Jay-Z’s ‘4:44’: A Tribute to the Power of the Completely Affectless Lyric


Jay-Z has never been one for overthinking things, so it’s perhaps not surprising that the title of his new album 4:44 — “surprise” released overnight on Tidal (of course) because megarich artists don’t need release schedules — refers to the fact that its title track was written at 4:44am. As per Pitchfork, the rapper explains: “I woke up, literally, at 4:44 in the morning, 4:44am, to write the song. So it became the title of the album, and everything.”

The explanation came as part of a carefully prepared iHeartRadio exclusive wherein Jay-Z does a track-by-track breakdown of the new album, explaining the meaning behind the songs and the events that inspired them. You will be delighted to learn that the title of opening track “Kill Jay-Z” is “not meant to be taken seriously” — it is in fact “about the ego… killing off the ego so that we can have this conversation in a place of honesty and vulnerability.”

Ego is a concept to which he returns in several of the songs: “Bam” is “secretly Shawn Carter saying, “Man, you need a bit of ego,'” and “Caught the Eye” — which samples Nina Simone’s wonderful version of “Baltimore” — deals with the way you exist both inside your own head and also in the context of your surroundings. This is not surprising, perhaps, given that he also spends a fair bit of time being contrite about cheating on his wife. The Carter-Knowles’ domestic woes continue to play out in public; this time around, it’s Jay-Z’s turn to address the infamous incident where Solange Knowles booted the shit out of him in an elevator.

He is unambiguously apologetic and, again, he dispenses with any lyrical artifice, speaking directly to himself on the aforementioned “Kill Jay-Z”: “You egged Solange on, knowing all along all you had to say you was wrong/ You almost went Eric Benet, let the baddest girl in the world get away … I don’t even know what you woulda done, in the future, other niggas playing football with your son.” Amusingly, he also implores: “Becky, let me alone!” Yep, it’s a bad business being chased by Becky.

At worst, this reads like Dear Diary stuff, so perhaps it’s no surprise that the best lyric of the album comes on “Moonlight,” which alludes to the weird Oscars mix-up whereby the Best Picture Award was accidentally first given to La La Land instead of the actual winner, Moonlight. The lyric uses this as a metaphor — a good one! — for the ongoing suppression of black culture and black Americans in general: “We stuck in La La Land/ Even if we win, we gonna lose.”

4:44 is out now — if you have Tidal.