Shawn Carter made some serious history this year. In June, the iconic Brooklyn MC became the first hip-hop artist in history to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Of course, he had to miss the ceremony to be with Beyoncé, who was giving birthing to the superstar couple’s twins.
The recognition is significant, but it’s also one honor in a long list for Jay-Z. More important to the rapper’s legacy is what happened later in June; he released 4:44, his 13th solo album and sixth prominent work since he “retired” with 2003’s The Black Album. The concept of the late-career gem doesn’t really exist in hip-hop. It’s still a relatively young musical genre, and therefore remains focused on younger artists who are approaching or operating in their prime. At 47 and well into the mogul stage of his career, Jay-Z has proven that not only can he continue creating relevant and resonant music, he’s capable of artistic growth.
4:44 is the evidence, deserving footing alongside classic Jay-Z albums like Reasonable Doubt and The Blueprint. Easily his most personal and vulnerable album, it blows away all hip-hop clichés, trading in the rapper’s iconic bravado for mature introspection. He’s still laser-precise with his lyrics and delivery, but now he’s his own target. Chicago producer No I.D. crafted a vintage, soulful sound for all 10 tracks, a perfect canvas for the sophisticated lyricist.
It’s appropriate Jay-Z stands alone as a rapper in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, because his body of work is a similarly solitary monument—one he continues to sculpt. Jay-Z at T-Mobile Arena, October 28.