After hearing more people than I can count bumping Jay-Z’s new 4:44 album in their cars this Fourth of July weekend, I decided to listen to it myself today.
I initially received the 10-track LP as a poignant audio-book on spirituality, family, and communal economics with tempered musical accompaniment for my perpetual head-nod.
The brash young Roc-A-Fella hit man who once professed himself to be “Che Guevara with bling on” has given way to a Roc Nation honcho, husband, and father of three, who chastises faux ballers for investing in extravagant jewelry (“Family Feud”). He has even unloaded his most radical salvo of bars to date concerning Black politics and economics (“The Story of O.J.”).
The new 4:44 album sounds like Hov’s most personal work to date. The uncritical ear might even say that this common sense knowledge concerning the most vital aspects of adult life reflect a lofty echelon of higher consciousness unfathomable to most Black Americans. Real people know that this simply isn’t the truth.
While Jay still has his gift for witty lyricism and premier wordplay, his core message on the album is quite familiar to Black America. He isn’t saying anything on his latest album that far less popular men and women haven’t said.
Brothers in barbershops across the country discuss the same topics as Jay does on his album, sometimes with far more insight. Others may even buzz about giving fades to racist cops By Any Means Necessary while getting a fresh caesar in the barber’s chair. Still, none of those guys will ever be heralded as the second coming of Malcolm X because they aren’t rich Award-winning recording artists with viable music streaming companies
Let’s face it. A lot of Black people wont read “How to Succeed in Business Without Being White,” by Earl G. Graves or “Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun” by Reginald F. Lewis, but they’ll checkout 4:44 by Hov and get a few nuggets of grown folk wisdom that can be found in greater abundance in these and other books.
Jay-Z is arguably considered the most successful figure that the modern world’s most influential culture (that culture being hip hop) has produced.
Therein lies the root of 4:44’s primal appeal. We’ve all heard the truism that it’s not what you say, but how you say it. However, WHO says what may be that much more important in some instances.
There have been several rap albums over the years that are mature and socially responsible that dwarf Jay-Z’s latest effort with harder hitting bars and far more stellar musical production, so let’s not be naive.
Jay’s 4:44 album has not captured America’s attention purely on the merit of its measured beats and cerebral rhymes. It’s because Americans are over stimulated Shock Junkies.
They derive personal pleasure from prying into the world of private people who have exceptional ability and have achieved material success and cultural notability. Few individuals fit this description more than Jay-Z does. His publicized relationship woes with his wifey Beyoncé only heighten the depths of intrigue for the perennial Chatty Patty.
In a social media-driven culture where people indiscriminately post the most titillating and intimate details of their personal lives on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, the rich and widely popular celebrity—who remains an unbroken cipher within America’s collective consciousness—garners great attention from us when we believe that he has finally broken that hermetically sealed lock on his heart so that we can get a pulse on its tragic beat.
We then learn that a Hip-Hop god and cultural icon has been lying about his invincibility all of this time like most mere mortals do. Millions are vicariously pleased by this disclosure because it excuses them and their chosen paths to lifelong mediocrity.
Yup. It really is all about those beats and rhymes.
Adika Butler is an award-winning writer who has demonstrated his commitment to community development by providing a journalistic platform for young writers to gain valuable experience in the field.