On June 30th 2017, the rapper known as Jay-Z exclusively released his thirteenth studio album, “4:44” on his streaming service, Tidal. The actual disc was released a week later on July 7th and featured three bonus songs, all of which were initially unavailable elsewhere. However, at the time of writing the songs are now available for streaming online. Production duties were handled by a fellow known only as “No ID” who appeared on fellow rapper Common’s earlier albums, before linking back up with him in later years. For the sake of simplicity, here’s a run down of the original 10 songs that Jay-Z presented to his listeners:
Kill Jay-Z: Quite a confessional opener, which features Shawn Carter having an inner dialogue with his alter ego, Jay-Z, who’s clearly caused him a lot of trouble over time. He now wants to dedicate his life to his daughter, Blue Carter and any other future children. He admits his infidelity, stating he “almost went Eric Benét.” Now that we’re in 2017, that reference seems like it’s arrived too late and was included for mere shock value. Apart from that, not a bad opener.
The Story Of OJ: Jay-Z sounds tired on this one. Yawn. No, seriously he was obviously making a huge statement, i.e. Black people are still seen as inferior by society, regardless of how successful they become. Come to think of it, there are several different layers to this Nina Simone-sampling tune: It doesn’t just feature a slight at OJ Simpson both in its cartoon-based video and opening verse, it’s also about Jay-Z regretting certain things in his life, such as not buying any properties and then discovering they had later doubled in value. Let’s also bear in mind the fact that he’s a rapper, he knew he was going to be causing some controversy, especially when he made the video.
Smile (Featuring Gloria Carter): Jay-Z reminisces on riding around in Bentleys and sipping on Cristal champagne over this Stevie Wonder sampling tune. Suddenly, he admits that his mother was a lesbian with four children who had to always hide in the closet and pretend that she liked men. Now that he’s grown, he says that he doesn’t care who his mother ends up with, as long as she is happy. And that’s the way it should be. It concludes with a spoken word piece from the lady herself. Hence, the “Love’s In Need” sample fits perfectly, even though it was all that this amateur album reviewer could initially focus on.
Caught Their Eyes (Featuring Frank Ocean): Somebody was in a bit of a Nina Simone mood when this album was being made, because, here she is again. This time it’s a reggae song of hers being that’s sampled called “Baltimore.” Frank Ocean sounds pretty cool on this one, sing-rapping the hook. Jay-Z made an exclusive deal with Prince on his streaming service, Tidal, before he passed away and the second verse makes mention of this. Though, he’s also smacking down Prince’s lawyer and his estate, stating that they are only looking to profit from Prince’s death, after he stood up for his rights and wrote “Slave” on his face. Ouch!
4:44: Another confessional one from Jay-Z, in which he apologises for his infidelity and to all of the women in the past that he’s hurt. The original sample featured in this song was only released in 2016 and it was performed by a group called Hannah Wilson & The Affirmations. Not going to lie, as tight as the beat is and as great as the other vocalist, Kim Burrell sounds, the way it was chopped up makes for a very annoying listen! Seeking out the original is highly suggested.
Family Feud (Featuring Beyonce): Sounds like Jay-Z is just free-styling a whole bunch of stuff that doesn’t really go anywhere, while in the process stating he’s not as rich as Steve Harvey, host of the American “Family Feud” and asking how Al Sharpton or Bill Cosby are supposed to help him. Good question. Interestingly, it’s a Gospel song that has been chosen as the backdrop for this one, whose title is Hebrew for “life.” Beyonce doesn’t seem to come in till right at the end.
Bam (Featuring Damian Marley): “Dreadlocks can’t live in a Tenement Yard.” That was what Jr Gong was referencing here, the old Jacob Miller and Inner Circle song. He says that he was “free-styling a whole bunch of garbage” and then it was edited together. The other song that plays in the background, in its sped up form, is “BAM BAM” by Sister Nancy. Jr Gong references this one, too. In the first song on this album, Jay-Z was killing himself off, but this time he’s saying, “Fuck Shawn Carter.” Who ever said these rappers didn’t have issues? But let’s not lie here, THIS IS DA BOMB!!
Moonlight: Jay-Z starts this one off by informing us that he has a “little cold.” Though it doesn’t really sound that way until he finally starts rapping. He also uses the very annoying catchphrase, “Cool story,” which always makes you wanna slap the idiot who says it. Apart from that, he’s telling folks to stop walking around acting like they made Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” He finds the robbing of artist’s masters to be backwards. Indeed. This time, they’ve used a sample of “Fugee-La” by the Fugees, which most likely explains the reference to Lauryn Hill. Why all the expletives, though? Oh, that’s right he’s a rapper, he F bombs. Don’t fuckin swear, J-Z.
Marcy Me: This next one takes its tempo from a Portuguese song by a band called Quarteto 1126. Most likely just another free-style in which he seemingly compares his wife, Beyonce to Lisa Bonet. It also appears to be another one where he’s reminiscing, not really saying much of anything. A singer by the name of The Dream comes in and lays down a few nice vocals towards the end.
Legacy: Jay-Z’s daughter begins this one, asking him what a will is. Following on from there is a chopped up sample of “Someday We’ll All Be Free” by Donny Hathaway. It’s another one of those personal songs where he’s looking back on his life and realising that his parents never had anything, how he hated religion because his father always lead a sinful life despite preaching God’s word on Sunday’s. And of course, he’s talking about sharing his money with his nephews, nieces and cousins.
Verdict: Overall, it’s not a bad effort, nothing exactly too earth-shattering. Furthermore, the physical product is disappointingly bare bones, stating: “This is his 13th studio album” on the front cover, followed by its title, “4:44.” Unfortunately nothing is featured on the back cover, not even a track listing and the booklet has nothing in it other than pictures of airports and buildings. So, unless you want to see that, or you’d rather experience music properly, as opposed to listening to it on your computer or other electronic device, then you’re better off just downloading it. At the end of the day, though, this is just my opinion.