JAY Z’s “4:44” Album Review

Hello, I’m MusiCommentator, and I know I posted only a couple days ago, but I planned on putting these two posts close to one another anyways.  You shouldn’t complain about that though, because you get to hear more of my opinions, and who doesn’t love that?

So, after about four years, JAY Z has finally released a new album titled “4:44”.  Born Shawn Carter, JAY Z is a Brooklyn rapper who gained fame in the rap game from his “Reasonable Doubt” mixtape and his “Vol. 1-3” albums.  When Jay gained enough popularity, he started delving into the world of business, and he now owns a sports bar in New York called “40/40”, co-founded “Roc-A-Fella” Records and pretty much anything that begins with the letters “Roc”, and is founder of the (in)famous music streaming service “Tidal”.

Now, I’m calling Tidal infamous because nobody really likes it.  It’s a paid music streaming service, and in the midst of services like Spotify and Pandora, Tidal doesn’t seem like a really good purchase to most.  However, since JAY Z owns it, he promotes the heck out of it.  This new album, “4:44”, was originally an exclusive on Tidal, and most pretty much thought it was going to stay that way.  Lucky for me, my local radio station played the album in its entirety on its release day and got to listen to the whole thing, but that’s beside the point.  I never thought I was going to that album again.  However, a week later, it came out on iTunes, giving me the ability to scoop it up and listen to it thoroughly enough to give this review.  So, here we go.

Song Synopses:

#1: Kill JAY Z

The first track of the album, this song is basically a conversation with himself about all bad things he is and has done.  Usually, JAY Z is more of a gangsta/thug rapper, but this is definitely a more personal approach to the album.  I personally like this song a lot.  From the Jigga songs I’ve heard, you never really get to hear this side of him.  Throughout the whole album, we see this more personal side of him, but I feel that this is one of the most intimate tracks of the bunch.  With lines like “But you gotta do better, boy, you owe it to Blue/You had no father, you had the armor/But you got a daughter, gotta get softer” and “Cry Jay Z, we know the pain is real/But you can’t heal what you never reveal” how can you not feel some emotions for him.

When I first heard this song, I learned from buzz about the internet that it was supposed to be a direct diss on Kanye West, JAY Z’s longtime friend, so this had me interested.  However, when listening to the song, it is not much of a diss.  The only line about him is “But you got hurt because you did cool by ‘Ye/You gave him 20 million without blinkin’/He gave you 20 minutes on stage, f*** was he thinkin’?/’F*** wrong with everybody?’ is what you sayin’/But if everybody’s crazy, you’re the one that’s insane”, but I wouldn’t call this a diss as much as it adds to the narrative.  There are some other lines that can be twisted to be against Kanye, but it’s still more about JAY Z’s self-deprecating thoughts for his mistakes.  I think people are just overreacting about the entire “diss” part of it.

#2: The Story of OJ

This was the first song to come out with a music video on YouTube before the album was available on iTunes, so this is obviously something JAY Z wanted people to hear.  Aside from the Looney Tune-esque music video, the songs is about how blacks can still be modern-day slaves by not using their money wisely.  Where the mainstream landscape of rap is filled with spending money haphazardly on drugs and strip clubs, I feel that this is a very good point to make.  There are some parts in the song where he adopts a talking flow, but just adds to the rawness of the song.  Also, the Nina Simone sample is a very nice addition.

However, before I move on, I wanted to address some points of controversy, first.  A lot of people were calling the song anti-Semitic because of the lines in the interlude “You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a strip club? Credit/You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America? This how they did it”, and while I get that the stereotype here can be seen as racist, I don’t think it’s trying to be offensive at all.  It’s here to make a point in the song.  Would you prefer a line like “You ever wonder why Jewish people own some of the property in America?”  Plus, according to politicsinn.com, 48% of US Billionaires are Jewish, so they probably do own a significant amount of property.

