4:44 (album review)

The album begins powerfully, with the record “Kill Jay Z,” we are immediately dropped into the mind of a reflective and introspective JAY. He touches on “sins” he has committed over the years, and mistakes that he has nearly made by losing his family, i.e., “don’t be Eric Benet” who did indeed let Halle Barry get away. It almost feels therapeutic, as if we’re listening in on a couch session between JAY, his counselor, and his personal demons.

The piano on track 2, “The Story of O.J.” is intentionally botched. It causes one to wane in and out of focus which is the songs intended purpose. The sample of Nina Simone’s “4 Women” is jarring and feels horror picturesque as JAY emphatically states “still nigger” over and over again. But do not let that distract you from the gems that are being dropped. Let JAY put you up on the game. “You know what’s better than blowing money at a strip club? Credit.” He said it. It’s the truth. Peep game. The album is the roadmap, this is the blueprint. “A million dollars worth of game for $9.99.” So many good lines here. I actually have chills right now. I’m clearly writing this while listening. These are my unedited first listen notes. Shout-out to Chance the Rapper, “Y’all niggas still taking advances, huh? Me and my niggas out here taking real chances.”

Track 3, “Smile,” begins with Stevie Wonder’s bone-chilling song “Love’s in Need of Love Today.” My heart can’t take it! Stevie is so pure that he usually tugs at my heart, this is no different. As a queer woman, it makes me smile to hear JAY support his mother finding love, regardless of gender. “A loss ain’t a loss, it’s a lesson. Appreciate the pain, it’s a blessing.” That was a personal message for me. Not really, but it’s something I try to remind myself of often and can never hear frequently enough, so, I’ll take it.

“Memories may sneak down my cheek, but I can see a side-eye in my sleep.” One thing you can’t knock is the flow. “In Their Eyes,” track 4, has a feature from Frank Ocean that a bit is more melodic and softer, opposed to hard bars. Not my favorite track on the album, but again, another good sample, “Baltimore” by Nina Simone.

“4:44” reminds me of too many breakups, too much pain. JAY reminds me of my brother. Broken hearts again and again. “I said don’t embarrass me instead of be mine.” Listen, the weight of that one line and how it plays out to control in relationships is profound. I love to hear JAY’s growth, gives me hope but breaks my heart to know all the pain that lead to this moment. What doesn’t kill you remakes you; What doesn’t break you reshapes you. It seldom takes two to rip it all apart, but it takes two to sew it back together. “I suck at love, I think I need a do-over.” Word. Kim Burrell’s vocals slaughter the song.

“We all lose when the family feuds.” Double entendre on top of double entendre. Support black business, encourage the youth, don’t be detached from the people you say you’re trying to help, stay away from people who would like to wreck your home and peace you’ve acquired, don’t drink Belvedere when Puff has Ciroc, stop!

“Bam” featuring Damian Marley is basically JAY spitting that gangsta shit to remind you all who the F he is…HOV! “Moonlight” is more or less the same with more food for thought.

“Marcy Me” featuring The-Dream has the feeling of going back home. It’s nice, nostalgic, it made you, you see and remember the people you once looked up to. It’s good to touch the place that shaped you, there is also the knowledge that it could never sustain you now. There is a somberness to the song that streams throughout.

Finally, “Legacy” is a dope way to exit the album. Anytime you have a Donny Hathaway sample let us all pause and pay tribute!

I’m a diehard JAY fan, have been since the age of 11, so for me this is a jewel to add to the current treasure of the catalog.

What are your thoughts? What did you love? What did you dislike? I want to know.

-Ms. Malcolm Hughes


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