millionaires from misogynoir, Jay-Z’s remorse is the paradigm shift Black women have been waiting almost three decades for. Not because morality in Hip-Hop is extinct, but because we’ve never had an artist of Jay-Z’s magnitude openly lament his callous (and countless) contributions to the degradation of women of color. Both through his own admittedly abhorrent actions (“I apologize to all the women whom I/ Toyed with your emotions because I was emotionless”) and through the music he’s concocted that’s contributed to a caustic culture of patriarchal suppression and toxic masculinity. Which, though as subtle as it is profound, is best exemplified by his aversion to the word “bitch” throughout the duration of this release.
Also of note is his acknowledgement of the various manifestations of betrayal (“I never wanted another woman to know something about me that you didn't know"). It’s far easier to dismiss a tryst than a living, breathing emotional investment. And there’s no greater heartbreak than to discover the rapport you cultivated through tears, fears, and years was merely a facade.
So in closing, is Jay-Z’s about-face a coincidental byproduct of Blue Ivy’s birth? Absolutely. But we could very well be witnessing the impetus of a seismic shift in how Black men not only express themselves through their art, but how accountability co-opts the status quo.
And for that reason alone, this isn’t an album. It’s a testimony.
After a stint in the military and an extended crusade shepherding all of God’s children as a social worker, Jay Connor conceded to fate and relocated to Los Angeles in 2014 in order to chase the dream. When he’s not changing his son’s diapers or losing his grip on sanity while enduring 405 traffic, he’s a writer in the entertainment industry, where currently he’s working on a number of projects, the most prominent being “Strange Angel”, a historical drama series produced by Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions that is set to air on the AMC Network in the near future.