As Jay-Z would like to say, it’s not darkness, but the absence of light that permeates the massive United Center arena in Chicago. Through the inky blackness, you can just make out the eight, large screens descending like open books from the rafters, obscuring the stage erected at center court. The screens flicker to life, broadcasting lo-fi images of Jay decked out in his trusty Yankee cap. As the seconds tick down, the man on the screen becomes consumed by fire. The flames eat away at his eyes first before spreading outward and consuming the rest.
A red hue pulses from within the walled-off array. The screens rise together revealing the man himself. Shawn Carter stands there, both hands gripping the microphone stand, soaking in the roars of the crowd. Then he goes for the jugular. “Kill Jay Z, they’ll never love you / You’ll never be enough,” he admonishes before running down a laundry list of all his biggest indiscretions. The time he shot his own brother Eric, the family that he sold drugs to, and the wife to whom he couldn’t remain faithful. “You almost went Eric Benét / Let the baddest girl in the world get away.” He does this of course because “you can’t heal what you never reveal.”
In the world of Jay-Z, the man many consider to be the greatest MC of all-time, a business mogul bordering on becoming a billionaire, and a superstar recognized across the globe, there has historically been little room for frank vulnerability. Sure, he’s delved into some of the darker corners of his past through his rhymes, but up until the release of 4:44 earlier this year, the true inner-workings of his mind, and the burdens on his heart have remained a mystery. Now, at long last, he’s decided to admit to himself, and to his audiences that he’s mortal after all. What’s more, he wants to share some of the lessons he’s picked up along the way.