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ALBUM REVIEW: Jay Z - 4:44

On June 30th, Jay Z bestowed his 13th studio album 4:44 to the masses. This work is a rare and refreshing peek into Sean Carter’s personal life, struggles and motivations - never before has been so vulnerable through his music as he is on 4:44. This album is now currently ranked #1 on the Billboard 200 chart, which is the 14th time that’s happened in his career.

I’ve seen some impartial reviews on the project, but I feel that can be partially attributed to the fact that it doesn’t mimic the trendy production sound of most current hip hop albums. It doesn’t include golden choruses or features with some of the other biggest artists in music; rather, it’s an introspective ride into the mind of one of the best rappers of all time. As a listener, seeing and hearing the evolution of an artist’s craft is extremely valuable to me, and I truly think we’ve seen that in Jay’s discography. 4:44 exemplifies his maturation artistically and personally - now he’s more than a rapper, he’s a father and family man. All the while he doesn’t lose his edgy grit and street sense that has dazzled fans for over twenty-five years. There are only ten songs totaling thirty-five minutes, but the content is dense and requires extrapolating. Below are a few tracks that stood out to me for unique reasons.

Jay kicks off the album with “Kill Jay Z,” a somewhat critical self-reflection in which he compares personal struggles in the past to the brightness of the future with his family. Acknowledging the fact that old habits and perspectives helped him get to where he is today, he also must shed those perspectives to move forward and continue growing personally. “Let go [of] your ego over your right shoulder, the left is saying finish your breakfast,” a line that provokes the age-old image of a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other that try to influence our decisions. This line is powerful to me because it symbolizes the crossroads he’s at between killing off his ego, and worrying about continually proving himself to those outside of his immediate family. In arguably the most powerful song on the album, the title track, Jay Z beautifully expresses his shortcomings to his loving wife (Beyoncé, for those of you that have been living under a rock). Over a strong vocal sample, Hov comes clean about past wrongdoings and praises his wife for holding him to a higher standard. In an interview with Z100 he describes waking up at 4:44 am to write the song, why it’s the name of the album, and why he considers it to be one of the greatest songs he’s ever written. Another track, “Marcy Me,” is a nostalgic portrayal about his younger years and where he grew up. In the line “Live from Bedford Stuyvesant the livest one, representin’ BK to the fullest,” Jay pays homage to fellow Brooklyn legend and late friend Biggie Smalls. The quote comes from Biggie’s song Unbelievable. An incredible element of “Marcy Me” is the fact that he eloquently quotes Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “Lord we may know what we are, but not what we may be.” How many artists, in hip-hop or otherwise, have done that in song?

It’s no surprise 4:44 has incredible production as it was produced entirely by legendary hip-hop producer No I.D. There are plenty of elaborate samples laced throughout this work from a wide range of genres: The Fugees, The Alan Parsons Project, Nina Simone, Sister Nancy and several others. Also included are features by Frank Ocean and Damien Marley. The 4:44 tour, promoted by Live Nation, will kick off at the Made In America Festival in Philadelphia, PA on September 2nd. It will total thirty-seven shows all over the United States, as well as four Canadian provinces. The tour will conclude on December 21st in Inglewood California.

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