I’ve always had an affinity for words, books, writing, etc. I guess I’m a logophile. Naturally as a fan of rap, lyricists and great story tellers have a special space in my heart. I will never forget the day I was forced to listen to Reasonable Doubt because that’s what my older brother was listening to at the time. I was ten years old. After having to thumb through a dictionary a third time to understand a particular lyric, I was hooked. I stole every one of my brother’s Jay-Z CD’s (and lied every God damned time). I grew up intently listening to the stories you told through rap and felt charged with the task of continuing to sharpen my vocabulary. I wasn’t necessarily able to relate to situations you described, but I was able to empathize and find inspiration to apply to my own life.
Every time I listen to 4:44 a new thought, viewpoint or emotion is evoked within me that wasn’t present the time before. I could spend hours decoding and debating lyrics (I’ve done it among friends twice now). There’s already several ‘Best 4:44 Lyrics’ lists floating around. But, the one that grabbed my attention on my first listen, of the first track, seems to be left off all those lists.
What’s up Jay-Z? You know you owe the truth
To all the youth that fell in love with Jay-Z
That spoke volumes to me. I knew shit was about to get real, listening to Kill Jay-Z for the first time, but I most certainly was not prepared for what lied ahead. My experience with things discussed throughout 4:44 are vastly different from the subject matter on any other album you’ve released.
As a devoted fan of both you and Beyonce, I anticipated your response to Lemonade. I wasn’t expecting to hear discussion of therapy, sexual abuse within the family, changing the narrative of fatherlessness, homosexuality and shame, frank confessions of mistakes made during your relationship with Beyonce, and how it all affected your family. Majority of black youth that grew up listening to you can relate, know that these are things not widely discussed, and has had their lives altered in some form or fashion by at least one, if not all, of the details you divulged about your own life. I initially got angry with you and every other man I knew that could’ve prevented a situation from escalating by simply accepting responsibility for their actions. Albeit, somewhere along the way, Jay-Z was no longer part of the equation and anger turned into admiration. I heard a self-assured, self-reflective Black man sharing his journey to maturation. The sincerity in your apology to your wife and women in your past was healing for me. I accepted that as my own apology from a man that likely will never extend one to me on his own accord.
Personally, as a fan of the culture, this album is exactly what the current state of hip hop needed, and no one realized it was even missing in the first place. You not only recognize the magnitude of your platform, but understand and welcome the responsibility that comes with the territory. Your candid transparency coupled with a keen sense of your core audience is what makes 4:44 such a genius album.
Appreciation and a great deal of respect hardly scratch the surface of what it means to me to witness a Black man in America, with a platform, be so open about his life. Charlamagne Tha God comes in close second. His book is amazing, by the way. 4:44 reaffirmed why I will always be a fan.
Thank you for this body of work.