MusicSex & Gender

jay-z’s 4:44 is apologetic, but it doesn’t fully delve into toxic masculinity

July 10, 2017

By L’lerrét Jazelle Alith / WYV Mag*, AFROPUNK contirbutor

Last week, Jay-Z’s 13th studio album, “4:44″ was released. It’s the response that folks had been waiting for ever since Beyoncé’s visual album, “Lemonade” dropped last year. The album chronicled the experiences of a woman betrayed by her lover and ultimately fighting through the sorrow to mend the relationship and move forward with a stronger bond. Of course, everyone began speculating whether or not Bey was alluding to her relationship with Jay.

I knew “4:44” had to be juicy because the number 4 is very significant in Jay and Bey’s lives–they were both born on the fourth day of their birth months and they were married on April 4th. Bey was most vulnerable on her 4th solo studio album, so Jay is following the theme. It’s also mad creepy that he woke up at 4:44 am to write the title track.
Jay Z’s “4:44” is a similar yet less masterfully executed attempt at relating to his fanbase and revealing his alter egos and vulnerability. He tries to outline the dissociation of Jay-Z and Hov with Shawn Carter, as evidenced by the leading track “Kill Jay-Z” and his seventh track “Bam”. While Beyoncé’s introspective journey through love and identity lasted a little over an hour, Jay’s was nearly half that, deliberately coming in at around 35 minutes. The brevity could very well represent the toxic relationship that Black men have to masculinity–where even their most vulnerable moments occur in eclipses. In 35 minutes, Jay reveals and apologizes for decades of mental and emotional abuse that he put his wife through, mostly articulated in the title track “4:44″. Seeing that they’ve been going at this love game since 2001/2002, he admits,

“Took me too long for this song. I don’t deserve you”.

He describes living and growing up in the projects and his progression to the over $800 million net worth that he boasts today. This album arguably encompasses four themes: introspection/apologies; industry commentary; personal growth & development and Black wealth (both individual and generational).
In the title song, “4:44″, Jay raps about his immaturity when his relationship with Bey first started–she was just 19-years-old while he was in his early thirties. He recalls the night of her 21st birthday party, where he rapped,

“Don’t embarrass me,” instead of “Be mine” – “That was my proposal for us to go steady / That was your 21st birthday / You mature faster than me / I wasn’t ready, so I apologize”.

Women are expected to mature faster than men because we are held accountable for our actions, but it’s exhausting for Jay to use this as his excuse for being an ass when he was 30-years-old. Puberty’s been done, my guy.

Jay-Z misses the larger structure that has been plaguing his life and motivating his actions–Black men’s relationship to hyper-masculinity and why it doesn’t allow them to feel connected to love, commitment, vulnerability and fragility. Bey has endured this dance up until the birth of their daughter, Blue Ivy, when Jay finally began to understand her pain. It should have never taken that long.

Jay spilled so much tea about his romantic relationship with Beyoncé and confirmed so many rumors. Through it all, Bey did nothing but kill that stage and the studio year after year. The industry loves to describe Beyoncé as a non-stop work machine and Jay-Z re-solidified her humanity that we so ignored all these years – but we shouldn’t need Jay-Z’s vulnerability to affirm her humanity – many of you owe Beyoncé an apology, because Mama had been going THROUGH it.

It seems that Jay has gotten so used to survival and struggle that it has molded his outlook on life and his relationship to it. “4:44″ is a message to his audience about how he reached this point in his life and it clarifies his sudden shift from gangster player to iconic dad and mogul.

In “Kill Jay-Z”, he raps,

“let go your ego over your right shoulder / left say eat your breakfast.”

He realizes that his ego is continuously fucking him up and he must not let his alter-ego, Hov continue to put his ego and pride before those who mean the most to him. Once we get to his track “Bam” Hov makes a return with these lines:

“Shawn Carter saying, ‘Man, you need a bit of ego.’ It was because of me and the things that I’ve done, this is JAY-Z saying you needed a bit of ego for us to arrive at this point.”

He’s got a big ego, and he won’t let it go.

So does he truly learn his lesson? This could very well be indicative of the stronghold that hyper-masculinity has on Black men, especially ones who’ve amassed such wealth by utilizing these self-destructive tools. Through his experiences Jay has begun to accept his transformation and right the wrongs in his life.

Of all of the themes in this album, Jay is weakest when it comes to critically analyzing Black people’s relationship to money and wealth. He loves wealth and he feels that many of his peers are so focused on flaunting their temporary money and not investing in what will help them amass lasting wealth. There isn’t any critique of capitalism or understanding of perpetuating systems of class inequality–Jay focuses on individual and generational wealth.

Honestly, the album is a Black capitalist cis het man’s roadmap to beating the system. It’s like Christians reading the red parts of the Bible, or the Nation of Islam reading Louis Farrakhan’s autobiography. The album title could have been “Picking yourself up by your bootstraps 101”. “4:44” is laid out as a journey from shackles into true prosperity – a conversation with Black folks across the land exclusively on Tidal – “But I’m tryin’ to give you a million dollars worth of game for $9.99.”

Jay knows a lot about investments and wealth seeing that his has almost doubled since 2012. He makes remarks on building credit and making investments to ensure the financial security of his kids and their kids and so on.

“Generational wealth, that’s the key / My parents ain’t have shit, so that shift started with me” These are what he believes to be the keys to success in America, adding “financial freedom my only hope.”

I could go on a long rant about how Black capitalism can’t save us, but Jay has had this conversation multiple times and just accepts what it is, stating

“Blood diamonds drippin’ with guilt / I still ain’t trippin’, that’s life, winners and losers.”

He is focused on being a winner and beating the system at its game. Can we be mad? I don’t know. At this point, I’ve accepted Jay and Bey as two of many of my problematic faves.

“4:44” is a raw look into Jay-Z’s mind. He offers explanations and apologies for years of toxic behavior. It’s an album that is certainly not as inspirational or groundbreaking as Lemonade, but it does help to complete the picture and begin a conversation around Black people’s humanity, relationship to gender, sexuality, and survival under capitalism. Jay was in need of some healing and as he admits in “Kill Jay-Z”, “you can’t heal what you never reveal.”

So no more cover ups and strategic PR stunts – this was his time to confess his sins and start anew – really late, Jay, but I guess it’s a valiant effort.

*This post is in partnership with WearYourVoice Mag.