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JAY-Z dropped his highly anticipated thirteenth solo studio album 4:44 exclusively via Tidal this past Friday, and the buzz surrounding hasn’t abated since. It's a "grown folks" album, with mature themes: he addresses his infidelity, fiscal responsibility in the Black community and the relationships in intergenerational hip-hop. While many have been focusing on the subliminal shots he takes at Kanye West, Future and Eric Benét in "Kill Jay Z,” and the fact that he owned up to cheating on Beyoncé, what's key to JAY-Z's songs is his sheer mastery of words.
Produced by Chicago's No I.D., who boasts an impressive resume of previous studio work with legendary emcees including Common, Nas and JAY-Z, the 10-track nod to living right is a true testimony to Mr. Carter’s lyrical skills. With the mumbling going on in a lot of contemporary rap, it's easy to forget that rap is a wordsmith's game. JAY-Z shows us that he not only came to play, he came to win. And, while he does his fair share of flossing across 4:44, it's not just for the sake of doing so. It's to suggest, "I'm here, you can be here, too. Here's the blueprint."
On the opening track, "Kill Jay Z," he calls out a few of his fellow artists, particularly Kanye West, with gold bars such as: “You walkin’ around like you invincible / You dropped outta school, you lost your principles / I know people backstab you, I felt bad too / But this ‘fuck everybody’ attitude ain’t natural / But you ain’t a Saint, this ain’t KumbaYe / But you got hurt because you did cool by ‘Ye / You gave him 20 million without blinkin’ / He gave you 20 minutes onstage, fuck was he thinkin’?”
If one digs through JAY’s older rhymes, it’s obvious he’s always had gems and used verbal gymnastics to the fullest. In 4:44’s “Bam,” he says, “Uh, niggas is skippin’ leg day just to run they mouth.” Compare that to his unreleased 1994 track “I Can’t Get Wid That,” where he chimes, "If weed got you running ya mouth / You better blow that shit out." While his flow on these songs is totally different, he’s killin’ it with the word finesse on both.
Across his discography, he commonly recognizes his Brooklyn roots and New York core. Another example of his perennially strong lyrics is looking at his 2009 joint “Brooklyn (Go Hard)” from the 2009 Notorious soundtrack and comparing it to this year’s “Marcy Me.” On "Brooklyn (Go Hard),” one line illustrates that he might just be the G.O.A.T.: "I Jack, I Rob, I sin / Aw man, I'm Jackie Robinson / Except when I run base, I dodge the pen." Compare that to this line from "Marcy Me": “I started in lobbies, now parley with Saudis / I’m a sufi to goofies, I could probably speak Farsi / That’s poetry.” Indeed, it is.
In this day and age, when consensus seems to hold that all rappers are starting to sound the same, JAY-Z has proven once again that he stands alone. Much like he did when autotune was becoming all the rage, he’s come back to revitalize the art form. While none of the tracks are real club bangers akin to his previous hits "I Just Wanna Love U (Give it 2 Me)" or "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," JAY-Z keeps the lyrics dancing.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Hov’s rhymes are evolving, in content and flow, but the songs remain the same with dexterous wordplay, genius sampling, sick beats, high-production value, and top caliber collaborations including Beyoncé on “Family Feud” and Frank Ocean on “Caught Their Eyes.” As he said in The Blueprint’s “Never Change,” “Never change, this is Jay every day.” And the music world can thank goodness for that. With 4:44, he certifies that he’s still the consummate lyrical hustler.
Notable Tracks: “Bam” | “Kill Jay Z” | “Marcy Me”
DOWNLOAD JAY-Z’s 4:44 via Tidal