I am the girl whose first introduction into Hip-Hop was sneaking her step-father’s copy of Reasonable Doubt in her book bag to play “Dead Presidents II” on her CD player on her way to school. I am the girl who begged her mother for a pair of S Dot Carters the moment they dropped. I am the girl who in 2004 watched in amazement as Hov tore down Madison Square Garden with all his friends.
Jay Z’s discography, interviews, and more have continuously shaped my taste in music and essentially me. For that, I owed him an honest listen of 4:44. So, I waited. I waited so long that I had to mute any Twitter hot takes pertaining to my royal family so it wouldn’t cloud my judgement.
I finally allowed 4:44 to blast through my small iPhone speakers as I prepared for a 4th of July function. While touching up my makeup, the production from NO I.D. hit me like the Holy Spirit in those of the “touched” at a southern Baptist church on a Sunday. Hov’s words ran through my body as if he was a pastor whose sermon was meant exactly for me and I’ve been needing to hear it my whole life. All I could bring myself to say was “DAMN,” as I fixed my now ruined mascara.
This album is more than memes, more than cheating, miscarriages and addressing rumors as I had seen on the timeline. It is a word. It’s a few pages from the journal of a grown ass man seeking atonement. The vulnerability, that I always wondered if it even existed in some men at all, was here in song form.
“I’ll fuck up a good thing, if you let me.” – Family Feud
Over the past couple of years, many albums that have dropped seemed to be made just for us— Lemonade, A Seat at the Table, CTRL, etc. While 4:44 falls under this category as well, I can’t pretend like this album isn’t for the men. I digested and interpreted this album differently than any of my homeboys did. Listening to the album made me see a man’s perspective to many things that were rarely shared with me.
“I apologize to all the women whom I / Toyed with your emotions because I was emotionless” – 4:44
There were so many ways I thought about dissecting this album. Some were easy, most weren’t my story to tell, and others required a little more thought and a few more listens. I went with the latter.
Here’s an ode to the men in my life (past, present, and future) as told by my favorite tracks on 4:44:
“Kill Jay Z”
I was about 10 when I first saw you in concert. Hot 97 was blasting throughout our apartment that day. R. Kelly decided to leave the tour and we didn’t know if the night’s show would be cancelled or not. That night, I stepped foot into MSG a curious 10-year old not knowing what to expect and left as one of your biggest fans. I watched as Foxy Brown, P. Diddy, and many more hit the stage. You weren’t worried about R. Kelly, he was the furtherest from your mind. You were more concerned about the audience having a good time. You put on A SHOW that has yet to be topped in my concert experience. Thanks, Jay Z.
That show made me a fan. From that night forward, I memorized your rhymes. I rocked S Dot Carters with the Rocawear velour kids suit (you really couldn’t tell me nothing.) I begged for iTunes gift cards so I could actually buy your music. I listened to your interviews with Angie Martinez. I collected magazine covers. I travelled by myself to see you in concert with Kanye. I corrected professors in the middle of lectures for still using your hyphen ( I got in trouble for that. So thanks, Jay Z.) I defended your discography even when it was the popular thing to say “Fuck, Jay Z.”
“What’s up, Jay Z? You know you owe the truth /To all the youth that fell in love with Jay Z”
Your discography has been the soundtrack to some of my favorite memories for decades now. So, as we come to your 13th studio album and you allow us to learn and see sides of you that we only thought existed behind doors, thanks Shawn Carter.
“The Story of OJ”
You don’t have a face or even a specific name, mostly because I’ve met so many men like you.
“Light nigga, dark nigga, faux nigga, real nigga/ Rich nigga, poor nigga, house nigga, field nigga/ Still nigga, still nigga”
A cloudy facade is something that waves over many men in this city. Different men in different places decked out in their “Events Best” and fresh sneakers all with the same false sense of arrogance. Still nigga. All not knowing who they actually are or who they want to be, but just knowing they want to be “on.” Still nigga.
