How JAY-Z’s New Album Is The Blueprint For Grown Man Rap (Video)
In the last eight days, JAY-Z’s 4:44 monopolized the Hip-Hop conversation and most of the pop culture space. There are a lot of headlines and developing storylines that can easily get in the way of the fact that a 47-year-old-rapper, mogul, and king of cool reached a definitive career milestone, and what is settling down to be one of his best albums, ever.
Making a compelling Hip-Hop album over the age of 45 is one thing. Two years ago, Dr. Dre released Compton after his 50th, while Masta Ace made 2016’s The Falling Season just ahead of his own benchmark birthday. Jay has already achieved this on a new level of mass awareness. However, in contrast to the rest of his catalog, Shawn Corey Carter is opening windows to his soul on 4:44 that were only cracked on Reasonable Doubt, the Life & Times album volumes, the subsequent three Blueprints, The Black Album, and his other LPs.
In this week’s TBD episode, Justin “The Company Man” Hunte examines 4:44 signaling a new time in JAY-Z’s career. “4:44 may not end up as the best album of 2017, but it’s doubtful another album will dominate discussion like it this year. There are too many mini-games, and they’re all too much fun,” he says.
The fun and games, as it were, rose to the top. Maybe Jay used that strategically. This album sparked reactions from Reverend Al Sharpton and Blac Youngsta. The LP spawned Kim Kardashian headlines despite Jay never mentioning her name, and got some salacious response from 50 Cent, who’s been in a verbal tug-of-war with Hov for more than 15 years. Underneath all of those neon talking points is a rich tapestry of revelation, guidance, and growth.
Hunte adds, “My favorite joint on 4:44 is ‘The Story Of O.J.’ It’s fun to think about how O.J. was friends with Robert Kardashian, Kim and them’s father, and how at best if there’s an upside to the O.J. Simpson story, it’s a cautionary tale. I don’t know that that there’s a subliminal there; I just know it’s fun to think about.”
Even if social media ran with the liquor at the open bar(s), the vegetables are just as tweet-friendly. Jay may be writing the new captions to social media that become 2010s lexicons. Hunte notes that lines like “I’m clear why I’m here, how about you” and “Y’all still taking advances huh / Me and my ni**as taking real chances, huh” own this quality. Beyond the 140-character counts, Jay opened up about his mother being a lesbian, spoke about the regrets surrounding abortions, admitted infidelity and issued a strong wake-up call. The MC who made Hip-Hop buy the throwback, then change clothes to the button-up, kicked knowledge about ownership, gentrification, and institutional racism.
Jay has been mostly quiet since the album arrived last Friday (June 30). No I.D. gave up some goods on some of the LP’s creative agenda. The former Relativity Records solo artist, executive, and acclaimed producer for Common and Vince Staples told The New York Times, “A couple times [JAY-Z and I] said, ‘Has there been anyone in any genre that really tapped into themselves on a new level at that age?’ It’s really kind of unheard-of across the board, not just in Rap. But there are certain cheat codes that are available now — you have streaming, and the ability to listen to everything that ever happened. We could gauge: Why does Adele do this? Why did Led Zeppelin do this? Why did Jimi Hendrix do this? What are the common threads? Honesty, vulnerability, pain — these are things that always supersede the trends of the day.”
That recipe made one incredible musical meal. Regardless of where a listener ranks 4:44, they would be hard pressed to take away the fact that Jay and No I.D. succeeded in their design.
“I don’t know that Jay-Z had anywhere left to go musically,” Justin says in the TBD close. “He’s got platinum albums and chart-topping singles. He’s owned sports teams and made Hip Hop change clothes. Now he’s cleaned out his closet, talked through a cadence ready for Def Poetry Jam, literally proving he can rhyme like ‘common sense.’ The only thing left was to show the world Shawn Carter. Which he did. Thankfully. But does Grown Man Rap resonate downward? Will kids bump this in the earbuds? Does that even matter? Is this the most meaningful album Jay-Z’s ever released?“