WHY JAY'S 4:44 IS THE MOST IMPORTANT HIP-HOP ALBUM IN YEARS
POSTED JULY 4TH, 2017 | BY MICHAEL J. PAYTON
Hip-hop legend and entrepreneur Shawn “JAY-Z” Carter set the world ablaze on June 30th, 2017 when he released his much anticipated follow-up to his 2013 release Magna Carta Holy Grail. JAY’s new album 4:44 is probably his most deeply personal since The Blueprint in 2001, and certainly his best work since 2003’s The Black Album. But, in my analysis, this is more than just another JAY-Z album; and it’s certainly about more than an apology to Beyonce. Rather, this album is a conversation that needs to be had within the African-American community. Ot may be one of the most important hip-hop albums in the last 10 years.
Its very important to understand, that at this point in his life and career, JAY did not have to make this album. He could have fell back on his familiar tropes that his fans have come to love and expect. But by flipping the script and starting an important conversation about Black masculinity and Black financial freedom, JAY-Z is once again pushing the culture forward as only someone in his position of power and influence can. Songs like “The Story of OJ”, “Moonlight” and “Legacy” speak strongly to the encouragement of African-Americans having economic freedom in the United States, and the importance of building ownership and wealth in the community. “Wanna know what’s more important than throwing away money at a strip club? Credit.” JAY raps. “Wanna know why Jewish people own all the property in America (sic)? Here’s how they did it.”
JAY-Z is the guy that in a single verse, got damn near every brotha in the hood to stop wearing throwback jerseys, and start wearing button ups. He told us to stop drinking Crystal, and the culture followed suit. There’s an argument to be made that he and his wife, Beyonce were very influential in helping to elect the first African-American president - Barack Obama in 2008. Hov is someone who, as the former President admitted - had Mr. Obama’s ear during his time in the Oval Office. Point here is, JAY-Z has a massive amount of influence in hip-hop and Black culture. “Financial freedom our only hope. Fuck livin’ rich and dyin’ broke.” For him to use this platform to start a serious conversation about African-American business and economics should not be taken lightly, or overshadowed by the more gossipy aspects of his personal relationship with his wife. But that aspect of his life cannot be understated as well.
In 4:44, JAY-Z even flirts with feminism, rapping “Took for my daughter to be born to see through a woman’s eyes... I apologize.” As the once reigning champ of hip-hop hypermasculinity, he also unabashedly embraces equality. In the song “Smile” he raps about his mother’s struggles being in the closet and living a double life to protect her family: “Mama had four kids, but she's a lesbian. Had to pretend so long that she's a thespian/Had to hide in the closet, so she medicate. Society shame and the pain was too much to take. Cried tears of joy when you fell in love. Don't matter to me if it's a him or her. I just wanna see you smile through all the hate...” When speaking on matters of infidelity, JAY is uncharacteristically vulnerable, admitting to his insecurities and even crying when thinking about the mistakes he made in his relationship with his wife. In this way, JAY-Z is helping to reshape Black masculinity in the popular culture space; sure the emo rap of guys like Drake and Bryson Tiller currently exists. But an argument can be made that if the one-time cold-hearted, unemotional street hustler named JAY-Z can be open about his emotions, then that may encourage others who come from a similar background as him to be more introspective as well.
Overall, 4:44 is a great moment for hip-hop music and culture. If you’re not truly of this culture, you may not get it. If you have not lived the African-American experience, or understand what it’s like coming from some of the neighborhoods we come from, these might just come across as words to you. You may be intrigued by the juicy gossip of what happened between JAY-Z and Solange in the elevator that fateful evening. You may be curious to know who is the “Becky” that came between Hov and Bey’s marriage. You may think the album is just okay, or don’t really care because you can’t dab, twerk, or get super lit to these records. And that’s cool. But understand, that for those of us who are about moving this culture forward - both hip-hop and Black culture in general - and for those of us who have long looked to JAY-Z as a source of inspiration, and information to succeed in our own lives, to use a JAY-Z quote, “this is bigger than an album.”
Michael J. Payton is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of CSUITEMUSIC.com