Rap icon Jay-Z returns after a four-year hiatus with ‘4:44,’ arguably, his most personal album to date. He’s on autopilot.
Cut the BS – no time for it – Jay-Z has returned after a four-year hiatus! Prior to the release of 4:44, the last we’d heard from the MC arrived in 2013 with the release of Magna Carta Holy Grail. While Magna Carta Holy Grail had its moments, it was one of the rapper’s weakest, least memorable albums. The same can’t be said of 4:44, though, it isn’t nearly as commercial. While 4:44 doesn’t have a clear-cut radio hit, it is a personal album with more substance than most of the albums in his discography. Here are the top-five songs from 4:44, ranked in order of personal preference.
“4:44” features one of the most awesome samples of the album, courtesy of British soul singer Hannah Williams & the Affirmations (“Late Nights & Heartbreak”). Notably, Kim Burrell provides additional vocals, which fit seamlessly into the music. Interestingly, the title track was conceived at 4:44 A.M. and clocks in at 4:44 in length. While the production and overall sound are radiant, the message is truly ear-catching. Jay-Z apologizes to Beyoncé for his infidelity – starting from the opening tip. Ultimately, “4:44” is the crown jewel – the crème de la crème.
#2. “The Story of O.J.”
“The Story of O.J.” is built upon samples, incorporating Nina Simone (“Four Women”) and Funk Inc. (“Kool Is Back”). The Simone sample gives “O.J.” a jazzy quality. The hook emphasizes that black is black, regardless of status or shade. Naturally, the record is controversial. Jay-Z does reference Jewish people stereotypically.
“You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a strip club? Credit / You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in American? This how they did it.”
Standout “Smile,” featuring Gloria Carter, fittingly samples the Stevie Wonder classic, “Love’s in Need of Love Today.” Encompassing a wide variety of topics including money, perhaps the most notable is about Gloria Carter. Jay-Z reveals that his mom is a lesbian:
“Mama had four kids, but she’s a lesbian / Had to pretend so long that she’s a thespian / Had to hid in the closet, so she medicate / Society shame and the pain was too much too take.”
Gloria provides the outro to the song, reflecting upon life and love.
#4. “Family Feud”
“Family Feud,” featuring Beyoncé, embodies portions of “Ha Ya,” performed by The Clark Sisters. The sample cultivates a soulful, spiritual backdrop, fueling the fire for Jay-Z. The MC emphasizes the importance of family, spirituality, and being goal-oriented. He touts black pride, positively. Notably, on the final verse, he references the infamous Becky from his boo’s Lemonade album:
“Yeah, I’ll f**k up a good thing if you let me / Let me alone, Becky / A man that don’t take care his family can’t be rich / I’ll watch Godfather, I miss that whole shit.”
For an album that eschews bangers, the hits keep on rolling.
#5. “Caught Their Eyes
Nina Simone (“Baltimore”) is sampled once more on “Caught Their Eyes,” featuring Frank Ocean. This is the second consecutive project where Jay-Z has collaborated with Ocean. “Caught” encompasses deception and shadiness on the first verse. On the second verse, Jay-Z takes shot at the estate of Prince following his death, calling them “greedy bastards.” Also, he takes a shot at his former little brother, Kanye West.
“Don’t big bro me, don’t ‘Big Homie’ / I’ve seen pure admiration become rivals.”
All in all, Jay-Z has made his best album in years with 4:44. This album is quite different from what he’s released in recent times. This is a personal album that finds Jay-Z doing a terrific job showcasing his emotions.
Gems: “The Story of O.J.,” “Smile,” “Caught Their Eyes,” “4:44” & “Family Feud”