The very first thing Jay-Z does on the 13th album of his legendary career is kill Jay-Z. He’s done it before in songs and in visuals, it’s a symbolic trope that he’s played with for years, but now, over 20 years into his career and closer to 50 than 40, it seems like he’s finally and truly done the deed.
They’re the first words on 4:44, and from there he unfurls 37 minutes of the most revealing music of his life, and surely the most in the past decade. Finally, after all these years, Jay was ready to give way to Shawn Carter, the man, as vulnerable and flawed as he’s ever been. He once said “Regrets” from his debut Reasonable Doubt was the closest he’s ever been to being Shawn Carter on a track, and now, he’s done that for an entire album. On 4:44, he invites the world into his closet and allows them to see all the skeletons, either without shame, or no longer in fear of that shame.
There are a host of revelations: Infidelity, his mother’s queer identity, mistakes, family secrets and lessons learned; Jay is remorseful and apologetic for his mistakes, but it isn’t maturity or growth that has brought on that desire for atonement and remorse — it’s perspective. At its core, 4:44 is the story of a man who had to have a daughter to realize exactly what it was to truly respect women and to see the faults in all his ways. It took having a daughter for Jay to see what it was to truly be a man. 4:44 is the daughter the demons of his past created, and Shawn Carter reaping all of what Jay-Z sowed.
That development is the fulfillment of a prophecy that, even at his most omniscient, Jay-Z could have never known would prove so true when he uttered the words in 2006 on Kingdom Come‘s “Beach Chair.”