Jay Z has what a lot of rappers don’t have: consistency, longevity, growth and a lush body of work that fans and haters alike analyze to politic about. I’m no different. So about this new album, 4:44…this new masterpiece has people talking because they didn’t see it coming.
Hov has always understood the power of his words when it travels from the speaker to your heart. He calculates everything including the distance between him and the world. What he wants to tell, how much he wants to tell and how he wants to tell it is a part of his artistry. His distance has always been a mask decorated with his dexterity of word delivery which kept us busy as we deciphered metaphors even after he decoded some of it with dream hampton.
After listening to the first 35 seconds of “Kill Jay Z” for the first time he hinted that the distance was about to get shorter–a lot shorter. When he rapped “In the Future, other ni–as playin’ football with your son” everyone was thinking Ciara. I was also thinking “Mask off.” He’s upped his level of transparency by stripping the flashy and commercial Jay Z that distracted many from the conscious Jay Z:
Die Jay Z, this ain’t back in the days
You don’t need an alibi, Jay Z
Cry Jay Z, we know the pain is real
But you can’t heal what you never reveal
What’s up, Jay Z? You know you owe the truth
To all the youth that fell in love with Jay Z
But he talking about Beyonce!!! Pump the brakes Beyhive! I got this.
The “Mask Off” notion comes from chapters in Black Cool. The chapter “Crazy” by Rachel Harper is about her father–a musician whose mask hid his mystery (crazy), which was his cool. That Shawn Corey Carter kind of cool.
“We suffer, we bleed, we cry—therefore we are. Every American may not understand the need to do this, but the legacy of African Americans in this country (yes I am talking about slavery) is to always have existence of our psyches in question. As black people we wear masks, some that say, I’m okay, I’m normal, I’m nonthreatening, and others that say I’m strong, I’m invincible, I’m cool. We hide in plain sight.”
Jay Z hid behind “Big Pimpin” and “Give it to Me.” The joint with Mary J. Blige, “Can’t Knock the Hustle” could easily distract someone from the jewels in “Regrets” and “Can I Live.” I know, I was there—yeah, I was of the youth that fell in love with the music. And 21 years later, the maturation of his career, Jay decided to kill that guy. RIP Jay Z.
Who are we left with? A man without disguises just talking truths. He always spoke about people talking their truths (read: keeping it real) and being the next—not a rehashed version of what’s hot or trending. At first he was hitting y’all like:
That didn’t work, so now he out here strong-arming:
Many of us are aware that being Black in America not much has changed since 1619. Colonization, interest convergence, and proximity to whiteness has some acting brand new. Nah shorty, we in the afterlife of slavery—were still not free. In 2010 with Decoded, he told you that new black didn’t exist. But I guess some missed that part or didn’t understand, so he decided to do it again:
Light ni–a, dark ni–a, faux ni–a, real ni–a
Rich ni–a, poor ni–a, house ni–a, field ni–a
Still ni–a, still ni–a
On “Smile” he discusses his mother’s sexuality and used the analogy of a thespian. What’s the symbol for theater?:
Finally, in 4:44 he mentions what he will have to reveal the truth to his children:
My heart breaks for the day I had to explain my mistakes
And the mask goes away, and Santa Claus is fake
Welp! Now, that distance between Jay and us is more like a reflection in a cracked mirror. Now that we’re this close, everyone is going Gaga. We still don’t see it all, but it’s enough. We don’t have dates and times and honestly, it’s none of our business.
I saw this album coming unlike the Source that gave Jay four mikes for Reasonable Doubt because they lacked foresight. After my two analyses, his reconciliation with Harry Belafonte, his involvement with #BlackLivesMatter, the heartbreaking documentary about Kalief Browder, fatherhood, the Lemonade drag and the current state of Black lives in America—whatever came next wasn’t going to be the same ol’ Hov. It was predictable that 44 4’s would turn into 4:44 in 2017…that’s what I call write on time…