Jay-Z resurrects on "4:44"

The legend’s latest work makes amends with the past


Album: "4:44"

Artist: Jay-Z

Label: Roc-Nation

Release: June 30

Grade: A-

Jay-Z plots against his own life and succeeds on his latest album "4:44."

The old Jay-Z is no more on the album as the rapper picks apart and evaluates the last couple of years.

In 2013, a year after the birth of Blue Ivy Carter, Jay dropped the forgettable Magna Carta Holy Grail hoping to remind the youngsters he never left. The following year, neo-soul queen Solange tears into himin an elevator over a certain "becky" he’s involved with.

Whereas his daughter’s birth is a high, the events that follow are lows.

On "4:44," Jay acknowledges his failures, deconstructs them and builds an introspective narrative in a little over 30 minutes.

As impressive as this is for a rapper at 47, this is the same man who released The Black Album and American Gangster. Jay raps solely over producer No I.D.’s proper beats on the album and seems to have his family first throughout.

All in all, "4:44" is about contemplating the past and reconstructing a better future for Jay, something he quickly proves.

On "4:44"’s opener “Kill Jay-Z,” the rapper somberly rhymes over a grim yet colorful beat. He mentions not only his marriage troubles (“You egged Solange on, knowing all along all you had to say you was wrong”) but also Kanye West’s rant against him last year.

It’s a huge leap from his Watch The Throne days with West and shows the rapper taking large steps with revelations on the album.

On “Smile,” Hov opens up even further, revealing his mother Gloria is a lesbian after years of rumors. Over a sample of Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s In Need Of Love Today,” the rapper reveals he struggled to accept his mother’s identity until he began embracing her love.

He gives his mother Gloria a necessary platform, as well, in an outro that preaches “life is short, and it’s time to be free.”

Elsewhere, Jay plays smart on tracks like “Story of O.J,” flexing his wordplay with bars about “financial freedom.” Although his braggadocio-laden rhymes still present his high class status, he also speaks of the advantage he has in providing his wealth to his children.

Other cuts like “Caught Their Eyes,” featuring Frank Ocean, have similar goals in mind.

The rapper recalls Prince, whose exclusive deal with Jay’s Tidal ended when his music became available across streaming services this year. He comes directly at those controlling Prince’s estate and raps “they only see green from them purple eyes.”

The rapper continues, asking “this guy had ‘slave’ on his face, you think he wanted the masters with his masters?” Here, Hov preaches about the importance of black ownership and criticizes those that hope to dead it.

Elsewhere, on "4:44"’s title track, the rapper pens an apology to Beyoncé for cheating on her. Jay opens his heart and mind on the song, asking himself what his children would think of him.

The rapper wrote the track in the early morning hours, according to an interview with iHeart Radio, and it shows through a stream of genuine thoughts and concerns.

"4:44" continues with a string of loaded song constructs and premier instrumentals with “Family Feud” as well as “Bam.”

On “Family Feud,” Jay rides alongside his wife Beyoncé with a slam of angelic vocals and light trap drums. Jay is in true witty form, rapping “ain’t no such thing as an ugly billionaire, I’m cute” and referencing Rev. Al Sharpton’s recent uptick in selfies.

“Bam” is a certified jam, featuring Damian Marley and sampling the sweet vibrations of Sister Nancy’s classic “Bam Bam.” The song has seen its share of flips over the years but this version is tastefully remade, furthering No I.D.’s reign on the album.

On cuts like “Moonlight,” cleverness is key for Jay with a hook referring to this year’s Oscars. “We stuck in La La Land,” the rapper half-sings, “even when we win, we gon’ lose.” He offers a hot-take on the rap game, drilling listeners with wordplay and emitting his status as a respected act.

After the rapper’s love letter to his former projects on “Marcy Me,” "4:44" concludes with “Legacy,” a worthy track to ring things out.

Blue Ivy opens the song, asking “Daddy, what’s a will?” and Jay continues with a rhythmic explanation to his daughter. As the rest of the album bleeds with the breadth of “black excellency,” Jay hopes for the same from his daughter over the soulful beat.

Jay speaks a ton about his past on "4:44" and here his inspection of the future marks him as a hip-hop time traveler.

As Jay states on the album, “'The more I reveal me, the more they afraid of the real me, Welcome back, Carter.”

Welcome back, Shawn Carter, indeed.

Benjamin Blanchet is a senior arts editor and can be reached at benjamin.blanchet@ubspectrum.com