There’s a paper towel shortage in America, as the country collectively tries to clean all the tea that JAY-Z spilled on his new album 4:44. In the days leading up to the Friday release date, we speculated that the rapper would use the occasion to respond to the infidelities that Beyoncé accused him of on last year’s Lemonade.
But woah. We didn’t see this coming. JAY-Z’s new album is striking in its transparency and self-examination. He fucked up, he’s sorry and he wants the world to know about it. This is one of the world’s biggest celebrities and most influential artists taking control of his own narrative and it’s compelling as all hell.
The album’s title track is an outright atonement for his past sins, and according to JAY-Z himself, there were many:
“Look, I apologize, often womanize / Took for my child to be born / See through a woman’s eyes / Took for these natural twins to believe in miracles / Took me too long for this song / I don’t deserve you, I harass you out in Paris / Please come back to Rome, you make it home / We talked for hours when you were on tour / Please pick up the phone, pick up the phone.”
The theme of fatherhood, and how it changed JAY-Z’s perspective (and his behavior) is also omnipresent:
“And if my children knew, I don’t even know what I would do / If they ain’t look at me the same, I would prolly die with all the shame / You did what with who? What good is a ménage à trois when you have a soulmate, you risked that for Blue?”
On the album’s opener, “Kill Jay Z,” he raps about the infamous elevator video of his sister-in-law Solange attacking him over what some have speculated were issues related to his infidelity:
“You egg Solange on knowing all along all you had to say was you was wrong / You almost went Eric Benet let the baddest girl in the world get away / I don’t even know what to say, nigga never go Eric Benet.”
But JAY-Z’s most overt response to Lemonade arrives on the track “Family Feud,” when he name checks the infamous “Becky with the good hair” from Beyoncé’s “Sorry”:
“Yeah, I’ll fuck up a good thing if you let me / Let me alone Becky!”
Despite all the martial strife, the Carters present a united front. Beyoncé even contributes background vocals on “Family Feud”. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for JAY-Z and his former protégé/BFF Kanye West. On “4:44,” JAY-Z goes after West for last year’s on stage tirade in which West aired a number of grievances he had with Hov. Here, JAY-Z returns the favor and clears the air:
“I know people backstab you, I feel bad too / But this ‘fuck everybody’ attitude ain’t natural/ But you ain’t the same, 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 on stage, f— was he thinkin’?/ ‘F— wrong with everybody?’ is what you sayin’/ But if everybody’s crazy, you’re the one that’s insane.”
JAY-Z has become post-media over the years, giving interviews on only very rare occasions. In fact, the only thing we’ll hear from JAY-Z about this album for at least some time was released in the form song annotations from the rapper himself.
But whatever questions any of us might have for him were all but answered on this bracingly honest confessional. 4:44 is the definitive JAY-Z interview and it’s available for streaming now on Tidal.