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Jay-Z – 4:44: A Modern Day Blueprint

Jay-Z’s 13th studio album arrived abruptly after a series of mysterious visuals that felt like movie trailers. Not surprising from…

Jay-Z’s 13th studio album arrived abruptly after a series of mysterious visuals that felt like movie trailers. Not surprising from a man who rarely does anything that isn’t film-like in its scope or delivery. And rather than spam us with filler and throw away features, Jay-Z spends a shade under 40 minutes (mostly) alone, delivering 4:44, the strongest record in his catalog since 2003’s The Black Album.

There’s a transparency in this project that has eluded Jay-Z for years. His ego has often been the driving force for many of his mid-career albums where he’s relied solely on his reputation and confidence, and the results have been lackluster (think Kingdom Come and The Blueprint 3). On 4:44 his guard is down, and that vulnerability is a welcomed twist to the Shawn Carter saga.

“Kill Jay-Z” dives into lost friendships in and out of the industry, while “Smile” bravely describes his mother’s struggle to reveal that she is a lesbian. There’s a soul-searching element to this release that could have only come from a 47-year old legend taking a long, hard look in the mirror, where he’s forced to confront his private inner circle drama and boldly announce that, “nobody wins when the family feuds.”

4:44 strays far from the chart seeking sounds of Jay’s last few records or anything in contemporary rotation, leaning entirely on exclusive production from Chicago’s No I.D., who values crate-digging over pop trends. The record’s intimate moments, ones where Jay fades into the shadows and lets the tracks carry themselves, creep up and down our spines with samples from Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill, and Hannah Williams. The album feels grown, because it is a grown man’s business move in every sense of the word.

While many will argue that 2017 for Jay-Z marked a heartfelt turn towards the introspective and apologetic (possibly a nod to Beyonce’s Lemonade), let us never forget who we are dealing with. Shawn Carter is a master salesman. His business acumen is as proficient and prolific as his skills with a microphone. 4:44 was released to Sprint customers by providing them a code for a free Tidal membership. Jay-Z’s most personal record to date, one whose title track deals directly with his infidelity and shortcomings as a partner, was packaged and fed to the masses via corporate America, where Jay’s largest claims are staked. Sleazy? Maybe. Brilliant? Most definitely.

One thing is certain on all 10 of these tracks. The business of rapping is still the business for Hov. While he is aging, and his cadence is at times at odds with the soulful production, Jay has never been as sharp as he is on “The Story of O.J.” and “Caught Their Eyes,” where he raps “I sat down with Prince, eye to eye. He told me his wishes before he died. Now, Londell McMillan, he must be color blind. They only see green from them purple eyes.”

It’s clear that Jay-Z the observer is as present on 4:44 as Jay-Z the performer. He openly critiques his shortcomings and the shortcomings of America in 2017. 4:44 is full of bold, honest moments that would never have surfaced a decade ago, where lavish, excessive brags were the currency of all successful rappers. But is his message muddled?

Now that money and fame are no longer his sole motivation, Jay has the chance to provide a blueprint for his legacy. While laying down game and shaking up our preconceived notions of what success truly means to Jay-Z, the realities and revelations so eloquently dissected and explored on 4:44 are still wildly out of reach for those outside the one percent. To many, holding stacks of money to ears is still money over here. Either way, 4:44 is an intimate, career defining moment for a true rap giant who is still managing to get the world buzzing with every little step.

My name is J.D, the music fanatic, writer, blogger, and educator. I've been in love with hip hop since Bishop got too close to the ledge. If it moves me, I'll cover it. I've written an unpublished novel, created Shiny Glass Houses, and had my work featured on the Bloglin for Mishka NYC. I'm lurking in the shadows on twitter @ThexGlassxHouse. Read. Comment. Get money.
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Track Seven Band Makes A Strong Reintroduction With “Memory Loss” Single

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There is a lot to unpack with this single. Top-level, there is this flagrant (metaphorical) slap across the head — as though he’s screaming, “I’m still here, stupid.” Below the surface, Cost takes the opportunity to reiterate his position, introduces rumor inducing storylines, and takes a look back at his past.

In the first verse, he drops mention of having traveled around the world on the dime of a figure whom he chooses to keep anonymous; as he explains, this person gave him the motivation he needed to jumpstart his career, but has since “turned faces.” It’s in this act — he further notes that haters induce the same phenomenon — that he seems to have found the strength to thrive.

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The second verse begins by reiterating where he’s come from — noting that section 8 and financial aid were his life preservers in his darkest moments. He also notes that he’s still in debt (half of which he paid off with the money he made selling weed). All this isn’t done to glorify anything, but rather serve as motivation. It also hammers home the fact that he has been there and done that, too.

Perhaps in a way, he’s exuding the same motivation that he felt traveling the world.

Playing chess as opposed to checkers is a line that poignantly pops out. “Memory Loss” is a strong (re)introduction or merely business as usual — depending on your knowledge of the band. Either way, it’s drenched in that endearing sense of honesty and realness that made them a group I’ve returned to numerous times since first being introduced to their music.

It’s all about the long game, and — in the end — good music. Cost notes that he’s motivated by things that money can’t buy. That, quite often, is code for having something to lose on a deeper level. It’s in seeing an artist stick to their figurative guns without bending their ethics that true inspiration can be felt.

If you haven’t explored the past releases, do so … immediately.

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Akhil Sesh – “Amazing”

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Jazz Regal – “Lifetime”

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D-Brown & 30 Boy Will Ooze Chemistry On “Full Court Pressure”

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D-Brown and 30 Boy Will — two artists on my radar — have absolutely found a way to make an overcrowded lane feel like an empty highway. Their latest collaborative effort Full Court Pressure landed across my desk this week, and I’ve been cranking it ever since.

The vibe is very familiar sonically. Hard beats that remain extremely cohesive, keeping the project fairly levelled — making for a skip-free top to bottom experience, without having to readjust yourself. The sub category the duo fall into often have a tendency to keep the thematic elements of their projects quite predictable. While these two do pick the low hanging fruit at a few points (for lack of a better analogy) there is this undeniable rawness in their bars … an almost explosion of authenticity that trumps much of the fabricated storytelling new jacks have made trendy.

It’s an aura reminiscent of Jeezy in his heyday.

At a solid seven songs (with very little fat to trim) the project is an easy listen — but offers a hearty meal for those craving some substance to go along with their playlist-ready bassy beats.

There are plenty of gems here. The aptly titled “Official” was one that I immediately found myself running back a few times — as I did with the look-at-me-now vibe of “Bag Today.” The obligatory but tastefully flipped song about the females, “Preferences,” sees the two professing their taste for women with money and things of their own (among other assets).

One of the shiniest moments on the project is the infectious “Memphis,” which sports a chorus from the LP’s sole feature — the older brother of Juicy J and the co-founder of Three 6 Mafia, Project Pat — helping segue the two incredible verses by D and 30.

The track has been my most played this week (it wasn’t even close).

Their chemistry is undeniable and their ear for the perfect production to complement their tales of perseverance, street life and subdued (but still prominent) themes of opulence are on full display. While the two can really rap, it doesn’t feel like past tense, but rather present tense play by plays.

“Money doesn’t make you real,” D laments in the intro of “Official.” It’s this mantra of keeping it 100 and letting it speak for itself that drives Full Court Pressure. Cue it up, press play and enjoy.

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