13 can be looked at as an unlucky number if your superstitious, but being on his 13th studio album, Jay Z proves that he makes his own luck continuing to cement himself as an MC and Mogul in rap. In ‘4:44’ we see Jay Z go to a more vulnerable, deep and emotional side that we’ve never seen on previous projects. This project shows his fan base and the world more of his human side with him touching on both personal and culturally relevant issues.
In terms of the personal, he breaches a handful of private topics on this. From the infidelity rumors and his wife’s miscarriages to his mum’s sexuality and building a Legacy to leave to his children. On the culturally relevant scale, he touches on the schism in the rap game between the old heads and the new; colourism, racism and never being able to escape “blackness”; building wealth as opposed to being rich; how to treat bae (Tip: Don’t go full Eric Benét); and the importance of ego as well as its drawbacks.
Hov is out here dropping gems and No ID is the jeweler. The chemistry between the rapper and producer is undeniable on this album. No ID manages to find the balance, creating that classic hip-hop sound without it seeming dated or archaic. The project relies heavily on one of the bedrocks of early hip hop and features substantial sampling. From Nina Simone to Stevie Wonder, and from Sister Nancy’s classic: Bam Bam to The Fugees’ Fu-Gee-La (Which you’ll probably remember from the more recently released Nas Album Done). There are quite a few easily recognized samples littered throughout this album. However, they’re worked in a manner that evokes nostalgia and don’t feel played out.
All the headlines were grabbed by Kill Jay Z which has shots aimed at Kanye. But anyone can catch a fade from Jay. There are throwaway lines mentioning Future, Prince’s family, Instagram flexers and all those perpetuating staleness in the rap game.
Regarding features, this album is fairly light. Jay keeps it in the family, with Beyoncé lending vocals to Family Feud. Frank Ocean appears on Caught Their Eyes and Damian Marley adds a bit of patois spice to Bam. Additional vocals are provided by The Dream (Marcy Me), James Fauntleroy (Legacy), and the Kim Burrell vocals on the title track just about round out the guests.
Speaking of the titular track, 4:44 is the centre piece of this album. Positioned in the middle of the tracklist, this song has Hov claiming it’s one of the best he’s written. It is a heart on sleeve apology to Beyoncé and features JAY Z saying the phrase “I apologize” (or “apologize” if you’re American) in some shape or form 7 times throughout the four minutes and forty four seconds of the track’s run time. Jay lays his failings as a man, husband and father bare and seeks penance in this audio confessional. I’m a sucker for the openness, the horns and the way No ID chops up the vocals on this, so I love it. If you’re not here for all these emotions, to paraphrase Jay himself: If you want his old shit, buy his old albums. Or better yet, stream them via TIDAL so everyone wins.
I’ve spent this entire review mentioning how great it is that we can see JAY Z showing a more vulnerable and human side, but one of my favourites from this album is Bam. No ID manages to pull a banger of a beat out of an overused Sister Nancy sample, then JAY Z does a full 180 on all the emotional stuff and reverts to his flossy Hov character. He goes back to stories of war chests in the projects, painting pictures of pyrex dreams and showing that sometimes, being larger than life is necessary in order to attain the heights that he has.
In my opinion, JAY Z has always been a businessman and an entrepreneur. So I’m not sure how honest this album is, or whether it’s just Jay adapting to a climate in which greater emotion is thriving in the rap game. Cashing in on all the fans waiting to sip on the juicy sequel to Lemonade. Regardless of his intentions, I think both he and No ID have put together a great album that nods to the era in which JAY Z came up but also captures the change in his priorities as we come to the present day.
Carrying on in the spirit of honesty, I didn’t board the hype train when I heard this album announcement. JAY Z is a father of 3 who’s married to Beyoncé and has hundreds of millions in the bank. In terms of aspirational rap, Jay is all the way out of the stratosphere. I didn’t think he was still making music I could relate to. However, much like Jay, what makes the stories of ancient Greek and Roman gods so compelling is the acknowledgement of their flawed nature and shortcomings, in spite of their power and abilities. JAY Z taps into something similar on this project and even though “the rest of us” is a term he no longer qualifies as, his struggles still seem relatable.
This album is definitely worth a listen if you’re a fan of Jay, a fan of the genre, an old head or a new one. JAY Z is dropping gems, so grab your playbook and start jotting down the life lessons. Hov is back and class is in session.
Stream the album on TIDAL now