By Paul McAleer
JAY-Z announced 4:44 with clarification on how his rapper alias is stylised, but by the end of the opening track, it is clear this new album is about dissecting what the name represents. The name has brought him unparalleled success and, at times, misfortune. 4:44 is a study of what makes JAY-Z one of rap’s legendary figures, but it is perhaps the first album told through the perspective of Shawn Carter, a human no different from the rest of us. It is everything Magna Carta Holy Grail is not, producing some of the best material in his vast discography.
At first, the conversational style of rapping on this album seems like a questionable choice for someone who gave us classics like “Dead Presidents” and “Empire State of Mind,” but after a few listens everything clicks. No I.D. handles production duties, providing Carter with the soulful backdrop he needs at this point in his career. There are no forced attempts of trying to copy the trap-infused hip-hop dominating radio waves, opting for timeless samples and originality instead.
Lyrically, JAY-Z seasons his rhymes with fresh references of events that occurred a few days before the album dropped. Whether he recorded this whole thing recently, or if it was only a few bars, is irrelevant because the quality speaks for itself. 4:44 deals with themes of betrayal, family, lust and, of course, wealth, but this time around it feels genuine. Every song delivers an important message that doesn’t diminish in value with each consecutive listen. Killing JAY-Z might be the smartest business move Shawn Carter has made in recent memory, paving the way for many more to come. After all, he’s not a businessman, he’s a business, man.4:44, Jay-Z, Record Review, Roc Nation