Within an hour of Jay-Z’s 4:44 dropping on TIDAL, people were already calling the album “Jay’s Lemonade.” This was inevitable, as some tracks appear to be his most confessional songs to date. For example, “4:44” — arguably the strongest track on the album and one of the best he’s ever written — details in brutally honest lyrics any shortcomings in his relationships with his wife, children, and himself. Ultimately, this album tells the story of how Jay-Z’s failures became his comeback.
But to say this album is solely about infidelity or responding to Lemonade would be a gross oversimplification; it’s about a lifelong rumination on personal failure in regards to love, parenthood, friendship, monetary success, artistry, and racial progression. With the help of producer No I.D., Jay-Z was able to perfectly capture this mixture of vulnerability and power.
It took almost four years exactly for Jay-Z to follow up Magna Carta… Holy Grail — a drought that led many to accuse the rapper of falling out of the game. In addition to taking a hiatus from music, Jay’s career suffered an inevitable dragging when Beyoncé’s Lemonade dropped last year. Since then, it’s fair to say that the public has been more concerned with the Carters’ relationship than their music. One might have forgotten Jay-Z’s name in music the past four years, thus giving listeners plenty of time to learn a few new ones.
Throughout the album, Jay addresses this new generation of rappers who have seemingly ‘replaced’ him. This occurs most notably in “Family Feud” where he pleads with the two groups to stop tearing each other down by saying, “We all lose when the family feuds.” He confronts the differences between his lifestyle and that of the new generation in “Bam,” where you hear him say, “Y’all be talkin’ crazy under them IG pictures / So when you get to hell you tell ‘em Blanco sent you / I can’t take no threats, I got a set of twins.”
Another important shift in Jay’s life since his 2013 studio album is the dissolution of his relationship with Kanye West. He partially blames himself for this, which you can find in 4:44’s intro “Kill Jay-Z” when he says, “You got hurt because you did cool by ‘Ye / You gave him 20 million without blinking / he gave you 20 minutes on stage.” Jay also blames the end of this friendship on his own ego and lifestyle in this track, and explains that he is too old for Kanye’s petty games. The 4:44 singer takes jabs at West throughout other songs on the album as well, such as in “Caught Their Eyes,” where he references Kanye’s hit “Ni**as in Paris.”
The flow of this album allows Jay-Z moments of self-critique and opportunities to indulge his egotistical persona. If “Kill Jay Z” is his self-destruction, then the rest of the album is his rebirth. He rewrites his own history through a lens of self-awareness by referencing many old lines and tackling them in a new way — almost as if he’s writing footnotes for his previous self. This new Jay-Z is vulnerable when it comes to his loved ones, but assertive when it comes to racial injustice. He is not ignorant, self-important, arrogant, or in denial, and that is the beauty of this album. It’s the story we’ve been waiting to hear from him all along, but he only just found the courage to tell.
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How Jay-Z’s Failures Became His Comeback: Image courtesy of REX/Shutterstock