Every Video From Jay Z’s ‘4:44’ Ranked From Best To Worst
When Jay Z released 4:44 it was a pretty big deal. The first Jay Z album after the story of him cheating on Beyoncé broke, you knew there was going to be something in there about that. Even aside from the drama, Jay Z has always grown through his music, no matter his age, and seeing what an older and more mature Hov brought to the table was worth paying attention to. Jay delivered and brought an album with a strong theme, reflection on Black Culture in America and in the world. The tracks were one thing but he didn’t stop there. Accompanying the album are some great videos keeping that theme alive and making very clear statements about Jay Z and his message.
The Story Of O.J.
This video received the most attention of any from the album and for good reason. The name sets it up as something that it really isn’t, rather than a story about O.J Simpson it’s a tale of Black Americans struggling to overcome prejudice that they never manage, no matter how big they get. Throughout the video, we run a gammut of black stereotypes. All are presented in the cartoon form of early Disney films which were pretty upfront about their racism.
Through the stereotypes we see Jay Z make his way through them with a mournful exasperation that he sees his people trapped in the same circumstances generation after generation. In the old cartoons, white characters would have a lot more time spent on their figure drawing, detailing and animations while black characters would be given just enough attention to keep then consistent with the art style. Taking out any white characters and keeping the black characters the same, amplifies this.
As the title track of the album, ‘4:44′ is one you’d expect to have a dope video and it delivered. The last few years have seen some great historical dramas about slavery and the history of Black Americans. Taking it’s cues from films like ’12 Years A Slave’, ‘4:44’ puts history and the present day next to each other as well as the good and bad. Half of the video is this beautiful and bleak footage of a woman dancing in the trees next to what could be a plantation house, dressed like a slave. Next to her is a man in modern clothing doing the exact same, things haven’t changed that much.
For the rest of the video Jay Z curates a collection of video clips. Worldstar style shots of black crime and violence paint a sad picture, the aggression that seems to hang over people’s heads. On the other hand, the video opens with a child singing ‘Feelin’ Good’ and Eartha Kitt talking about the importance of love. The videos most powerful section sees an emotional Jean Michel Basquiat followed by a robot given the face of a black woman saying it’s having an existential crisis. It cuts into footage of Jay Z on stage with Beyoncé. The track slows down enough to make the video the most important part here.
The video has more than a theme. In eight minutes it packs in enough content that you can unpack it into a Steinbeck level epic. It’s tight, compact and says as much as any video could.
Unsurprisingly, Bob Marley was a huge influence on Jay Z. On ‘Bam’, he brought out Damian Marley for a song that developed that influence into a full blown inspiration. The video takes it a step further with Jay Z joining Damian Marley in his home country. The pair travel around Jamaica and Marley shows Jay Z some important spots. The cultural exchange is an interesting one to see. Jay Z so influenced by Jamaica’s culture and the young people in Jamaica so influenced by him.
One of the earliest teasers for the album came with footage from this video. It’s a shorter piece and much more simple than some of the others but still packs a lot in. The video features Danny Glover and Mahershala Ali as a boxer and his trainer. Ali won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in the film ‘Moonlight’ which served as the inspiration for another track on the album. The heavy blows of Mahershala Ali hitting a punching bag and training against the murky black and white of the video put it somewhere between a high concept perfume ad and a music video.
Kill Jay Z
It’s a testament to the quality of the videos on Jay Z’s latest release that this one comes in last. A great video beaten out by even greater videos. Like ‘Adnis’ the video is a simple concept. In black and white we see a young man run through a street, a desert, swim through water. In each he pushes himself with little context on what he’s running from or to. It stands on its own without a lot of explanation and leaves it to the audience to decide. Is there something worth running to? Is there something worth outrunning?
Watch the videos above and let us know your favorites from the latest Jay Z album 4:44.