Is 4 44 a great album
Space, hyphen, colon: My goodness, how does this man spell himself now? For the longest time, from 1997 to 2013, Shawn Corey Carter traded as "Jay-Z" with a hyphen. In this form the rapper won 17 Grammys, had hits like "Hard Knock Life", "Big Pimpin '" or "99 Problems", became a millionaire, fashion entrepreneur and co-owner of a Brooklyn basketball team, married the pop superstar Beyoncé Knowles, got with him her daughter Blue Ivy and became the model case of the rapper who once dealt with hard drugs in the ghetto, slipped a knife, got three years probation and was able to become a respected businessman in spite of everything. Then Jay-Z declared that he wanted to leave out the hyphen in the future, although the music press never saw it that strictly, and on Tidal, the streaming service that Jay-Z has been the main owner of since early 2015, no warning was given if continued searching for hyphenated Jay-Z.
Jay-Z wants to be written completely in capital letters from now on
Then the command back two weeks ago: Jay-Z is now officially called Jay-Z again. Whereby he makes an exception for his new album "4:44" (Roc Nation), which has been streaming exclusively via Tidal since Friday. He recently started writing himself with a colon, which typographically harmonizes much better with the album title, so maybe his graphic designer talked him into it. Or Jay: In the exuberance of his fresh fatherly happiness, he just had twins with Beyoncé, Z wanted to celebrate each twin individually: one point per sibling?
No, Jay-Z stated in an interview that the album title came from the fact that he woke up at 4:44 a.m. because he had a guilty conscience. More precisely: the guilty conscience of having betrayed his wonderful wife Beyoncé. You remember "Lemonade", the album on which Beyoncé told the story from her point of view last year. It was about minimalistic stripped down electronic R&B beats about feelings of being left sitting, about "female empowerment" and about a certain "Becky with the good hair", that is: the lover with the beautiful hair. "Lemonade" was a proud, feminist statement that has already found its place in pop historiography.
On his new album "4:44" Jay: Z with a colon is now the big divisor, who explains how his behavior threatened to destroy family happiness and make the great pop queen unhappy. He regrets it very much. "I don't deserve you, you're so much more grown up than I am, I'm so bad at love" - "I suck at love", he raps, 47, addressed to Beyoncé, 35. If one can believe these rhymes are autobiographical, Jay-Z also reveals in the title track that Beyoncé has suffered various miscarriages in recent years. Here it gets very intimate and almost boulevard-esque, and we weren't quite finished with the orthographic instructions: Jay-Z wants to be written completely in capital letters from now on. JAY-Z or JAY: Z or what?
His new album "4:44" is awesome, musically alone
Yes, it's almost a bit of a shame that, as far as the name is concerned, so much bohei is made for so little substance, while you can't blame the new album, Jay-Z's thirteenth. "4:44" is a hammer of an album, musically alone: the ten tracks are based on samples, as is very often the case in hip-hop, but very different. Normally in hip-hop samples are carried around like trophies or monstrances, they are set on the beat in such a way that they are enthroned on top of it, radiate far above it. They either convey that they were very, very expensive to buy, or they convey that they are valuable because they are very obscure and someone is damn proud to have dug them up on some old record.
The sampling strategy of the Chicago producer Ernest Dion Wilson alias No I.D. is completely different: He chops up already known, one could say: classic samples in a way that sounds absolutely radical. He smashes the audio material into tiny pieces and sticks it back together in the wrong order. It bumps and bumps, and Wilson also fillets the material horizontally, which means he separates the mix back into individual tracks so that each voice and each instrument can be processed individually. Nina Simone, whose iconic song "Four Women" (1965) is the basis for "The Story Of O. J." forms, sings an octave too low while her piano is still in tune. That sounds strange, great, and it signals: We treat our samples quite disrespectfully, we subordinate them, but we are not only brutal, but also penetrate our material more intensely than anyone else. It is both deference and submission.
Jay-Z, who is known for his relaxed flowing style, then raps over these beats in an extra-relaxed style, for example, about the fact that his mother is a lesbian. "Smile" is the name of the track, it is based on a Stevie Wonder sample, and of course that will cause a stir, especially in the hip-hop world, which is only slowly separating from its practiced homophobias: Jay-Z is out his own mother? No, he doesn't come out, Gloria Carter has her own say at the end of the track and tells of the joylessness of a double life full of secrecy.
Whereby the most sensational track on the album is "Moonlight". In it, Jay-Z seems to be referring to the debate that prevailed in the run-up to the latest Academy Awards, when the question of whether "Moonlight" or "La La Land" would be voted best film became a political question: it can enforce black cinema against white cinema in racist Hollywood? The debate resonates in the track because it is called "Moonlight" while the sample it is based on comes from the Fugees-Hit "Fu-Gee-La" comes from, so Lauryn Hill sings: "La-la-la-la". Lyrically, however, it's about the poor state of hip-hop. Jay-Z makes fun of young trap and auto-tune rappers like Future or Migos without naming them: you all sound the same, rhyme the same rhymes and wear the same watches, and so, Jay-Z seems to ask, do you want to win an Oscar?
Yes, this is clearly an "elder statesman" of rap, someone who sees no reason to have to prove himself. His album is hip-hop about hip-hop, so: meta-hip-hop, and it is downright unmachistic hip-hop of a former top macho of the genre. It is, you have to say it: great art.
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