Jay-Z has been a lot of things over the course of his career, but vulnerable has rarely been one of them. On his 13th studio album, however, the living legend takes a backseat to Shawn Corey Carter, delivering a brilliantly mature body of work that serves as self-therapy for the 47-year-old rapper. With just one producer, No I.D., holding down production duties, the Brooklyn emcee exposes himself lyrically in ways previously unheard.
No place on the album finds Jay-Z baring his soul better than the title track. With a perfectly placed sample of Hannah Williams & The Affirmations’s “Late Nights & Heartbreak” providing the atmosphere, he addresses his rumored infidelity—seemingly made public on Beyoncé’s 2016 album, Lemonade—taking full accountability for actions that nearly led to the demise of his marriage. Boasts are replaced by confessions, as he laments his flaws without throwing a pity party.
Elsewhere, he takes lyrical strolls down memory lane (“Marcy Me”) and tackles race and financial freedom (“The Story of O.J.”). He even pulls back the curtain on his mother coming out as gay on “Smile,” handled beautifully with a third verse dedicated to the hurdles of being black in America. Though Jay-Z has often framed himself as a multimillionaire feasting on capitalism, 4:44 feels reflective, socially conscious and candid, allowing us to truly appreciate his artistry.