Gearing up for SW4, Sub Focus chooses his favourite tracks and acts to look out for.
Last month, Jay-Z (once again with hyphen) released his 13th(ish) studio album, 4:44. The remarkably stripped back hip-hop record was produced entirely by mentor No ID, welcoming only three guests into the fold. One of which is Jay-Z’s mother, Gloria Carter, who offers a mantra for liberation. “Love who you love,” she implores. Her son has already discussed her sexuality.
It forms part of a theme of redemption and empowerment. Jay-Z, real name Shawn Carter, focuses on his culture. On The Story of OJ he celebrates his success with notable humility. On Family Fued he takes on Becky, the one with the good hair. He admits to his infidelity.
4:44 is in part a response to wife Beyonce’s iconic Lemonade. Yet despite what certain corners of the internet would let you believe, it’s so much more. It’s about black liberation, a celebration of culture, and a man coming to terms with the reality of his decisions.
Both before and since the release of the album, the Brooklyn, New York raised entrepreneur has been drip-feeding videos from the record, originally only available to stream on Tidal. They’ve supported the success of the record, which debuted at No.1 on the stateside Billboard 200.
With Jay-Z’s near constant profile dominating headlines since the release, from apparent feuds with fellow hip-hop superstar Kanye West to his much loved collaboration with the recently departed Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, the videos have helped to keep 4:44 at the forefront.
Here are all five videos taken from Jay-Z’s new album, plus a little more about the New York rapper. Parental advisory warning, of course.
This animated video takes a satirical look at the injustices of cartoon history, deliberately pitched against the empowering message of the track. Jay-Z speaks of success in adversity, whilst criticising stereotypes, both perceived by society and real. The track features the powerful, and widely picked up line: You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a strip club? Credit. Jay-Z is both celebrating his achievements, and highlighting the many social issues that have hindered others.
Speaking of the video in an eight-minute documentary, Jay-Z says: “O.J. would get to a space where he’s like, ‘I’m not black, I’m O.J.’ Like Tiger Woods would get to a space and think, ‘I’m above the culture’. And that same person when he’s playing golf and playing great, you’re protected. When you’re not, they’re gonna put pictures of you drunk driving and, like, embarrass you. That world will eat you up and spit you out.”
Starting life as a Tidal exclusive, the eight-minute clip for the album’s title-track dropped to celebrate the record’s move to other streaming services. The video is a collage of various events, speeches and interviews, starting with a clip of a young boy singing Nina Simone’s Feeling Good. From here the reel glides through fights, riots, and seemingly random viral videos. It even features footage of Jay-Z singing with wife Beyonce, and closes with daughter Blue Ivy, who also raps on album bonus track Blue’s Freestyle/We Family.
As with The Story Of OJ, there’s more than a little social and political commentary in the clip for 4:44, not least footage of police brutality against the black community.
The video for Jay-Z’s Bam, a track which sees him team up with Bob Marley’s youngest son Damian, dropped the same day as wife Beyonce introduced the newest members of the Knowles-Carter family, Sir Carter and Rumi. Featuring a sample from Sister Nancy’s Bam Bam and Winston Riley’s Stalag Riddim, the video represents the same poignant urgency as The Story Of OJ and 4:44 before it.
It’s a further celebration of black culture, this time seeing Jay-Z visit Jamaica to discuss the influence of reggae on hip-hop. It’s the first of his videos taken from his new album to heavily feature the man himself. In, what has now become a staple of his videos, the clip is as much a music video as a mini-documentary.
Following the lengthy mini-documentaries accompanying 4:44: and Bam, the video for album opener Kill Jay-Z is comparably minimal. At just under two minutes the track has drawn attention for referencing Kanye West and American RnB singer Eric Benét.
Jay-Z set the record straight in an interview with iHeartRadio explaining that’s it’s about the ego. “It’s about killing off the ego, so we can have this conversation in a place of vulnerability and honesty.”
In an interview with Complex, directors Bush|Renz explain that the visuals match the theme of the track. It’s about the battle between retaining identity but being aware of the role of the ego. It’s about how many in the black community are forced to put up a wall in order to achieve, but it’s that very wall that can ultimately hold them back.
The most recent video to drop from 4:44 is Adnis, starring Oscar winning Moonlight actor Mahershala Ali, and Danny Glover. The clip carries the paternal message of the track, with Ali being watched by father-figure Glover as he prepares for training.
The track wasn’t featured on digital versions of the record, but is available on the physical release. In it, Jay-Z discusses his troubled relationship with his father.
Jay-Z will be headlining this year’s Virgin V Festival from the 19-20 August 2017. He’ll be joined by fellow headliner Pink. Tickets are available now through Ticketmaster.co.uk.