by Umar Hassan
My first guess was the album title had something to do with Jay’s birthday (he was born on a December 4th) and that the :44 blank would be filled in later. But it turns out he woke up at 4:44 am to write a song and named the album after that. Well, Jay can get away with just about anything, can’t he? He is the dopest MC to ever grace planet earth and for that reason, a lot of reviews are either going to treat him with too much love or a total lack of it. He is Jay-Z and that’s a gift as much as its a curse.
I solemnly swear to say it as I see it.
He comes clean about cheating on Beyonce and is apologetic for not being the ideal lover on the title track. Jigga’s average story-telling sits well on this great soul sample but it definitely won’t go down as a Jay-Z classic. Jay-Z knows the manual, if you are going to go soul, then the lyrics must be deep. He got as plain as just telling a story in rhymes sometimes. But of course, he is copping to cheating on the queen so it’s a couple more listens than it deserves.
BAM (feat Damien Marley)
Jigga warns you as soon as he comes on-“[email protected]*K all this pretty Sean Carter shit, that’s Nigga Hov!!” It’s the God MC reminding everyone of his status. Damien Marley was always going to kill the hook on a reggae beat but it’s what Jay does that’s amazing. His lyrical game was off the hinges. It’s an OG session complete with a game kicking edge. The message is simple-“Don’t you ever forget, Jigga gat this shit poppin!!”.
CAUGHT IN THEIR EYES (feat Frank Ocean)
Here he stays true to his era with Frank Ocean adding just the right dose of 2017 to blow you away. Thumbs up to the production skills of No ID who sets up the right scenery for Jay to get introspective and speak his thoughts. It’s really perfect for an epic Jay-spilling mood and he doesn’t disappoint.
Asides going hard at Prince’s estate for disrespecting his legacy and choosing to see ‘Green’ over ‘Purple’, he drops some really tight bars on how he is too schooled to be fooled by fake emotions…”Your eyes speak the truth even when everything else lies. May pretend that we kin but the vibes don’t fly”.
However there’s a little let-off at the end, things get a bit too choky with a speech extract and a bridge before it. The speech maybe, but the bridge? No.
He describes this song as a lamentation of the problems bedevilling the culture in these times like new rappers beefing with old ones and how Hip-Hop is one big family. Having seen that before I listened to the album, I couldn’t wait to see how he’ll pull it off. I take a line off Uncle Murda on the Remy-Nicki beef in his 2016 Rap Up “Hip-hop is a sport, that’s what they ‘pos to do!!!!”
Listen and you realise Jay finds it really hard sticking to the theme. Sounds torn between preaching the good message and stuntin on ’em all. He tells you there’s no such thing as an ugly billionaire, I’m cute” before he says “What’s better than one billionaire? Two”. It gives off a more ‘bully in a tux’ vibe than it does family. But the quality of the song makes you forgive him for that.
Jigga’s lines were top-notch and the voice in the background (which sounds like Beyonce to me. by the way) was a great touch.
She compliments him in style on what may just be the fanciest brief ‘choruses’ ever- “What’s better than one billionaire? 2”.
One of my best songs of this album. It’s ocean floor when Jay dives right and here it’s him accepting his imperfections in some style. He grips you from the first line with his seamless story-telling and makes you hit replay before he is even half way. And yea, ‘Ye caught a few shots on the way as well. The “$20M to get on stage for 20mins” line cleared all doubts as to that.
This is probably the least favourite song of this album. The extraordinarily plain lyrics on a slow instrumental combine to give a rather gloomy effort that would best pass for a bedtime song. Jay is talking about surmounting challenges to build a legacy but he didn’t pull that off making songs like this. That’s for sure.
“Marcy raised me, whether right or wrong, streets gave me all I write in these songs”.
That’s off Blueprint(Momma loves me). It’s no secret he has mad love for Brooklyn’s Marcy housing projects where he was raised and he puts that nostalgia to good use like he always does. This is a Hov Masterpiece.
“Streets is my artery, vein of my existence, I’m the goddamn city heartbeat”.
That’s a line for the archives. He walks you through with a delivery so sleek, you’re dying to hear what’s next.
Hov is king, please tell somebody!!.
He references the 2017 Oscar gaffe where la la land got the nod before it turned out Moonlight actually won. Goes really hard at the new school for sounding and acting the same. Jigga has some of the best ‘put you in your place’ lyrics the game has ever seen and he adds some more to the collection in this wonderfully made track. He sucks you in, switches tempos in great style and takes you on a whole ‘nother high. It has probably the best chorus of the album.
SMILE (feat Gloria Carter)
NoID sets up Jigga real nice to wax inspirational and he does just that. The humming in the background was a Midas touch.And as you must all know by now, Jay-Z let us know his momma was gay. She drops a really strong message at the end- Freedom.
THE STORY OF OJ
Hov kicks “A million dollars worth of game for $9.99” on this subtle tune. While I think its a really good song, it got a bit too shallow at times especially when he isn’t rapping. It gets even more glaring when he goes “Light nigga dark nigga”. The sick flow made up for that though. The annihilation of the ‘new’ culture is complete here-“Y’all out here still taking advances, me and my Niggaz out here taking real chances. You on the Gram holding money to your ear but there’s a disconnect, we don’t call that money over here”. That’s something for the archives right there.
How do you know when an album is good? When you find it hard picking your best song. I’m torn between MARCY ME, KILL JAY-Z, BAM and MOONLIGHT. Jigga made a great album.
He raises quite a lot of dust and for an MC who doesn’t need any controversy to go platinum, it leads to suggestions that Hov is in a really dark place.
Copping to infidelity is one thing but going public about his mother’s gay status is on a whole ‘nother level. Maybe not ‘Ye, Future or any of the MCs that may have been dissed on this album but a lot of rappers are going to be taking shots at the King and he just added his mama to their war chest.
However, whatever doubts that were raised by his last album were put to rest here. Jay still got it. He drops quite a handful of memorable bars for the Jay-Z collection and remains without a doubt, the dopest lyricist the game has ever seen. In a nutshell, nothing has changed, Hov is still King.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
Umar Sa’ad Hassan is a lawyer based in Kano. He tweets @alaye26