Living in the shadow feels like the safe place to be. No harm for them, no harm for me but life is short, and it’s time to be free. Love who you love, because life isn’t guaranteed, smile. -Gloria Carter (Sing)
For Jay-Z, life in the shadows has only gotten him so far. While It has been four years since Jay-Z released his previous project “Magna Carta Holy Grail” he has been able to maintain a spot in the elite of the hip-hop industry through new business ventures and featured verses. In addition, parts of his personal struggle began to unravel in the public eye.
It started with the infamous elevator incident in 2014 at The Standard High Line hotel, but as time moved forward the world would start to realize that Jay-Z’s elite status was more human than we may have thought. It was already evident that he was trying to navigate through his current life from his earlier days in Marcy projects, but that journey would create new internal battles that would eventually pour into the public eye through news developments or his wife Beyonce’s album “Lemonade.”
Jay-Z could have lived by the first couple of bars his mother says at the end of “Smile.” He didn’t have to drop another album now that he has dynamic artists like J. Cole, Rihanna, and DJ Khaled flourishing under his label, Roc Nation, as well as festivals like Made In America selling out every single year. Jay-Z could’ve just remained in the shadows and let the money speak for itself.
However, when Sean Carter announced his album 4:44 would release June 30, those questions would arise once again through the idea of asking what Jay would talk about. What we ended up getting is a project that many people didn’t see coming. With “The Story of OJ” already getting attention for its video using images recalling racist cartoons from the 1900’s cartoons Jay’s first single alone was a foreshadowing of what was to come.
But with each it seems like this album means more to Black people than it means the hip hop community or Jay himself.
Although 4:44 is brief compared to Jay-Z’s other projects, there were several elephants in the room that he didn’t leave out. The first had to be conflicts with other rappers in the game. Hov is not the type to get into IG beef with Soundcloud rapper, he has conflicts with politicians, companies and superstars.
He uses a story about Prince to talk about ruthlessness of the record industry and its effects in “Caught Their Eyes,” shows his disdain for Bill Cosby and older Black culture figures for their lack of support on the track “Family Feud” and apologizes to Beyonce. Jay made sure he left no victims unscathed on this album.
Each beat has a roaring type of feel with samples of classic songs from Stevie Wonder, The Fugees, and Sister Nancy. The album has that classic 2000’s New York appeal, yet with a modern twist with Damian Marley, Beyonce and Frank Ocean also adding their spin to the album.
“4:44” reveals Jay’s private life behind the shadows that he’s maneuvered through these past few years. If the Brooklyn mogul never released any more music after “4:44,” we could at least walk away with one thing in mind: This is the most personal Jay-Z album possibly ever.