Jay-Z: 4:44

Saying a new Jay-Z album is highly anticipated after going twenty years strong is kind of redundant at this point. Unless of course there’s something different about this particular album. What could Jay possibly do to increase the level of anticipation? Or at least generate the buzz that he’s so used to, I mean shouldn’t the game have passed him by by now? Leave it to Jay to find a way to remain relevant, and drop a jewel for the grownups.

This time around his new album is a little different.  He found a way to combine his lyrical ability and business sense, sonically reuniting with one of the all-time great hip-hop producers. Topping it off with a cartoon video for a track from the album, in which Jay is depicted as a 1920’s blaxploitation version of himself in “The Story of O.J.” Seems like just another day at the office for Jay, giving us our fix, and leaving us amazed yet again with 4:44.

The R&B Singer K. Michelle tweeted: “Thank God the heavens heard our cry. We get to listen to some REAL RAP LYRICS. Good music do[es] something to me.”

Jay has always been the king of double and triple entendres, saying something that has several different interpretations. So when the album’s title and release date was announced using a Sprint/Tidal commercial starring Mahershala Ali, we were all left searching for the significance behind the number 4:44. The theories of how he came up with the numerical value sent the Internet into a frenzy. Only to be let down by the actual reason, that Jay woke up at 4:44 a.m. and recorded the song “4:44.”

The album 4:44 is for mature audiences only. Not because of overly explicit lyrics, but you would have to be a part of a mature crowd to appreciate the subject matter. This isn’t an album you’re going to go to a club to turn up to, that’s not what we want from the 47-year old rapper. . But this project brings out the  introspective and personal Jay-Z that we’ve never heard from before, and this new discovery is  what separates him from the others. This album is full of the grown folks talk. It hints at things he wishes he could change about his relationships, his mistakes, as well as the growth he’s made since. He touched on his friction between he and Kanye, and hopefully Kanye takes heed to the message. Because if for no other reason, “Nobody wins when the family feuds!”

The masterful production of the legendary No I.D, Kanye’s former mentor  sets the tone for what’s sure to be an “Album of the Year” candidate. Joints like “The Story of O.J.,” “Smile,” “Family Feud,” and “Marcy Me” highlight the soulful sound that 4:44 has from front to back. Using samples from the likes of musical royalty Nina Simone and Lauryn Hill, coupled with features from Damian Marley and Frank Ocean, No I.D laid the perfect foundation for Jay to tell his stories.

“At this point in my life, I want to do incredible things with the intention of accomplishing something different and new,” No I.D. told Rolling Stone magazine. “It’s not a pursuit of money; it’s a pursuit of raising the bar in a cultural sense.”

Jay also gave the floor to some other celebrities to tell their stories on the Tidal exclusive Footnotes for “The Story of O.J.” Chris Rock, Michael B. Jordan, Mahershala Ali, Trevor Noah, and Kendrick Lamar among others told their individual horror stories of systemic oppression they’ve experienced and witnessed or have been told about by their parents. “The Story of O.J.” is a song that sheds light on some of the things that have plagued the black community, mainly the people who think that any amount of money can thrust them into white societal acceptance. The Daily Show host, Trevor Noah said: “Success is still in many ways a synonym for white. So once you attach being successful to a black man, there’s a little key that’s been given to you that may give you access to the white world. The key can be taken away, Cosby, Tiger, etc., but at least you have a key for the time being.”

This is a false hope that’s been sold to many black athletes and entertainers forever, plenty of them have bought into believing it. To a point where O.J. Simpson is famously quoted as having said, “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” Jay-Z uses this quote to  kick off his verse, and responds with a pause and a sarcastic “OK!” The hook takes it a step further with:

“Light nigga/dark nigga, faux nigga/ real nigga/Rich nigga/po’ nigga/house nigga/ field nigga/Still ‘Nigga”

Then Jay proceeds to school us on some of the things we have to do differently, like buying things with value that appreciates over time. “

“Financial freedom our only hope!”

Remember when I mentioned how personal this album was? Well look no further than track number 3, “Smile.” Jay talks about his mother in a way that even some of his biggest fans have never heard. She even recites a poem at the end that validates what he spoke on in the song about his mother living her life hiding her sexuality out of fear. And although for the most part he’s talking some real stuff, we did get a couple glimpses of the cocky Jay as well. Like on “Caught Their Eyes” where he says:

I’ve seen pure admiration become rivals/I’ve been to Paris at least two times/I seen the Eiffel, I seen an eyeful!”

That guy really does brag different now.  4:44 also hit platinum status in less than a week, five days to be exact. After dropping at midnight on June 30th, the album reached platinum certification Wednesday, July 5th. The Recording Industry Association of America changed the way they calculate sales since he dropped Magna Carta Holy Grail in 2013, when Samsung bought one million copies. This would normally mean that it was platinum since it came out. But instead now it’s calculated by the number of times the album was downloaded first. Later, they factor in how many times it was streamed, the streams weren’t accounted for on the Billboard charts until the end of the week which ended on July 6th, according to XXL.

The fan in me wants to tell you that I have a new favorite song off the album every time I listen to it. The unbiased writer in me will just say it’s hard to choose a favorite one. So that’s what we’re going to go with, it’s the safest way of saying this is a great album that I believe will stand the test of time. I can’t choose just one favorite song on the album though. I also can’t tell you the last time I’ve listened to a new album this much, and I can honestly say it’s not because of my fandom, nor my fear that he’d retired without telling us. Ok, maybe a little bit, but not completely. The more you listen to it, the more you pick up on just how much he covers in only ten songs.

So far this year Damn and 4:44 are going toe to toe for album of the year. One of the most fun and controversial parts of the album is Jay poking fun at the Internet appointed Selfie Gawd, Al Sharpton. Which left us all asking just when the hell did Jay finish the project? June 29th? Well, as No I.D said the album was still under construction up to the very last minute. “We did that maybe Monday?” the producer told The New York Times with a laugh. “Maybe Tuesday. I finished it Thursday morning,” while the album was released at midnight Friday.

Even then, the album had other songs set to be released later as bonus tracks. One of the bonus tracks included the incredibly adorable debut of his daughter Blue Ivy rapping. On “Blue Ivy Freestyle/We Family,” Blue gave a 40 second introduction of her skills which warmed the hearts of everyone who heard it. “Everything everything, this my only single thing,” as she’s talking about her family I would assume. This also led to Blue Ivy trending worldwide on Twitter. The other two bonus tracks are “Adnis,” a song dedicated to Jay’s late father, and “ManyFacedGod” which features James Blake.

-Blake Holmes