His most experimental yet. His most political yet. His most racially charged. The whole album plays gently, like a Hoopty car in a slow cruise in the Marcy projects hood, scared of an ambush by police cars nearby. 4:44 is a mature jazz rap opus unlike his past rap of opulence and crack. Every song sort of has the mood of “Song cry” -weepy background vocals, instruments almost scared of playing, light piano keys, horns that behave, bass that bats gently like Thundercat’s, brass that is scared of being brash. No danceable H to the Izzos. No groovy party bangin Big Pimpins. No fast paced Timbo inspired dirt off your shoulders. Just a lush Jay-Z with a jazzy sound, coupled with some soul, some blues. Every single song is infused with background vocals and solid music samples, ranging from Hannah Williams to Blue Irvy and the Fugees; constant singing, some wailing, some gurgling, some auto-tuning. Then there’s Frank Ocean, Gloria Carter etc. Jay-Z then steers his slow cruise with rhymes which are as subtle as his ride. And it’s tight! He’s a man of mistakes in them, he’s a reflective parent and family man in them, an unfaithful husband in them and an apologetic man to Beyoncé in them. But in some songs, he quickly morphs into a gun wielding smooth criminal driver and takes diss shots at everybody around him, (reminiscent of that old Jay-Z that walloped Mobb Deep), from 50 to Kanye, to OJ Simpson and even the Oscars.
Em, that Oscar moment, when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly announced the white cast movie, “La La Land” as winner of the Best Picture award, when the black cast movie, “Moonlight” actually won that prestigious Academy. Jay coincidentally dubs a song, “Moonlight” to reflect that and it’s my favourite on the album. He tackles racism in America head on, “He’s talking la la land, even when we win we gon lose”. Then he tackles beefs head on, “stop walkin round like you made Thriller uh…please don’t talk about guns, that you aint never gon use…why just so fucking confused? y’all’s talking la la land.” The “Fu-Gee-la” Lauryn Hill vocal sample playing in the background that aligns with his la la land chant is apt and smart. “Bam” is the only song with a strong reggae feel and mid tempo blaring horns because, well, there’s Damian Marley in there, who sings the hook and kills it. After a brilliant joint album with Nas, he is now the go to guy for raspy reggae-rap joint ventures. In “The story of OJ” Jay uses OJ’s trademark, “I’m not black, I’m OJ” statement to address the realities and truths of being black in America. And he’s also a wise entrepreneur in it, “you wanna know what’s more important than throwin money in a strip club? Credit. You ever wondered why Jewish people own all the property in America? That’s how they did it.” There is the title track, 4:44 which together with its emotionally complex music video deserves…well, a big fat essay on its own. Was that really a video? That was some hyper art visuals with snippets of music! And featuring Akwaeke Emezi!