Over a year has passed by since Beyoncé dropped her critically acclaimed Lemonade and it was the album heard 'round the world. Was what she was saying all true? Did JAY-Z really cheat on Queen Bey? How could he? They're the power couple of the new millennium! Cut to June 30th of this year and you'll find out that the unfortunate answer to that question is yes. Is the entire album a response to Lemonade like everyone was speculating it would be? No, not really. But the title track gives us all the information we need.
"Look, I apologize, often womanize / Took for my child to be born, see through a woman's eyes," he raps on the excellent "4:44". This track is a true standout and it's more listening to Shawn Carter tell us a story versus his JAY-Z persona rapping about designers like Tom Ford. With a sample from Hannah Williams & The Affirmations' "Late Nights and Heartbreak" the song is haunting and gives Jay a vulnerability. You can hear the pain in Carter's voice as he delivers each bar and you begin to feel bad for him. We haven't heard this side of him in a very long time, but it was worth the wait even though it took a terrible life event to happen for us fans to get it.
The full album is solid even though it's only 10 songs long and clocks in just over 35 minutes. Compared to his last album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, from 2013 (four years being the biggest gap without an album in the rapper's history), which was 16 tracks deep and nearly one hour long. However, a "good" rap album doesn't need to be extensive with interludes and skits anymore. 4:44 cuts right to the chase and gives us more than a response to Beyoncé's best album to date.
The former half of the album is where the tracks are the strongest. "Kill Jay Z" is without a hyphen in his name to signify that the old Jay Z is out and the new JAY-Z is in and he's here to tell you some short stories. "The Story of O.J.", a contender for best song on the album, is described by Carter himself as "a song about we as a culture, having a plan, how we're gonna push this forward" and how we can make any of our successes into something much bigger. One of the biggest surprise tracks was "Smile" which he reveals that his mother is gay and raps about it light-heartedly ("Cried tears of joy when you fell in love / Don't matter to me if it's a him or her"). It's amazing to hear this being said, especially from JAY-Z, because hip-hop has always been a genre that was perceived as homophobic. Now that we're in this new millennium, stuff like that doesn't matter to us. It's something that needs to be embraced and celebrated and Jay does just that.
It's nice to get some closure about the whole Lemonade vs. 4:44 situation and we already know that everything worked out in their favor in the end. Who would've thought that both of their albums would be such successes all because of infidelity? No one, probably, but we all had tickets to the show. ★★★★
Key Tracks: "4:44" / "The Story of O.J."
★★★★★ Classic | ★★★★ Great | ★★★ Good | ★★ Fair | ★ Poor