I’m not part of the hip-hop camp that insists that Jay-Z is the greatest rapper alive. I can never unhear Nas’ “Ether” and I am from the same city as Twista so my standards are just a bit different. But in the same way that I can admit there are better vocalists than Beyoncé and still love her the most, I can also acknowledge that her husband is really good at putting out superb bodies of musical works. With the release of 4:44 last night, he put these skills on display again.
The 10-track project, which includes features from Frank Ocean, Damian Marely, and yes, Beyoncé herself, is both personally and politically motivated. “Family Feud” encourages more unity in hip-hop and encourages Black communities to support their own. In “Smile,” he reveals that his mother came out of the closet as a lesbian and that he’s extremely happy for her. 4:44 is full of powerful moments like this. But the most talked about by far is hearing Jay address the issues of infidelity and disconnection in his marriage.
In the album’s title track, Jay apologized for being emotionally unavailable and immature. And on "Family Feud," he references the infamous "Becky" and tells her to leave him alone because he’ll "fuck up a good thing.” He credits Blue Ivy and the new twins for providing him some clarity on how to be a better husband and father.
4:44 is essentially a follow-up to Lemonade, which would normally excite me. Any opportunity to get into the mind of Bey is a blessing. But that’s not how I felt about that aspect of the album after listening to it. Where Beyoncé ended Lemonade on a high note about redemption, forgiveness, and ending up on the other side of their marital turbulence, 4:44 shows Jay-Z still trying to figure it out. Even if he is reflecting on feelings he had in 2012, when Blue was first born, that would mean Beyoncé bore the burden of his emotional inadequacy for 10 whole years before that.
Even reactions to the album reinforce what feels like an imbalance in their relationship. On Twitter, people are finally taking the claims that Beyoncé made on Lemonade seriously because they have been confirmed by Jay-Z. It’s as if the emotions that she laid forth on her album weren’t enough for us to believe that he could ever have been a trash husband. We still don’t trust Black women. We still don’t empathize with them until Black men give us permission to.
I absolutely love that Jay is doing the very hard work of unpacking his emotional baggage — and in the process, encouraging other Black men to do the same. I can’t thank him enough for that. He is clearly prioritizing his family and envisioning brighter Black futures. However, I hate that Bey had to be on the receiving end of his bullshit for over a decade before he got it together. 4:44 is a phenomenal album. While it has convinced me to sign up for Tidal, it certainly didn’t make me feel good.