There was a time where I thought I could save men like you. I felt sorry for you. I thought could show you how to actually see yourself and who you can be for yourself. But, I quickly learned that takes alot of work. And quite frankly, I don’t get paid for that. Now, I see you and your act from a mile away and simply shake my head. Still nigga.
“Smile” featuring Gloria Carter
I wasn’t a good friend to you in high school, you deserved better. When you were trying to be more open with your sexuality, I didn’t allow you to be yourself. I wanted you to be the “gay best friend” I saw on TV so many times and not who you really are, I’m sorry. I didn’t fight for you when other men pressed you for wearing makeup or keeping your hair longer and better than everyone else, I’m sorry.
“Bad times turn to good memories, smile/Even when I’m gone and you remember me, smile.”
I wasn’t there for you as often as you were for me when I cried over stupid boys at 16. You were a friend to me and those who didn’t see all of you, for that I’m sorry. At 25, we’re not as close as we should be, but I’ve never been more proud of you. Living as you want to be and having people around who support you to live outside of the shadows is better than anything I would’ve wished for you.
“But life is short, and it’s time to be free/ Love who you love, because life isn’t guaranteed/Smile.”
At 8 years old, I believed that by 25 I would be married with two kids in a big home in the south. At 21, I laughed at that idea. But at 23, we met and that dream didn’t seem so farfetched anymore. I never told you, but our home in the south turned into a big brownstone in Brooklyn with a little brown skin fat faced baby girl named Fatimah. Fatimah, the name went perfect with your last, but also had ties to the religion you were exploring while we were together. Fat visited me in my dreams for months, she looked like you. It was hard to sleep knowing that I’d see her after you left, you know why.
“I seen the innocence leave your eyes
I still mourn this death”
I can’t front, every time I listen to this song I think of you. I pretend as if it’s you apologizing for the things we never spoke about and conversations we never had.
“I never wanted another woman to know something about me that you didn’t know.”
I feel like I owe you a few apologizes, as well.
I looked up to you in ways a lover probably shouldn’t. I apologize. I put pressure on you to continue to keep your word, but soon your words weren’t enough, I apologize. I always wanted more and we were too young for that, I apologize. I didn’t appreciate the twinkle you once had in your eye for me. Like a star over time, I watched it get dimmer and dimmer then fought you to get that light back, I apologize.
“I will be emotionally available if I invited you over/ I stew over, what if you over my shit?”
You weren’t just my man, you were a hero when you didn’t ask for that responsibility. I apologize. A man, who actually did the things he said he was going to do, was only a figment of my imagination until I met you. I apologize.
We don’t speak after our last rendezvous and it’s for the best. You won’t read this and that’s for the best, too. We’ll never actually say our sorries eye to eye. I’ll just keep “4:44” as the last song that reminds me of you.
Every day, I struggle with wondering whether or not I want to bring another human being into this world. Sometimes, bringing in another smart, big headed kid with a side eye as sharp as his mama’s doesn’t seem so bad. But most days, I don’t want kids at all. I’m only 25, but I’m worried for my future son. I cry for him. I cry at the state of the world, I cry for his safety, I cry for things that haven’t even happened yet. I cry for the things I’ll have to explain to him.
Legacy, Legacy, Legacy, Legacy
Black excellence baby, you gon’ let ’em see
My future Legacy is different from his sister, Fat, as he hasn’t fully visited me yet. I’ve only seen one part of him in my dreams — his big koolaid grin. Part of me wants to keep him close, shelter him, and shield him from the things that have made my exterior a bit tougher. It’s weird wanting to protect someone who doesn’t even exist yet. But, the other part of me is so proud of my Legacy that I want to show him to the world. He’ll have his father’s jawline and his mother’s almond eyes. His grandfather’s knowledge and wit and his grandmother’s emotional strength. He’ll be tall and tower over me, and grow up to tell me not to worry before he leaves the house just as the other men in his line.
My Legacy… black excellence baby. You gonna let them see.
What song on 4:44 is dedicated to someone of your past, present, or future? Let me know in the comment section.