so much of what makes something wholesome, just, good, morally upright and ethical centers around this idea of inclusivity. think voting rights. access to health care, clean water, food. emphasis on diversity. community. affirmative action. “how few people can we leave out?” and then, so much of what makes something desirable, enticing, notable and valuable is linked to this idea of exclusivity. think olympic athletes. specialization. competition. adele concerts. adele herself. “how few people can achieve such skill, such heights?”
in many ways, the two concepts are oppositional. either one tends to come at the expense of the other. it’s a push and pull i find myself thinking about a lot. and most recently, it’s been on my mind in the realm of music.
you guessed it.
jay z strikes an admirable balance between the two with his newest album, ‘4:44’. this feels noteworthy because for so long, for so many years, i have been rolling my eyes when any of his songs came on the radio. he raps about his billion grammy awards, his bank account, his all too exclusive lifestyle, interests and circle of friends, all too often. “Tom Ford”, “baddest b**tch in the game”, blah, blah, blah. content-wise, this may have been appropriate and even necessary during his formative years as an artist with a rags to riches story. but a decade or two in, it gets pretty stale and uninspiring. more than that, it starts to get annoying.
with ‘4:44’ jay-z definitely doesn’t abandon his tendency towards bravado and showmanship. after all, it is his signature. but it’s tempered with such genuine concern for community, brotherhood, social justice (namely, racial justice), open introspection about fatherhood and his masculinity, his wife and all the women of his past (his apology to all of them). most of the things on this list i’d attribute to a kendrick or cole album…had i not heard ‘4:44’.
the track ‘family fued’ is but one example on the album that achieves a striking harmony between inclusivity and exclusivity. “the track is about the separation in the hip-hop culture and community. Hov is witnessing new rappers disrespecting their old heads, while old school artists and fans misunderstand the new generations. “Family Feud” stands as Jay’s call for all rappers and fans to put aside their differences and come together for the good of the culture.” he raps about the importance of unity but he also reminds everyone of what sets him apart–what puts him on top when he says, “what’s better than one billionaire? two. specifically if they’re from the same hue as you” (referring to p. diddy and himself).
before i listened to the album in its entirely, i saw this post go around on instagram that reads “jay z album gonna make you: fix your credit, pay your child support and taxes, take care of your kids, apologize to your wife, change your instagram, sell your jewelry, buy property, buy more suits, pull your pants up and start reading books.” i thought it may have been a slight exaggeration for the sake of reposts.
i admit i was so very wrong. jay’s lyrics really do make you want to work towards something larger than yourself.
and then there’s the strategy outside of the the content, the lyrics. it’s in how the album was put out into the world–in perhaps the most annoyingly exclusive way in the history of music. the day jay dropped his album, the only way you could hear it was if you were a sprint customer or if you had previously subscribed to Tidal, his own music streaming service. even if you joined Tidal that same day, you wouldn’t be able to hear it. WHAAT????
i hung out in my car for hours on end, where local radio stations were playing the album all the way through. i was itching to hear it so badly that despite my mid-day hunger pangs that warranted me making or getting a real lunch for myself, i subjected myself to McDonald’s drive-thru just so i wouldn’t have to leave the car. the album is THAT good. and because he made it so exclusive to access, it made me yearn for it more. it carved more specific memories into my head. delayed. gratification. is. important. and it’s not to be confused with deprivation and absence, as jay z has literally poured his entire soul out for you and me.
it’s almost as if jay recognized that his new, more inclusive than ever music wouldn’t be believable to us–that he had to give it to us in the most jay z way imaginable.
i was looking for every reason to critique this album, to diss jay-z. especially after cheating on beyonce, i didn’t think he could do anything to redeem himself in my eyes. he still hasn’t. but this album is seriously worth listening to. it feels believable, convincing.