A track by track review of 4:44
There’s a rule about actors that they act like portals into the era that they were at the their most famous. In a lot of ways this is true of musicians too. A lot of artist have their day and successfully or not, stick the the formula. Method Man can come out with a track that sounds like it’s from the height of the Wu Tang Clan era and it works. Other people have their day and spend the rest of their careers scraping the bottom of the same barrel. Jay Z, on the other hand, has remained fresh for a lot longer than most. He updates his sound regularly enough that he’s managed to be a consistent presence in the scene.
Pre and post-Kanye Jay Z aren’t the only major changes in his sound. 4:44 doesn’t quite see the same changes in style but this is far from a bad thing. Jay Z and New York hip hop go hand in hand. First and foremost, 4:44 sounds like a quintessential New York record. The album opens on ‘Kill Jay Z’, which as teased a couple of days back. The song is one of the strongest points of the album, channeling the moodiness of his more recent work through the lyrics against a hard beat that sounds more like Classic Jay Z.
Jay Z doesn’t avoid the ‘Becky’ controversy
4:44 opens with a moody collection of tracks. ‘Kill Jay Z’, ‘The Story Of O’J’ and ‘Smile’ come with a heavy vibe before opening up on ‘Caught Their Eyes’ with Frank Ocean. The rest of the album takes its cues from that track but do it a lot better. The song sounds a lot like a Frank Ocean track but barely makes any use of having him on it. The energy comes together by the title track. ‘4:44’ sees Jay Z bring out the soul music samples against old skool drums. That theme carries through to ‘Family Feud’ where Hov deals with the rumors of his infidelity. The beat comes off with the confidence you’d expect from Jay a the top of his game. The lyrics betray him though.
Yeah, I’ll fuck up a good thing if you let me
Let me alone, Becky
A lot of the apologising seems transparently fake and he spends as much time talking about how it’s not worth fighting over as he does apologising. He throws a lot of blame at the woman he cheated with considering he’s the one with the wife. It seems to have been enough for Beyoncé though who features in background vocals on the track.
‘Bam’ brings out Damien Marley and stands as a decent interlude in the album, not that the 35 minute album needs one. Hov steps back and lets Marley take over a reggae style track with a few cues that keep it stylistically like the rest of 4:44. ‘Moonlight’ follows as the first of the last three tracks on the album. The title and lyrics make it clear what the focus of the song is. An attack on the falsity of Hollywood and most rappers. He calls out every rapper posing in a video with a gun they haven’t used. It’s the closest Hov gets to ripping on the current generation of hip hop. He follows it up with ‘Marcy Me’, a track about where he came from. Not only about him, the song looks back on the world he came up in.
There are as many versions of Jay Z as there are fans of Jay Z. 4:44 brings together all of them. The OG, the businessman, the Illuminati figure. More than anything it’s Jay Z as a rapper and producer.