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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Album review: Jay-Z drops pearls of wisdom with new release

With his personal life on the rocks, Jay-Z digs deep and discusses his faults on new album

Cover art of 4:44
Cover art of 4:44

The story is that the title of Jay Z’s new album stems from the rapper waking up at 4:44am inspired to put pen to paper. It must have been a pretty sleepless night.

Powered by a finely cut sample of Late Nights and Heartbreak by Hannah Williams and The Affirmations, the title track is Jay-Z at his most personal.

The song is a guilt-soaked apology letter to his wife, pop-queen Beyoncé, for his alleged infidelity and all round emotional immaturity.

While understandably the track has been the subject of discussion since the album’s release earlier this week, the lush and concise record is filled with nuggets of wisdom more rewarding than any soap opera marriage.

Brevity suits Jay Z; with a running time of 36 minutes, the 10-song collection finds him at his most lyrically expansive.

With all tracks produced by hip-hop veteran No I.D, there is a sense of urgency and sonic unity here, with the 47-year-old providing cutting observations and imparting advice about life in a United States divided on racial lines.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the billionaire mogul states that being business savvy is the ultimate form of self-empowerment.

“Go play the quarters where the butlers be”, he states over the understated funk production of The Story of OJ. “Imma play the corners where the hustlers be.”

In the gospel tinged Family Feud he makes the case for black-owned businesses: “What's better than one billionaire? Two/ Especially if they're from the same hue as you/ Y'all stop me when I stop tellin' the truth.”

The Jay Z of old hasn’t totally left the building, however. That vintage braggadocios spirit is in full display in the swaggering album highlight Bam, featuring Damian Marley.

But the brashness of old is tempered by some perspective: “Sometimes you need your ego, gotta remind these fools”.

Such maturity is perhaps the reason for 4:44 being Jay Z’s best album since 2003’s The Black Album. The even handedness here allows all his insights to penetrate and ultimately shows Jay-Z is growing old gracefully.

4:44

Jay-Z

(Roc Nation)