“A man once known for his explicit, misogynistic lyrics left the world with ten songs filled with regret for his past actions and for almost wrecking the most precious relationship he had. Throughout the album, Jay-Z consistently preaches for awareness: awareness of the racism even within one’s own race, awareness of the blindness that capitalistic greed can cause, and awareness that the women in his life deserve more credit and respect. While successfully touching on each of these issues, the album ultimately succeeds in achieving a legacy of ‘black excellence, baby.'”
It’s true; his lyrics are most reputable for granting the world confirmation and explanation regarding his affair that tragically yet beautifully inspired Beyonce’s most recent album, Lemonade. But Jay Z’s new album 4:44 also circles, highlights, and underlines relevant issues in society today. He manages to shed light on how money and capitalism can foster racism, classism, and sexism, all while apologizing to his wife and children for his past mistakes. He begins the album with “Kill Jay Z,” which talks about killing one’s own ego and then goes on to dig further into societal flaws in each successive song. The album concludes with his most significant point- turning the focus back on himself- which is leaving a positive legacy for his children.
The Story of OJ
The second song on the album tackles a variety of issues stemming from the acquisition of money. It emphasizes how power, money, and fame creates division and racism among African Americans, proving racism doesn’t just occur between different races. The problem is that success has caused many African Americans to separate themselves from their own race.
“I’m not black, I’m OJ” are lyrics that exemplify how fame affected OJ Simpson, a former football player infamously accused of murdering his girlfriend. When he achieved a celebrity status, he chose to disassociate from the African American community because having a darker skin color has a negative connotation in Hollywood.
But Jay Z reiterates that regardless of whether one has a lighter skin tone or darker, whether one is rich or poor, whether one has a higher status or lower, an African American will always be just that, and that should be embraced, not erased.
Noah Trevor, an African comedian explains that “success is still in many ways a synonym for white, and once you attach successful to the black man, there’s a little key that’s been given to you that gives you access to the white world.” But Jay Z sends the message that the only way to stop Hollywood, America, and the world from such discrimination is to first stop the internalized racism and colorism.
Caught Their Eyes (ft Frank Ocean)
On the surface, the lyrics of this melodic tune are about awareness and always remaining perceptive of one’s surroundings. The reason for this, as Jay Z elaborates in his reference to Prince and his attorney Londell, stays in line with a common theme: the problem with capitalism, specifically within the African American community.
“Now, Londell McMillan, he must be color blind//They only see green from them purple eyes.” The dispute Jay Z alludes is to Londell’s selfishly motivated actions to reap the monetary benefits of Prince’s death. He attacks Londell and the African Americans like him by calling him out. “You greedy b*stards sold tickets to walk through his house//I’m surprised you ain’t auction off the casket.” These lyrics blatantly point the finger at Londell for turning a profit at Prince’s Paisley Park estate, although Londell argues otherwise.
The big picture is that black Americans become blind with the greed that arises in conjunction with success, and that doesn’t help disintegrate the racism but instead perpetuates it. When a group of people, especially minorities, are establishing distrust within their own race, America is going to justify discrimination based on this internal instability.
4:44 is the climax of the album, resurfacing details about his affair, which acts as a sentiment toward women as a whole and an apology for objectification. The lyrics are vulnerable, explaining how it “took for [his] child to be born, see through a woman’s eyes” to truly understand the severity of his actions. This gives women the highest of compliments by saying how a woman’s perspective is an enlightened one. Jay-Z proceeds to pay a personal apology. “I apologize to all the women whom I toyed with your emotions//’Cause I was emotionless.”
This song is the antithesis of his previous misogynistic anthems like “Big Pimpin’” with the opening line “You know I thug ’em, f**k em, love em, leave em//Cause I don’t f**kin’ need em.” Jay-Z has appeared to make a dramatic transformation in his emotional state and attributes this alternate attitude toward women to having children and his wife faithfully by his side. He uses Beyonce as his inspiration and is not intimidated by her success nor does he place her on a pedestal. He is raw and honest and proves he has grown from his immaturity as a young rapper.
A man once known for his explicit, misogynistic lyrics left the world with ten songs filled with regret for his past actions and for almost wrecking the most precious relationship he had. Throughout the album, Jay-Z consistently preaches for awareness: awareness of the racism even within one’s own race, awareness of the blindness that capitalistic greed can cause, and awareness that the women in his life deserve more credit and respect. While successfully touching on each of these issues, the album ultimately succeeds in achieving a legacy of “black excellence, baby.”