In 2013, Jay Z released a very subpar hip hop album that made it seem like he had run his course as a rapper. He was clearly out of things to talk about and at this point, it seemed like the man was going to have to retire his status as a rap legend. Thankfully, all of the skeptics were wrong. Four years later, Jay Z released 4:44, an album that shows extreme growth and maturity from an unexpected source. This isn’t the first mature rap album, Jay’s biggest rival from his early days Nas released one a few years ago, but this one is very important. Let’s start with the song Story Of OJ.
This song has a lot going on in it, but most of what it does is gives advice to the younger generation of African Americans in America, specifically financial advice. Yes, Jay Z is giving intelligent financial advice. Yes, a man who has been famous for a good portion of his career for bragging about reckless spending has a lyric in this song about how dumb the younger generation looks flexing their stacks on Instagram. Jay Z’s advice is to invest your money wisely and skip the strip club to build up credit. Amazing! There’s also this great moment at the beginning of the song where Jay responds to OJ’s “I’m not black I’m OJ!” comment with a sarcastic “…okay”, right after detailing how your color and class don’t matter, if you’re black, you’re black.
Another highlight from the album is the song Moonlight, which also gives advice to the younger hip hop generation, but this one is more like a diss track. The title and chorus are in reference to the most recent Academy Awards where La La Land was announced as best picture only for them to find out that Faye Dunaway had read the wrong card and Moonlight had in fact won, inspiring the clever “we stuck in La La Land, even when we win we gon’ lose”. He starts the first verse off in what sounds like is going to be a parody of current rap music’s obsession with “screwing your chick”, drops that bit, and goes in on the current state of hip hop. He calls all these guys “glorified seat fillers” and tells them showing off gang activity online is only giving the police information. As someone who’s very against the mumble rap trend, this song is a breath of fresh air, and is more on topic than Jay Z’s previous DOA (Death Of Autotune) which was basically just another bragging track for Jay Z and not the diss track the title promised it would be.
The part of the album that shows the biggest growth from Jay Z is in the song Smile, where he accepts his mother’s sexual identity and tells her he’s happy she fell in love with someone, no matter the gender of her partner. While this sounds like praising someone for basic human decency, this still feels like a big step forward for the genre as a whole. Hip hop (and Jay Z’s own discography) has been famous for it’s blatant almost normalized homophobia, to the point where lots of people stray away from it for that very reason. Jay Z would have NEVER released something like this 15 years ago, and that’s why this is so important. Hopefully, hip hop will lose it’s homophobic stereotype, and for now, I’m happy to call this progress.
One song that should probably be mentioned (it’s probably the one everyone ran to when the album came out) is the title track, the one where he apologizes to Beyonce. It’s definitely a well thought out, in depth apology where he talks about all of the regrets he’s had throughout their marriage, and is certainly worth a listen if you’ve spent any time invested in the drama. Before I finish, there’s a couple more songs I’d like to mention and they are Bam and Caught Their Eyes. These have my two favorite features on the album (you can never go wrong with Frank Ocean) and Bam is a much more lighthearted break from the heavier topics on the rest of the album.
Overall, 4:44 is a huge step forward for Jay Z, and a great album in general. It’s got that old school hip hop vibe mixed with updated values and ideals. Hopefully, Jay Z has the same kind of influence he had back in the 90s/ early 2000s because this “mature rap” is something I’d love to see trending!(9 / 10)