Jay-Z is a name that has solidified itself in legends. The man, the myth, and the legend has returned out of almost nowhere, Jay-Z's 4:44 puts life into perspective, on both a personal and grand scale.
Much of the commentary on 4:44 is about the big picture. Several tracks comment on the culture of America and the normalization of black stereotyping. The first blatant call to this is in 'The Story Of O.J.,' which discusses the image of black culture in the wake of the O.J. Simpson trial. The chorus calmly yet knowingly chants, "Light nigga, dark nigga, faux nigga, real nigga / Rich nigga, poor nigga, house nigga, field nigga / Still nigga," commenting that no matter what may separate people within the community, they are all one united front, or at least should be, regardless of how the world looks upon them. 'Family Feud' continues the idea of black culture but instead looks at the divisions within it, specifically within hip-hop.
Backing 'Family Fued' is Jay-Z's wife Beyoncé, whom he has many apologies for in 4:44. The other part of the struggle within 4:44 is about personal battles regarding marriage and being a family, almost directly as a response to Beyoncé's LEMONADE from last year. Title track '4:44' is the one that says it all, really, as Jay-Z apologizing for the times that he was a bad husband and even alludes to the possibility that he cheated on Beyoncé. He directly responds to his wife's song 'Sorry,' which chants "He always got them fucking excuses / I pray to the lord you reveal what his truth is / I left a note in the hallway / By the time you read it, I’ll be far away," to which Jay-Z responds "I suck at love, I think I need a do-over / I will be emotionally available if I invited you over / I stew over what if you over my shit?" Another reference to 'Sorry' highlights a possible overexaggeration from Beyoncé, who sang "Now you want to say you’re sorry / Now you want to call me crying," Jay-Z's response being more innocent than neglectful: "We talked for hours when you were on tour / Please pick up the phone."
Another constant worry Jay-Z addresses in 4:44 is about his children. The song '4:44' again references 'Sorry' when Beyoncé claims "Me and my baby, we gon’ be alright / We gon’ live a good life,” Jay-Z replying with "if my children knew, I don't even know what I would do / If they ain't look at me the same / I would prob'ly die with all the shame." Jay-Z toys with the idea that the couple can only keep their kind demeanors up with their kids for so long on closing track 'Legacy,' which opens up with his daughter asking "Daddy, what's a will?" The song has a wider focus on the legacy of the Carter namesake, and just what can become of it as he puts his thoughts of to his kids in the song.
Stylistically, 4:44 really isn't too special, especially on the instrumental side of things. The messages are strong and well said, but if the backing music isn't strong enough to support it, than there's some legitimacy lost. Opening track 'Kill Jay Z' slams Kanye West while also has Jay-Z overcoming his ego, but the chill instrumental and beat doesn't really support the angered message. By the time 'Caught Their Eyes' comes around, the instrumental idea has already been spent, even with Frank Ocean crooning over the track. 'Marcy Me' rolls around with an instrumental that just doesn't sound fleshed out or even mixed properly (perhaps to go along with its reminiscent message, but it just doesn't work as well as it could).
Jay-Z's 4:44 puts life into perspective and tries to atone for his wrongdoings in both an effective yet weak way. The messages are powerful and come off in a classic Jay-Z urgency, but the instrumentals just sound flat. 4:44 has depth, but not sonically. It's messages, however, are bound to resonate for a long time to come.
Favorite Track: 4:44
Least Favorite Track: Marcy Me
Rating: 74 / 100