Like many of you, I have been applying castor oil to my hair follicles after Jay-Z released his 13th studio album 4:44.
I must admit, when I first saw 4:44 billboards quietly popping up all over New York City, I had low expectations. I assumed it would be more of the same (which is still better than 95% of your rap favs of today), mixed with some retort to his wife's Lemonade from the male perspective, to which I had little interest.
But my lawd, I never thought Jigga would come like this--finally.
While sonically the album harkens back to classic Jay-Z, lyrically it is a brand new man--one who is more remorseful, accessible and conscious. I must say the album is a much needed reprieve from the drugged-induced mumble hip-hip era we are living in. The timing is impeccable, and the genius that is Jay when he pushes himself to his rightful place of great lyricism.
Listening from the feminine POV definitely brought on a surge of different emotions for me.
Like most woke women in love with hip-hop, I struggle with an acute case of musical Stockholm Syndrome--a need to protect an art form that both praises and disrespects me in the same breathe with it’s misogyny, chauvinism and objectification of my body. Knowing this, I love the medium still, like any conflicted enabler. Watching Tupac's life play out in the movie “All Eyez on Me” made the two-faced, love-hate of the women that have helped build hip-hop ever clear.
But I digress.
Women remain the lesser-known heroes in the story of hip hop, both as fans, artists, professionals and lovers. More times than revealed, women remain the heroes in their real life, supporting the men they love who may fall short in whatever way.
Perhaps the most-talked about track, 4:44, Jay opens up about his emotional unavailability and cheating (see also: raggedy) ways with the women in his life then states on another track:
I hear what you are saying here, Jigga, but nah. It is 2017. Let's address.
Whether you can relate to the betrayal of infidelity or not, the overtone of delayed Black male maturity as it relates to the vitality of the black community struck me and cannot be overlooked if we expect to move ahead. I am glad someone of Jay's ilk FINALLY addressed this for the culture because we have failed to do so openly as a collective. It is always black women under stiff criticism from all angles and bares the responsibility of all that goes wrong but rarely are our men held to the same level of criticism and accountability. It was almost as if Jay wanted to apologize on behalf of black men everywhere, in every way they have missed the mark--be it emotionally, mentally, financially-- of what their partner, family and community needs of them.
In my opinion, the album will go down as one of the most of important projects of Jay's career and is a clear call to action for brothers to step up and do better. And for the brothers that already do so, there is still a call to hold your peers to a higher, healthier standard of masculinity that we believe you can be. Because we need you--always have and always will.