Also, there was another thing I saw when watching another music review sight.  Someone had asked if white people could actually enjoy this song because it was directed more towards black people.  If anything, I found this more racist than the Jewish line.  Just because black people could relate to the song more doesn’t mean that white people couldn’t enjoy it.  That’s like asking if black people can listen to classical music because it was geared towards whites at the time it was made.  But, I’ve been talking about this song too long and have probably made a few lifelong enemies in these last couple paragraphs, so it’s time to move on.

#3: Smile (feat. Gloria Carter)

Being the longest track on the entire project (probably due to the very lengthy third verse and Gloria Carter’s outro) this song talks about keeping your head up during the bad times.  Many songs take up the task of talking about this subject, but I feel JAY Z does it very uniquely.  Firstly, the vocal choir is a nice addition.  But, it’s the lyrics that make it different from the other “don’t worry be happy” songs out there.  He has a part where he talks about his mother coming out which I think is very cool of him.  Only recently has homosexuality started to become accepted in the rap game with rappers like Young M.A. coming to fame, so I feel that it’s a nice thing that he is accepting his mother’s lesbianism.  Her outro is a bit redundant after listening to it a lot of times, but the whole song is very well-crafted.

#4: Caught Their Eyes (feat. Frank Ocean)

Out of all the songs from this album I’ve talked about so far, this is probably my least favorite.  The flow is fine, and Frank Ocean has a good singing voice as always, but the lyrics are all over the place.  The first verse is talking about his struggles growing up and the second is talking about how Prince’s estate tried to sue him.  The only thing I could think this song is about is his hardships, but there are other songs and parts of songs in this album that talk about this topic so much better that this song is almost nonessential.  If I were to pick one good thing out of it, though, it would be that Mr. Ocean taught me a new word (Solipsism—the theory that only the self exists, or can be proved to exist).

#5: 4:44

Being the title track, this song obviously has some significance.  In an interview, JAY Z even said that he believes this is one of his “greatest songs of all time”, and it’s probably the one everyone has been waiting for.  When Beyonce, JAY Z’s wife, came out with her album “Lemonade” that accused him of cheating, the media went crazy.  This song is pretty much his response to that.  He admits to the adulterous claims and shows guilt for his mistakes, saying the phrase “I apologize” at least 5 times throughout the entire song.  How I said “Kill JAY Z” was one of the most intimate songs in the album, this song is the most intimate one.  You can tell by his voice and raw flow that he is really apologetic for his past actions.  The flow can be a bit annoying at some points due to how choppy it is, but that’s only a small price to pay to get lines like “If I wasn’t a superhero in your face/My heart breaks for the day I have to explain my mistakes/And the mask goes away” and “I apologize for all the stillborns cause I wasn’t present/Your body wouldn’t accept it”.  Like, wow, I never knew they had a stillborn problem.  This just adds to the depth of the relationship.  This song is definitely one of the better cuts on the album.

#6: Family Feud (feat. Beyonce)

Just after talking about his relationship with her, JAY Z brings Beyonce on this track to give some ad libs.  She doesn’t really say much besides “Ha-ya”, “Yeah”, and “Amen”, so I felt her part on the track was kind of useless, since she’s pretty much there as the vocal backing.  The whole song is about JAY Z’s family disputes, as in his personal family and his familial relationship with the rap game.  This is quite an interesting concept, but I think that JAY Z’s execution of it was a bit weak.  The whole first verse is pretty much a throwaway verse because it does not have much to do with the concept the track is supposed to be portraying.  It’s just him bragging about his riches.  The second verse is better because it actually gets into the topics.  Some really thoughtful lines come into play here.  We get “Yeah, I’ll f*** up a good thing if you let me/Let me alone, Becky/A man that don’t take care his family can’t be rich” and “Old n****s never accepted me/New n****s is the reason I stopped drinkin’ Dos Equis/We all lose when the family feuds”.  I feel that these lines, especially the latter one, are the thesis statements for the song.  While this song was not bad, there could have been a lot of changes done to make it better.

