Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Album Review: Jay-Z - 4:44

** and 1/2 out of *****

There is a reason that hip hop lives in the realm of outlandish boasts and braggadocio; everyone wants to be the best, everyone loves a good party and in 2017 everyone wants to share and no one seems to want to think too hard. Jay-Z’s newest release 4:44 is confessional, thought out and personal...yet somehow still feels distant and cold, especially for those not following his every twitter/tabloid rumor or family life.

The Reasonable Doubt hustler could have never envisioned the billionaire CEO who is rhyming on 4:44. After hearing some of the complaints on a song like “The Story of O.J.” the young J would probably comeback super hard on the MC who wants us to connect with him through statements such as:
“Wish I could take it back to the beginnin’/I coulda bought a place in DUMBO before it was even DUMBO/For like 2 million/That same building today is worth 25 million/Guess how I am feelin? Dumbo"
How is someone who is struggling to get by supposed to hear those lines? Is their empathy there, especially via the flat delivery? The track is the most societal thinking song on the album, speaking directly to black people but still gets caught in a woah-is-me void, talking about his investments in fine art as well. Granted hip hop MC’s brag for whole albums, but these are more cold statements of fact that fall flat:
“You 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 is how they did it/Financial freedom my only hope/ Fuck livin’ rich and dying broke”
Along with the personal revelations about his mother on “Smile” (which shows off his amazingly dexterous flow) and the twitter bound title track (which will be dissected for as long as he is married and beyond or until the next scandal) Jay-Z opens up and is happy for his mother and apologetic to this wife, both who contribute vocals to the album.

Surely the therapist (who he also references) is happy that J’s art has addressed his personal life and in 2017 that may count as a huge breakthrough, but those confessions don't always make engaging art or repeated spins on the headphones no matter how cathartic it is for the artist. 

Wealth and business is at the root of this but not in making it rain ways; Prince’s family gets called for selling out in “Caught Their Eyes” but rather than feeling shocking it feels like a business seminar, CEO advice.

Jay’s rhymes never sound tired (except on the thin “Moonlight”) and his dip into reggae on “Bam” with Ziggy Marley along with the breezy half hour plus run time is all commendable. Even greater is the dynamic and rich production in an old school vibe that never feels stale or redundant. No I.D. deserves major recognition as the producer whose musical background and beats are gorgeous from the opening siren and strings on “Kill Jay Z” to the horn drenched closer “Legacy”. 

The album talks directly to black culture about money, family legacy and the next generation while also tackling Jay’s out-in-the-open personal life and while Beyonce’s vocals ring out proud on the title track as she is (literally) backing her man, Lemonade turned her rage into a career defining album while 4:44 never breaks through. We live in a world that where all personal details are explored on social media so perhaps this is the perfect way for Jay-Z to make a record in 2017, but 4:44 will never rank with the legends best efforts.
Support the artist, buy the album and peep some video below:

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