Jay-Z has built a career on being a tough business man who's great at talking slick to girls, loving to spend lavishly on designer brands and champagne and he can outrap almost anyone, and not only does he know it - he lets it be known. But what made Jay succesfull isn't only the ill flow, his fabolous lifestyle and fierce battle bars but also the little hints of honesty that allowed us to come close to Jigga and learn about him, faults and all. He was never as transparent as say Nas or DMX, far from it, but for almost every album he had a joint or two where he invited listeners into his world to let us partake in the world of the real Jay-Z. These records were often the stand-outs on each LP and I dare say that if it wasn't for these type of tracks he wouldn't have made it to the top. I'm talking songs like "You Must Love Me" (such a heartfelt verse, describing how he shot his own brother and just ran), "Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)", "Moment Of Clarity" and "Where Have You Been" (making up with the father that abandoned him), "D'Evils", "Regrets", "Lucky Me" and so on. I feel that since his 2006 comeback he has kind of shied away from these type of topics which in my opinion has hurt these proects somewhat. It's like they've been missing something.
With "4:44" I'm glad to say that JAY-Z is back in full efect and it's easy to see why he often comes up in discussions about the G.O.A.T. Hov is a grown man now, he is in Forbes magazine, he could care less about petty beef, and here he basically decided to do his most personal album yet, It's like a 36 minute therapy session, and the way thing starts is pure brilliance. With "Kill Jay-Z" he is admitting his faults and killing his ego to get to the bottom of Shawn Carter really is. There's quotable for days here as it's basically an older, more experienced man speaking to his younger self, explaining where he did go wrong. "The Story Of O.J." is another standout from the set which is directed to black people in the US, and once again also can be seen as a wiser Jay-Z speaking to a younger, more immature version of himself. He talks about managing our finances in a proper way, investing money and not flexing. The line "Y'all on the 'Gram holding money to your ear/ there's a disconnect, we don't call that money over here" is a classic Jay double entendre that could've been straight from "Reasonable Doubt". A lot of fools don't get how slick that line is, only hearing the "holding money to your ear on Instagram" flexing" line when its the lines that come after that really solidifies it at lyrical and worthy of recognition.
All through this NO ID certainly rises to the challenge and it's such a beautiful thing to just hear two artists vibing in the studio coming up with a really coherrent sound. TThey have worked before, but often with at least a gang of producers around - the one song I can think off that was just Jay and NO is "Death of Autotune", and matter of fact that wouldn't be too out o place here. Sonically that is. It's a great mixture of sampled gospel, soul and jazz classics and live instrumentation coupled with some real hard drums but the beats never got to busy to take the top spot from Jay-Z. He touches on so many honest topics here, from his mother's homosexuality and finall coming out the closet on the more laid-back but beautiful "Smile". There's the title track (see video above) which features a truly heartfelt apology from Hov to his wife for cheating repeatedly on here (as macho as Hip Hop is, could this be the first record of a man saying he is truly sorry for that). No ID again does a beautiful job of combining a repeated vocal sample that stretches out and finds the team in the melting pot between R&B and boom bap.
And that's halftime, but there's really no point in breaking down every song as this is as true an album as they come and I dare to say that 10 years from now this will be looked upon as one of Jay-Z's classics. And the same goes for NO ID as this was undoubtedly a team effort. It's a blessing that Jay-Z realized he doesn't need a million and one producers to make a hot album; just get one really talented guy that understands your vision and we're almost there. Lyrically this is a new chapter in Jay-Z's book and one that is very welcome, he's grown up and got some rich man problems but that doens't mean that he's gone soft on us. There's plenty of shit here for the average man to relate to and for the rest there's a lot of advice to be taken heed to. I really liked "American Gangster" but as that was a concept album perhaps it's more honest to say that is Jigga's best joint since "The Black Album" some 15 years ago. No matter how you feel about this man be sure to check it out ASAP and let's hope that more artists follow suit in letting one or two producers handle their whole album front to back.