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WISDOM FROM YOUR ELDER WIZARD

There’s no mistaking, 4:44 is a real moment. This album will go on as a significant chapter in the already fascinating legacy of a groundbreaking artist, Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee and business, man., Jay-Z, at a truly vulnerable and remarkable time in his life.   

Guided by one of hip-hop’s current greatest behind-the-boards architects and artist whisperers, No I.D., the bones of this album are truly roots music, on every level, and with every story. From sequence to sample, it pays homage in 3-D like a layered tribute to the black experience—with some modern adjustments, such as not one use of the word ‘bitch.’

And the raw emotions of first listens from core fans reverberated so quickly and passionately through the lightning paths of social media, commentary booming about the defining spirit of this wisdom-laden trove, these open confessionals Jay-Z has bestowed. 

Then all that emotion poured over like hot lava this weekend, when too many people were caught up in access denied—that new game of exclusives, at times cruel exclusion from new music, as streaming companies court their future subscribers. Team Jay/Roc Nation’s initial efforts were to channel 4:44’s debut by casting a net using iHeartRadio for analog consumers, which was well-played and produced on the FM giant’s part, it was a collaboration that worked if its purpose was to create a communal event around a body of music.

And while Tidal for digital and their new investment partner Sprint for mobile was an understandable move, it was a misstep that did not meet the overwhelming demand. To their credit, Roc Nation adjusted once that wave of public frustration over access hit high tide, and I’ll bet it was a welcome concession in the end, since this the basis of all this furor was that it mattered, because of his music. 

Jay is now a married father of three, who just battled through a Lemonade era of infidelity talk; his refreshingly open, honest, confessional verses about life will serve to evolve hip-hop—proving that there could be a place for the elders to launch off skillful bars—but filled with knowledge, experience, wisdom and perspective, and doing all that without having to chase down youth with new flows or tracks. It’s powerful in its unapologetic embrace of maturity. “But I’m trying to give you a million dollars worth of game for $9.99,” Jay tells us. 

Jay is talking to the adults here: 4:44 is grown-man vibes.

The audience often requires that artists be honest in their music, but it’s a rare and special moment when that level of vulnerability creates a companion piece to their own life. Jay is talking to the adults here: 4:44 is grown-man vibes.

And then there’s the title track about Bey.

Marriages are complicated and love gets partners through those complexities; but a union forged under the white-hot glow of celebrity with the accompanying demands, egos, and pressures has to be an incomparable challenge doomed to failure—and often is in the land of celebrity.

But by baring his soul, the struggle and the mistakes, expressed in stunning verse over a sample of Hannah Williams’ “Late Nights and Heartbreak,” with compassionate regret and solace, Jay has made the case that he and Beyoncé are a romance of the ages. He portrays it as a legacy that matches that of Cleopatra and Mark Antony or Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton—except black, beautiful and billionaire class—and is itself legendary.

This is Jay’s 13th studio album. Will it be his final commentary as a hip-hop artist? In any case, by lighting the path with authenticity and truth, Jay has given a new license to an entire aging sector of the hip-hop genre that still has capable pioneers with plenty to say. No longer constrained by the pressures of contemporary folly, they can now move forward in the culture using life experience as a meditative reflection of age, instead of having to project or play to the naive aspirations of youth. That's not just progress for musical art; it's a potential paradigm shift. Bravo, Hov.

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