At midnight EST, Jay-Z dropped his latest album 4:44 amidst one of the better promo runs we’ve seen in a while. Of course, to listen to it you had to either sign up for Sprint and why would you do that or have a subscription to Tidal, which is only slightly less unreasonable than signing up for Sprint in 2017. I’m not the most reasonable chap, so way back in the day I signed up for the Tidal premium subscription and have forgotten to cancel it EVER SINCE LEMONADE DROPPED. Think about that, Lemonade came out in April 2016. For over a year, I’ve been meaning to cancel Tidal and haven’t and it’s only been beneficial TWICE. Nobody will ever accuse me of solid decision making. Either way, armed with beats by veteran super-under-the-radar-top-tier producer, No I.D., Jay decided to give the summer some, one more time. And boy did he. I had no expectations and because of that, Jay reminded me why he’s the GOAT.
Here are 12 thoughts on the album everybody is going to be talking about for the next few weeks, and for good reason.
1. This is the most quotable Jay album since The Black Album. And honestly, I thank Kanye for this. I’m not going to say that Kanye made Jay-Z irrelevant, but ‘Ye has leapfrogged Jay in terms of cultural relevance. A lot of it is due to the fact that Kanye is a self-contained creator. He moves the needle and sound, on purpose, when the mood suits him. He’s a cultural icon because of how frequently he contributes to it. Jay has been on retired Godfather status - where he belongs - for a while now. But Jay is a competitor and you can’t turn off your mind. Jay went in. He stepped it back up to Blueprint days, lyrically. It’s also a lot more socially important than those magnificent misses from Kingdom Come and Magna Carta Holy Grail. Point is, the natural order of the hip-hop world is restored as, again, there is a Jay lyric to fit any situation, the way Hov intended.
2. Good lord, No I.D. The hip-hop head in me thinks that No I.D. was working on an album in the vein of Dilla’s Donuts, which is in my top five favorite hip-hop albums EVER. In that album, Dilla dropped a batch of his production ideas, concoctions that might not have worked super well as soundbeds for rappers but were perfect soundscapes on their own. To me, the production on 4:44 sounds like a bunch of ideas that No I.D. was playing around with. The samples are chopped up superbly; it’s as if he loaded up samples into an MPC and chopped those joint into all 16 pads and went to work. In my head, Jay was talking to him one day and asked what he was working on, heard those beats, and said, “Let me get those, all of them.”
3. I joked after Lemonade dropped that the Carter family was about to murder the game as soon as Jay dropped the companion album, Lemons. Well, it turns out that Jay did decide to give us Lemons, he just called it 4:44, and addressed it all in-depth on the song “4:44”. We can debate whether or not he needed to address Beyonce’s album. I tend to think that he couldn’t NOT address it and he did it in the best way possible, a head on collision with the truth. He even mentions Becky on the album. Obviously we assume Bey heard it and approved of the album before it dropped, but there’s something about hearing him open up and acknowledge how fucked up he was and how much reflection he’s done. It doesn’t make it better, but it’s also THEIR issue and THEIRS to deal with. Jay didn’t owe any of us shit, but since he decided to share, I think he did about as good a job as he could on an album.
4. Motherfucking Frank Ocean (who after not being an artist I gave much of a shit about is probably the artist I listen to more than any other), used the word "solipsistic" on “Caught Their Eyes.” Nigga. Slow clap. Also, you are a lie. You who swears that you didn’t have to look that shit up. I’ve heard the word before. I even knew how to spell it, but I had to look that shit up because I had ZERO clue what it meant using context clues. Again, motherfucking slow clap to Frank Ocean, one of the absolute best phrasers in the game.
5. As a beat head, I fucking LOVE the beats on this album. I’m a sucker for a good sample use and No I.D. murked these samples.In particular, my favorites so far are “The Story of O.J.”, “Caught Their Eyes”, “4:44”, “Family Feud”, “Bam”, “Moonlight”, “Marcy Me”, and let me say a little something about “Legacy”. GOTDAMN. Look, I love Donny Hathaway. I’m a well-documented Donny stan. So if you’re going to sample Donny, to me, you better use it well and shit. It seems like producers don’t really fuck up Donny samples and “Legacy” is another in the line banging ass uses of a Donny sample. As a production head, I appreciate this album for being a nod to straight sampling without focusing on radio friendliness. Thank you, No I.D. and Jay for making an album in 2017 that could have come out in the 90s, the 00s, and obviously sounds good today.
6. Well Jay had something to say about that Prince shit now, didn’t he?
7. This is a grown man ass album, but not in the way of Kingdom Come where it didn’t really connect. Jay’s obviously grown a lot since 2006, and the way he approaches talking about how he’s living is more reflective and relatable now. As he said, he’s giving you a million dollars worth of game for $9.99. And I appreciate that.
8. “Never go Eric Benet” - Jay Z, “Kill Jay Z”. I wonder how Eric Benet feels about the fact that he’s about to be heard around the internet for a very long time now as a reminder how he fucked it up with Halle Berry EVEN THOUGH nobody thinks he fucked it up by losing Halle Berry because of his sex addiction. I think we’re all in agreement that maybe Halle does better solo than in a tandem. But still. Kinda sucks for Eric Benet.
9. I’m only 10 hours into this album but have listened 6 times as of this writing. I’m sure many people are going to love the song “4:44” because of its vulnerability, but good gotdamn does “The Story of O.J.” have so many gems and so much game in it. That song should change the trajectory of the bougie Black people in DC for at least this summer. There’s also something hilarious about how he said, “I’m not Black, I’m OJ!…Okay.” I laugh every time I hear it.
10. It's cool hearing grown man, father rap, that sounds dope. Obviously this man is in love with his children and loves making sure Blue, in particular since the twins are just getting here, gets her due on record.
11. Jay has 13 albums now. I’m saying this is in his top 5. I’m Reasonable Doubt over everything, then Blueprint, then The Black Album. As of right now, I have this as number 4, right before American Gangster. I realize, depending on your personal constitution, that you can flip RD and Blueprint as his best album. But this album is definitely competing.
12. Welcome back to the party, Jay. We’ve missed you even if we didn’t know it.