Jay-Z redeems love with ‘4:44’

By Sam Malone

“Kill Jay Z, they’ll never love you, you’ll never be enough,” Jay-Z raps over a droning beat, welcoming listeners to his Grammy nominated album.

“4:44,” Jay-Z’s thirteenth studio album, has earned him a total of eight Grammy nominations, including one for the coveted Album of the Year award. Projecting themes of internal reflection and guilt, the album is an obvious response to Beyoncé’s 2016 surprise release, “Lemonade,” which explored her feelings toward her husband after finding out he had an affair.

Lyrics like “I apologize to all the women whom I toyed with your emotions ‘cause I was emotionless and I apologize ‘cause at your best you are love and because I fall short of what I say I’m all about” are as direct an apology as one can get from the title track, “4:44.”

Thematically, the album rests soundly between a profound apology and self-pity as Jay-Z’s lyrics are often straightforward with small poetic elements. Musically, “4:44” is obviously a hip-hop album, but it packs a few punches along the way such as track four, “Caught Their Eyes,” featuring Frank Ocean.

“Caught Their Eyes” floats over a reggae influence with subtle drum beats and synthesizers coasting in the background as Ocean and Jay-Z play a game of call and response. The vocal melody rolls easily off Jay-Z’s tongue over samples from “Baltimore” by Nina Simone.

With each track featuring a different sample, the album flows fairly well together though it suffers from bland music stylings on more than one occasion. Tracks, including “Smile” and “Kill Jay Z” mindlessly and monotonously drone through as if the music was an afterthought.

Despite this, “4:44” redeems itself with methodical piano melodies in tracks like “The Story of O.J.” and “Marcy Me.” At times it seems like the samples are arranged to reflect sounds of space, an expansive and endless territory which Jay-Z toys delicately with.

Featured artists on the album reach from the depths of Jay-Z’s self-pity tour and pull it up from what could potentially have been a very dark and ivory tower-styled album. Artists like Damian Marley and Beyoncé add a whole new flavor to their corresponding tracks, “Bam” and “Family Feud.”

Sampling the sound of vibrant horns in “Bam” and “Legacy,” the album’s final track, Jay-Z overshadows himself by making the sampled music more interesting than most of his original work.

Appropriately closing the album with “Legacy,” listeners are left with arguably the most audibly pleasing song of the collection and lyrics alluding to a legacy left after death. The horns are subtle and melodramatic, balancing well over the hip-hop beat under them and the vocal melody of Jay-Z.

As deep an apology as he could write, Jay-Z reveals raw emotion in “4:44” though he drudges along the fine line between genuine and insincere. The samples and featured artists truly save the album from being a collection of droning pity, despite the well-thought-out lyrics Jay-Z employs on his own.

A redemption of his love, which also deals with racism and parenting, “4:44” is an easy enough album to engage with, but it is just as easy to simply let it hum in the background.