2017 has been a great year for music. We have seen releases from hip hops biggest stars such as Kendrick Lamar, Drake, J. Cole, 2 Chainz and a host of newcomers that have graced us with their musical presence. Out of all the releases this year they all will be eclipsed by the God MC himself JAY-Z.
On the last day of June he dropped his 13th studio album. This album boasts 10 tracks that are more than just music. They are a black state of the union, hip hop state of the union, apology letters, and G checks that only the GOAT can give us. Now usually I would pick out some standouts but this album is packed full of jewels and I can’t narrow that down to 3. So we will discuss this album track by track.
1. Kill Jay Z: Now with the release of this album Hov changed the way his name is spelled. He went back to the JAY-Z style and on the intro track he kills the man he once was. For me I felt like on this song he gave himself the green light to become Shawn Corey Carter and bear his feelings. He talks about egging Solange on in the elevator incident and also address the Kanye West rant from the Saint Pablo tour. He kills the man he was and let’s his guard down to discuss topics that he felt he needed to get off of his chest.
2. The Story of O.J.: With this record he addresses the black community. He singles out O.J. in particular because of his assimilation to the white community. Completely abandoning who he was and where he came from thinking that just because you are accepted by them your still a “nigga” in their eyes. He also discusses why the Jewish community owns so much and what we as a people are doing wrong. This song is a mirror to the black community and he is trying to administer change through the music that drives the world.
3. Smile: Celebration is what comes to mind when I hear this track. He takes the downfalls of life and shows you that through the struggle you can to prevail. You don’t have to stay at the bottom, you can make it out. He bears truths about his mother than you wouldn’t expect. There is even a line where he reminds you that he made it into the Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame without a pen. The song even ends with words from Ms. Gloria Carter that is similar to December 4th off of The Black Album.
4. Caught Their Eyes: This cut features a Frank Ocean feature on the chorus. It’s typical Jay fashion where he raps circles around the competition and even talks about speaking to Prince in his final days and what he wanted from his legacy and how the industry is greedy and only sees dollar signs when they see artists.
5. 4:44: The title track, the song that the world will go back to. JAY-Z has never been a person to bear himself to the core. He was always the most private amongst his peers. He will give you a glimpse but never go in depth. This track is an open letter to Beyoncé who he has been with since the early 2000s. While the world thought it was all peaches and cream, on Beyoncé’s Lemonade album she told the story of how Her husband had been unfaithful and had extra marital affairs. Which sent the world into a frenzy. With this song Jay tells how us that he felt bad for the time away and what she means to him. He also exclaims how it would kill him to not be there with his wife and kids.
6. Family Feud: Hip Hop has been in a weird space for some time. There has been a resurgence of what I like to consider weirdo rappers. As a hip hop purist I’m not all the way pleased at the path we are going. One of JAY-Z’s best traits is that he is always in tune with what’s going on in the culture. He addresses the world and says when we are all fighting and putting one another down we aren’t making any money. He talks about being the new comer in rap and not being accepted as well. He also addresses Becky with the good hair and says that he has to take care of his family.
7. Bam: Damian Marley graced the hook of this raw reggae geared track where JAY-Z gets back to himself for a while. He starts out saying
“Fuck all that pretty Shawn Carter shit, nigga HOV!”
Every artist has to get back to their comfort zone. He spits like a young Jay and gives you the bars that we all want to hear. He gives you that swag rap that he had been giving for so long. The hunger always comes out of the great rappers.
8. Moonlight: Once again we are shown just how in touch with Pop Culture the man is. The double entendre here is that La La Land was given the award over Moonlight at the 2017 Oscars but it was a mistake. This song is where he puts another mirror up to the culture. He talks about rappers with Dracos in their videos and how much we worship material things. We are focused on out doing our own instead of trying to come up as a community.
9. Marcy Me: Hov never forgets where he comes from and pays homage once again. He talks about the timing when he comes out and what it was like to make it out of the Marcy Projects. He also addresses the gentrification that is going on in his hometown of Brooklyn. While paying homage to the greats from the town.
10. Legacy: The song starts out with Blue Ivy asking what is a will. People that come from nothing usually die with nothing. Sad reality but with JAY-Z coming from the bottom and having children he is preaching the importance of generational wealth like Dr. Umar Johnson and other neo black activists. He talks about leaving his children his wealth and what he would like to see them do with it. This song rounds out what he now feels his purpose to live on now is. He looks to leave behind an empire for Blue and the twins.
Critical reception of this album says that it is the best album that will come out this year. In my personal opinion the only way to top this album would be to assemble the rap Avengers and drop a double album. However even then they don’t have the content to bless the world with. JAY-Z hasn’t ever been this personal and has never been such an activist. He finally lived up to the line,
“Lyrically I’m Talib Kweli.”
4:44 will stand as a moment in time where Hip Hop took a stand and changed the world.