Listen: YouTube (The Story of O.J.; Official Video)
Following the messy, uneven, and rather pandering Magna Carta Holy Grail (2013) a lot of the interest in JAY Z’s ability to create a great late-career album diminished. No one wanted to hear a 40+ year-old rapper forcefully insert himself into the hip-hop tropes of his younger counterparts – it’s just unnatural, and it seemed that that might be what the latest act of JAY’s career would dwindle into. 4:44 (2017) completely rips this possibility as Shawn delivers one of the most mature and candid records in his discography. The album is truly a testament to JAY’s talent for songwriting and composing as well as his already deified ability to string together witty and provocative raps. Clocking in at a short 36-minute runtime and a tight 10 tracks there’s not much room for anything other than focused craft. “Kill Jay Z,” sets the tone of this album without mistake displaying immediately an urgent self-deprecation and brutal honesty that sees its way into every track on the album. His vivid introspection is paired with an acute awareness of larger societal issues on tracks like, “The Story of O.J.” and “Moonlight,” the former being an absolute standout. The titular track serves as the album’s centerpiece fittingly. No I.D. samples Hannah Williams on the tune whose voice throughout sings, “I’m never gonna treat you like I should,” as an affirmation of JAY’s regret and sadness in betraying his wife and by extension his children. The maturity and self-awareness expressed in bars like, “and if my children knew, I don’t even know what I do,” witness to the place from which JAY is creating this album. But for all of the growth displayed lyrically on the record, the place it may be most apparent is in his decision to allow No I.D. the complete reins in its production. Rather than work with a team of producers, JAY knew his vision exactly and his focus for creating that vision is apparent in realizing that No would, and absolutely did, sculpt the perfect sound for him. With 4:44 (2017) JAY paves a route for the old man in a young man’s game. The grown-up topics of family, finances, and infidelity JAY deals with respectfully and with a perspective that he’s clearly pondered actively for some time. His insightful musings over No I.D.’s stunning production create yet another timeless record for his legacy and though the era of JAY Z is certainly over, Shawn Carter’s has just taken root.
FAVORITE TRACKS: The Story of O.J., Smile, Caught Their Eyes, Family Feud, Marcy Me, Legacy