#7: Bam (feat. Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley)

While all the other songs before this have taken a more conscious approach, this song scraps that to lay down an egotistical rap.  That does not mean that it is bad.  No, I actually enjoy this song a lot.  Lyrically, it’s closer to the ’90s JAY Z than any of the other songs here are.  If I were to make analogies, this song is to this album as Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.” is to “DAMN.”  Both take a left turn from most of their respective albums’ themes and make a bumping song to get down to.  In “Bam”, I also like Damian Marley’s addition.  Any rap song he is in, or an reggae artist is in for that matter, usually gives the song a nice reggae-rap flare that makes it a unique track to listen to.  The one line that stuck out to me in this song was probably “I was in fight mode and now it’s ‘f*** me, mijo'”, mainly because the way JAY Z says that quote makes me crack up every time.

#8: Moonlight

In retrospect, this song is probably more like Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.” than “Bam” was because they both tackle the topic of exposing bad rappers and fakers in general.  His singing voice is definitely not Grammy-winning, but I more focus on the lyrics of the song.  He makes a very good point about all of these “real” rappers trolling around the internet trying to be threatening when they really aren’t, which I think is a nice thing to point out.  The blaring problem with this song, though, is that he was talking two songs earlier about how there should not be rap beefs because nobody really wins, but here he is insulting other rappers.  While he does not calling out anybody and I agree with most of the arguments he makes, the hypocrisy is too strong to be ignored.

#9: Marcy Me

In this song, JAY Z talks about his come-up into the rap game and reflects on the days before he became famous worldwide.  While the piano in the background is really soulful/contemplative and JAY Z raps smoothly over it, there is really nothing super special about this song.  It is good, but the lyrics are pretty predictable for the type of song this is.  There is nothing really special that differentiates this song from any other reflective song of this type.  I will say, however, that The-Dream’s outro is very nice, and the harmonization layering on his voice gives him a nice choral effect.

#10: Legacy

This song talks about the future and past of his family and how it shaped him.  In all honesty, I don’t find this song that interesting.  The first verse was just him saying “Look how rich I am!  I going to give all this and then some to my children!”  The second verse is a bit more entertaining due to its subject matter, but it doesn’t make the song that much better.  The beat and chorus also sound like it was taken from the reject pile of the song “Murder to Excellence” Jay did with Kanye.  It would work good as elevator music.  There really isn’t that much I like about this song.  It was a weak ending to the album.

Summary:

This album was quite a departure from JAY Z’s usual style.  Besides “Watch The Throne”, I never bothered to listen to an entire JAY Z album, but I know what he’s about.  He usually spits raps about the thug life or egotistical brag raps about his rich life.  This album was quite different from that.  Jay decided to go with a more intimate approach for this project, rapping on songs that were personal to him but were not so personal for others not to be able to relate.  The beat work on most of the songs of very nice.  I know some complained about all the production being solely handled by No I.D., but I actually thought it was a good idea to let him make the beats.  While I am not usually a fan of a whole album being one type of beat, No I.D. gives enough variety between all the beats to make each one feel like a new experience.  He also did a phenomenal job at picking good vocal samples.  JAY Z’s flow throughout the project was questionable at times, but this was a pretty good album.

If I had to pick a favorite song, it would probably be the first track, “Kill JAY Z”.  The beat has some nice trap influences but still stays unique in its own way.  While I said earlier “4:44” was the most intimate track, I feel like most of his feelings were poured out into “Kill JAY Z”.  It is interesting to see what his own mind thinks about himself.  While my favorite track was the beginning of the album, my least favorite would have to be the ending, “Legacy”.  This song has the only beat on the album I did not preferably like, and the lyrics have no special qualities to make me attracted to them.  If you were to throw away one track on this album, I would recommend this song.

Overall, I would give JAY Z’s “4:44” a 7.5 out of 10.  Do you agree?

Thank you for reading this album review. If you liked this review, make sure to follow my website, like this post, and be sure to check in to read my future reviews.  Also, if you want to see a song or an album reviewed next, tell me in the comments. Until then, keep listening to good music! I know I will.

 

 

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