by Da CogNegro & Mos Definition
Da CogNegro's Take:
Let's be honest, I have not enjoyed the bulk of a Jay-Z album since 2003. With a failed attempt at "Sophista-Rap"(Kingdom Come), a retreat to worn territory of drug culture glorification in the guise of a concept album ( American Gangster) and two offerings replete with vapid materialism and desperate adulation of self (Blue Print 3 & Magna Carta: Holy Grail) I really was not anticipating another one of his releases. This is not to say that there have not been some enjoyable tracks during the aforementioned period. Nevertheless, the one time trendsetter has simply been following suite as a hollow caricature of himself.
Now it may seem like I'm a Jay-Z hater. On the contrary, Jay has been in my top five for quite sometime. However, he has been on decline on said list. My problem with "Hov" is that I wanted to see him evolve. When it came to "making moves" in the world of business and marketing, he is a unprecedented trailblazer. However, I failed to see those same strides being done in his own work. I wanted Mr. Carter to use his status and influence to create art that could evoke change as well as step outside of his comfort zone.Fortunately, 4:44 gives us that evolution by displaying a vulnerable, introspective, and poignant Jay. Simply put, he has finally released the album that I've been waiting on for the past 14 years!
Right off the bat, Death of Jay- Z has Mr. Carter at his most remorseful. Sure, we have gotten glimpse of this side of Jay on tracks such as Regrets, You Must Love Me and Soon You'll Understand, but never was it put on such full and unflinching display. With lines such as:
What's up, Jay Z? You know you owe the truth
To all the youth that fell in love with Jay Z
it becomes clear that we are in for an offering that we have never experienced before. Sure enough, The Story of OJ has Jay sharing sage advice on how to break the chains of poverty while also highlighting social futility when it comes to the perception of people of color. The sobering message is made that much more effective by the excellent sample of Nina Simone's Four Women.
The opening seconds of Smile reveal that the stellar NO ID attempts to sample one of Stevie Wonder's most iconic tracks: Love's in Need of Love Today! My first thoughts was that this was indeed sacrilegious. But after hearing Jay express unadulterated joy in his mother discovering love, that was once taboo, as well as citing a third verse that truly displays his lyrical dexterity and craftsmanship, all reservations were put at ease.
The Frank Ocean assisted Caught Their Eyes has Jay displaying his signature word play as he crafts tales that range from stone cold killers, who play the role as grievers, down to detailing the nefarious tactics of Londell Mcneil: the attorney of the late Prince
4:44 is the track that is on the tips of everyone's tongue Jay vividly, as well as poetically, details his remorse over his infidelity with a honest maturity and sophistication that is all but lost on modern day hip hop. And at this half way point, we realize, similar with Nas' Life is Good, that should be the natural progression of this genre. This is the evolution of the culture.
Family Feud and Moonlight has Jigga giving cautionary advice to the traps of generational and family division as well as artist falling prey to industry tactics and emulating inauthentic personas that result in their respective downfalls. As a movie enthusiast, I truly appreciate the La La Land reference in Moonlight's hook. Bam is the only misstep on the album as it shows Jay-Z reverting back to his egotistical persona simply to, once again, remind everyone of exactly who he is. I understand the purpose of this track from a narrative perspective, but it's superfluous, to say the least, especially since he is suppose to be convincing us of that he undergoing a metamorphosis of sorts.
Marcy Me is probably his most sentimental ode to his old stomping grounds and Legacy is simply beautiful. I never thought I would refer to a Jigga song as being tender, but Legacy fits that bill.In fact, it would be the perfect track to end a stellar career.
4:44 gives us the "New and improved Jay-Z" that was mentioned in the introduction of his Hard Knock Life Vol. 2 album. Reinvigorated and poised, while still maintaining his signature witticism, this Jay-Z uses the talents of the stellar NO ID successfully and is able to produced a true 4 1/2 mic album!
Now that we have gotten the technical aspects of this review out of the way ,I would be remiss if I didn't share some additional commentary from a sociopolitical/economical stance.
I appreciate the fact that Jay-Z admonishes us to be fiscally responsible and encourages ownership/entrepreneurship. Nevertheless, I can not ignore that he has built a career on being brash and braggadocios as it relates to his material acquisitions which therefore has fueled the need, of some impressionable listeners, to allow their esteem to be predicated on acquiring said items. To quote Lupe Fiasco, "...we teachin' 'em that they ain't sh*t if they ain't got the latest that they saw on someone famous."
In addition, having more of us benefit from capitalism doesn't necessarily put an end to social injustice. Yes, it would be cool to have more than one billionaire, but how does that affect young black men being killed by the police? Perhaps I am being unfair to put that much responsibility on an artist and should be grateful that Jay is addressing one of the scourges that plague our community. But wealth will only solve a portion of the problem. There's a reason that these young artist are duped into industry deals or exhibit destructive behaviors. Let's tackle those issues as well!
Furthermore, none of the gems that Jay is sharing is new. Artist such as Nas, Common, Lupe Fiasco and others have made careers out of empowering the people with cautionary anecdotes and uplifting lyrics. Then again, as long as the message is received by the populace, no?
I'm all for the evolution of the artist and welcome Jay's as long as it is authentic and not a ploy that plays off his wife's most recent release. Whatever the catalyst of his transformation, one thing is for sure, Jay's influence on , not just hip-hop culture but culture period, is clearly evident. For anyone who is myopic enough to believe that artist aren't influential then they are slaves to their own naivety. So kudos to Jay for realizing the responsibility that artist should have when it comes to the people. Let's just hope this proclamation isn't as premature as his retirement announcements- CgN
Mos Definition's Take
Disclaimer, I am a a Jay-Z Stan and CogNegro" wasn't going to let me write this unless I informed our readers... (You're Welcome) Now having said that , HOV took off the blazer ,loosened up the tie, stepped inside the booth and then ...Shawn Carter started rapping.When Jay-Z drops an album, the whole rap world stops and takes notice.This time, it's different though! Gone is the, to borrow a CogNegro criticism, "One percenter" rap of Watch the Throne and Magna Carta that most of his fans can't relate to. In its place, we start to hear him let go of the image he's carried since 1997. What we get with 4:44 is the 2nd Shawn Carter album. We haven't seen him expose so much of himself since Reasonable Doubt Maybe his wife exposed so much of their lives on Lemonade that he was forced to finally let his guard down. Either way, it is welcomed! It's only natural that as his fans grow older and wiser ,his music should as well. The world has changed! The hope and prosperity of the Obama era is gone and the reality of the world we do live in is in this album. Let's not ignore his cockiness though. It's still present on a few tracks to remind all that he's still arguably the best that ever did it!
Final Rating: 4 Stars (See CogNegro, I can be objective)
Sidebar: This is a reminder that Hov snatched the crown back rappers.... step up or step off!!!!