Personally, I was always under the impression that Jay Z was beginning to become kind of overrated, especially in the past couple years. Regardless, I am utterly floored by this album. This endeavour is arguably Jay at his most intimate, honest and unashamed. The thing that instantly swept me off my feet with 4:44 was the ear-grabbing almost skeletal production, sole courtesy of No I.D – the producer Jay Z collaborated with on the album. I found it interesting that there was only one producer on this album, but I think it added to the cohesiveness and focus in sound and tone. I loved the use of the chopped soul vocal samples smattered throughout the record, a highlight for me being the Nina Simone sample on ‘The Story of OJ’, a song detailing the realities of identity for black America.
In the opener ‘Kill’, Jay Z perfectly sets the scene thematically for the majority of this album. Here, Jay effectively aims to destroy his ego, drag it through the dirt and bury it way under the ground. It lets you know that everything from here on out is going to be raw and truthful, almost a stark contrast to the ‘Big Pimpin’’ Jay Z personality. This idea is continued especially in the title track ‘4:44’, that serves as a response and sincere apology to his infidelity against Beyoncé. Despite this, there is some familiar territory explored here. Notably the track ‘Bam’, which features Damien Marley, in which Jay Z reflects on the importance of his ego and drive with regards to what he’s achieved in the industry. However, I don’t think this took away from the ultimate ethos of the album.
I love how Jay Z discusses his family on this album. My favourite exploration of this is in the closing song, ‘Legacy’. Aside from the awesome production, the song gives off the vibe of being an ode to the Carter dynasty, and despite Jay Z’s mistakes that in the eyes of some, disrespected the name, he acknowledges the importance that his current “will” and legacy is going have on the future families within Carter lineage. This album has the feeling of Jay tying up his loose strings, almost like a career curtain call but without the definite finality. The groundwork of this album is solid, but the merit for this project isn’t in the fundamentals but rather in its humanity.
Words by Sophie Minissale
This review first appeared in print volume 88 edition 6 BLUE