JAY-Z Admits Infidelity & Explains His Issues With Kanye West On His New Album (Audio)
One of the biggest criticisms JAY-Z faced with the release of his 2013 album Magna Carta Holy Grail was that he had lost touch with the people. While Jay had always engaged in a form of aspirational Rap from the days of his “Big Willie talk” on his debut album Reasonable Doubt, he still managed to make both the struggle and the hustle relatable. Seventeen years and $700 million later, however, Jay’s brand of billionaire Rap fell flat to many. Only a select few could relate to talk about a personal Picasso collection and literally being a god.
While the takeaway may have been that Jay was stuck in an ivory tower, with the release of his new album 4:44, he has shown that he is still a mortal man and his ear remains to the street. The album finds JAY-Z peeling back the veneer that has been impenetrable over the years, save for select instances of vulnerability. What’s underneath the varnish is a raw and brutal honesty that, when combined with one of the sharpest tongues in the game, leads to several “be careful what you wish for” moments.
Jay uses words as weapons throughout the album–against detractors, against listeners, against friends and, at times, even against himself. On “Caught Their Eyes,” featuring Frank Ocean, he takes aim at the guardians of Prince’s estate. When the beloved artist died last year, Jay’s TIDAL music service was the only one that featured the Purple One’s catalog. Prince had always been fiercely protective of how his music was consumed online, as he believed the “everything is free” mentality of the web often was fundamentally at odds with the inherent value he placed on his music. Jay positioned himself as a keeper of Prince’s legacy on the remix to Fat Joe and Remy Ma’s “All The Way Up,” where he rapped “Prince left his masters where they safe and sound/We never gonna let the elevator take him down.”
Earlier this year, however, Prince’s estate liberated his catalog, placing it on every music service, including those with free offerings, like Spotify. L. Londell McMillan, the attorney who shepherded Prince’s emancipation from his major label recording agreement in the 1990s, was an adviser for the estate and a chief spokesman regarding the new music service deals. In an interview with Billboard, he acknowledged the deals likely were contrary to what Prince would have wanted, saying “I do want to make clear that if Prince were here, we likely would not be making these deals — but also, Prince would not be needing half the value of his estate [to pay the estate tax bill] right now.”
Jay speaks about the matter head on in the second verse of “Caught Their Eyes,” where he raps “I sat down with Prince, eye to eye/He told me his wishes before he died/Now, Londell McMillan, he must be color blind/They only see green from them purple eyes.” He continues with even more stinging criticisms, as he says “This guy had ‘Slave’ on his face/You think he wanted the masters with his masters?/You greedy bastards sold tickets to walk through his house/I’m surprised you ain’t auction off the casket.”
On “The Story Of O.J.,” Jay turns his attention to fans and critics, offering direct retorts to some of the complaints about his content on Magna Carta Holy Grail. “I bought some artwork for one million/Two years later, that shit worth two million/Few years later, that shit worth eight million/I can’t wait to give this sh*t to my children/Y’all think it’s bougie, I’m like, ‘it’s fine’/But I’m tryin’ to give you a million dollars worth of game for $9.99,” he raps.
On that song and “Moonlight,” he also serves up some tough love to many of today’s generation of rappers. He questions everything from the fake gangster talk to lack of originality to self snitching. “I don’t be on the ‘Gram goin’ ham/Givin’ information to the pork, that’s all spam/Please don’t talk about guns that you ain’t never gon’ use/Y’all always tell on y’all self. I’m just so f*ckin’ confused,” he scoffs. Even when being critical, however, he still seeks to impart words of wisdom with lines like “Y’all ni**as still signin’ deals? Still?/After all they done stole, for real?/After what they done to our Lauryn Hill?/And y’all ni**as is ‘posed to be trill?”
It’s not just fans and foes who catch it on 4:44, though. On “Kill Jay,” Hov has harsh words for his friend Kanye West. As Ye documented on “Big Brother,” the closer to his 2007 album, Graduation, their relationship has been filled with ups and downs. Perhaps one of the lowest points came last year, when Kanye was publicly critical of JAY-Z and Beyonce. During a November concert, Kanye said, for the world to hear, “JAY-Z, call me, bro! You still ain’t calling me. JAY-z, call me…JAY-Z, I know you got killers. Please don’t send them at my head. Just call me. Talk to me like a man!” Kanye also accused Beyonce of rigging the MTV VMAs to win Video of the Year, by threatening not to perform at the show, unless she took home the award. Days later, Kanye was checked into a hospital after suffering what was deemed a mental breakdown.
It is unclear whether Jay ever called Ye, but big brother did send some killer bars at the other member of The Throne on “Kill Jay.” “I know people backstab you, I felt bad too/But this ‘f*ck everybody’ attitude ain’t natural/But you ain’t a Saint, this ain’t KumbaYe/But you got hurt because you did cool by ‘Ye/You gave him 20 million without blinkin’/He gave you 20 minutes on stage, f*ck was he thinkin’?/’F*ck wrong with everybody?’ is what you sayin’/But if everybody’s crazy, you’re the one that’s insane.” With those few lines, Jay addressed not only Kanye’s infamous rant, but his well-documented mental health issues, his claimed financial struggles and his increasing misanthropy.
As pointed as JAY-Z’s words may be towards others on 4:44, he saves his sharpest rebukes for himself. He sets the tone on album opener “Kill Jay,” where he touches on the infidelity exposed last year on Beyonce’s Lemonade album. Long rumored to be Jay’s response to Lemonade, 4:44 delivers on that promise. Going all the way back to his notorious elevator altercation with Solange in 2014, Jay raps “You egged Solange on/Knowin’ all along, all you had to say ‘you was wrong’/You almost went Eric Benét/Let the baddest girl in the world get away/I don’t even know what else to say/Ni**a, never go Eric Benét!”
While Jay’s mention of Eric Benet on “Kill Jay” is a coded reference to the singer’s destroying his marriage with Halle Berry because of infidelity, his message is fully decoded on 4:44‘s title track. With the number 4 long holding significance to Jay and Bey–her birthday is September 4 and his is December 4–it’s no surprise that the song is about the two of them. What is surprising, however, is just how detailed Jay is in documenting his transgressions. Not only does he explicitly acknowledge his unfaithfulness, he also articulates regrets about how they started their relationship, not being there for Beyonce during miscarriages and being generally emotionally unavailable. For a man that has a longstanding reputation of being made of teflon, it is a stunning revelation.
There will undoubtedly be criticisms of 4:44, starting with its exclusivity to TIDAL and Sprint, but, from a lyrical content perspective, it stands as arguably the truest installment of the life and times of Shawn Carter, yet.
#bonusbeat: Here is a video that puts forth a theory as to when Jay’s transformation as a man able to articulate his feelings began.