FOR more than a year, the world waited to hear the other side of the story — the story according to Jay-Z.
Since Beyonce shattered all our shallow illusions about the inner life of the Carter family with her Lemonade manifesto, we have clamoured for her husband to confess.
Did Shawn Carter cheat on his wife, the mother of his daughter Blue Ivy and their newborn twins (reportedly named Rumi and Sir)?
The answer is yes, according to Jay-Z’s 13th solo record 4:44. And he is sorry. Very, very sorry.
Everyone expected the man who rules the rap world to address the allegations of infidelity and hard-fought repair of the Carter marriage through music, but no one could have predicted the vulnerability and honesty of this confessional record.
Listening to 4:44 is a voyeuristic experience and as usual, the Carters are letting the music do their talking, with the Roc Nation music mogul avoiding sharing any juicy details by subjecting himself to an American talk show grilling, the default forum for famous folk seeking redemption.
The day after 4:44 was unveiled, Beyonce returned to Twitter for the first time since she released Lemonade in April 2016.
She used the opportunity to promote her charitable initiative BEYGOOD4BURUNDI.
“Mothers in Burundi want to provide clean, safe water for their children. Let’s help them, together,” Beyonce tweeted.
Everything we think we wanted to know about what went on between Jay and Bey is in the lyrics on 4:44.
His riposte to Beyonce’s most infamous Lemonade lyric (that line about “Becky with the good hair”) comes in Family Feud, in which he raps: “Let me alone, Becky.”
But it is in opening song Kill Jay-Z and title track 4:44 (in which he apologises seven times) that the rapper acknowledges the pain he inflicted on the woman he loves, the “baddest girl in the world”.
Much-anticipated and acutely-analysed, 4:44 arrives as pop’s cycle is shifting from vacuous odes about artists behaving badly to unguarded moments where a singer or songwriter wears their soul on their sleeve.
Jay-Z does continue to extol the virtues of champagne and luxury cars in rhyme on this latest record, but he does so to underscore the black man and woman’s ongoing struggle for financial power and equal opportunity in America.
While his confirmation of his infidelities and public apology to Beyonce might have been what the world was hoping to hear, the masterful rap entrepreneur had a shock in store: the revelation of his mother Gloria’s sexuality.
In the track Smile he raps about Gloria’s struggle to come out as a lesbian while raising her four children as a single mother in the projects.
“Mama had four kids, but she’s a lesbian, had to pretend so long that she’s a thespian,” Jay-Z raps.
“Had to hide in the closet, so she medicate, society shame and the pain was too much to take. Cried tears of joy when you fell in love, don’t matter to me if it’s a him or her.”
Gloria adds her voice to this empowering song with a closing monologue about a life lived in the “shadow”.
“The world is changing and they say it’s time to be free,” she says. “But you live with the fear of just being me. Living in the shadow feels like the safe place to be. No harm for them, no harm for me. But life is short and it’s time to be free. Love who you love, because life isn’t guaranteed.”
Jay-Z has been accused of anti-semitic lyrics on The Story Of O.J.
The gossips among us were also hoping for some Kanye West diss action on 4:44, after West’s onstage rant against Jay-Z and Beyonce just days before he was hospitalised due to mental illness last year.
Jay-Z does respond, pulling no punches.
“You gave him 20 million without thinkin’, He gave you 20 minutes on stage, f— was he thinkin’?”
The $20 million Jay-Z refers to is an advance allegedly given to bankroll West’s Saint Pablo tour, which was abandoned after his breakdown.
The feud escalated in the past week, with West’s representatives reportedly firing off legal letters informing Jay-Z that West was quitting the impresario’s artist-friendly streaming platform Tidal.
West’s lawyers have allegedly demanded a $3 million settlement for outstanding royalties and bonus payments for making the Life Of Pablo album exclusive to Tidal.
West’s rant, which included the bizarre accusation Beyonce wouldn’t let Blue have play dates with the Kardashian-West offspring, had another part to play in the release of 4:44.
The day the album dropped on Tidal, a fake lyric hoax swept social media.
“And I was never a fan. My wife a queen, not a Kardashian,” Jay-Z supposedly rapped.
But as fans trawled through the lyrics of the new songs, it eventually became apparent the line does not appear anywhere on 4:44 and it was declared a hoax.
For all the in-depth, line-by-line analysis of 4:44, the record is also remarkable for its music beds, fashioned by producer No I.D.
Contrary to the sound of now in hip hop, Jay-Z’s album has a decidedly retro flavour, sampling works by Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, the Fugees, Donny Hathaway and ahem, the Alan Parsons Project.
The impact 4:44 makes in Australia won’t be measured until later this week. The album was available exclusively for the first week on Jay-Z’s Tidal platform and was expected to be released on CD and via the iTunes over the weekend.
Whether or not Jay-Z will deign to share his confessional collection with rival streaming services Spotify and Apple Music is yet to be decided.
Originally published as West to split from Jay-Z’s Tidal