On Friday, Jay- Z released the best hip hop album of 2017 so far.


At this point in his career, a Jay- Z album is more than just a record. A Jay-Z album is an event, it’s a state of the union address in terms of hip hop, and the community, through the eyes who has been in the public eye for the last 21 years and has successfully navigated through it.


So when first hearing about this album being set to be released, many, who may not know what true evolution in music is, may have thought that this album would just be another filled with songs about business, how much money he has, and basically what it’s like being on top of the world.


In reality, this album did give you that, but not in the way many expected.


This is clearly Jay’s deepest album to date.


Filled with commentary on the struggles of the African American community, the social and political climate of the world we live in today, gems on how to also successfully through this current climate, the addressing of people and rumors and yes, even confessions of infidelity and personal woes and actions that may have cost him what he truly loved, Jay-Z gave us Shawn Carter, the man.


This is something most probably weren’t ready for. I mean, we’re so used to seeing and hearing Jay essentially breeze through life with smart business decisions, excellent wordplay, and innate awareness that it’s hard to fathom that there could be anything truly wrong in the life of a king.


To that, I say in the words of the Notorious B.I.G, “If you don’t know, now you know.”


Through ten, concise, deeply emotional, soulful tracks, Jay breezes through each with the confidence and suaveness that we all have grown accustomed to. Add in there a deeply introspective, almost guilty textual tone, however, and you get a man yet to truly be revealed to us.


(Direct Lyrics)

Tracks like “Kill Jay-Z,” “Legacy,” and “4:44” give us the best look at a Carter that we really never have experienced. This is a man who clearly, despite his success, has gone through an amount of pain and regret, that at its bare principles, we can all relate to.


On the opening track, “Kill Jay-Z”, he addresses people and society wanting to tear him down due to his success and how it can breed jealousy even from those whom he has gone out of his way to help the most. He talks about giving Kanye West $20 million in advance for being a part owner in Tidal to help him out with some possible financial issues and in return, Kanye gave him 20 minutes on stage, ranting about why Jay doesn’t call him, why their kids don’t play together, and how Beyonce may have used her power to rig the MTV Awards in her favor.


Although not to this magnitude, we all have experienced regret in going above and beyond for someone we care about and love and I turn, having then turn against us in some way as if we never did anything for them. This shows that we all, as humans, are susceptible to this type of betrayal in some way, shape or form and Jay is no different.


On “4:44”, we see Hov at his deepest, at his most vulnerable. Per Jay himself, he said that this is one of the greatest songs that he has ever written.


People have varying creative zones and times in which these zones come into full effect. Many are night owls who are at their best creatively at the very depths of the night. Many are early birds, who perform best after a good night of sleep and get right after it in the AM. Through this track we see that Jay is in his own zone, somewhere between the late night and early morning, at precisely 4:44 AM when he reportedly woke up and penned this track.


The time is fitting because within the track, he expresses things that only are thought about when we can’t really sleep or when we wake up in the middle of the night because so much is on our mind. At 4:44 AM, we received another level of Jay, one that admits to cheating on his wife, Beyoncé and nearly damaging and breaking up his own family because of it. One that admits that Solange was completely justified in going at him in the elevator because he kept “egging” her on instead of admitting he was wrong. One that admits that it took children and creating new life onto the Earth in order for him to truly see through the eyes of a woman. One that admits that he’s never truly grasped the concept of love and that he wants a do-over at it because of his emotionless demeanor to something that involves so much emotion.


We hear him say “I apologize” multiple times and we hear him say it over a track that sound like a beautiful cry and someone singing their pain away while Jay raps his away.


On “4:44” we not only hear Jay, but we see him through his inner core and we realize that anyone is capable of making mistakes and sometimes, we take a while to own up to them. Sounds like a lot of people I know.


“Legacy” is the album’s closer and is directly penned to his daughter Blue and his set of newborn twins. It talks about leaving a legacy that your kids will enjoy and be proud of. He reminisces on the decisions he’s made and ultimately accepts them because no matter how you slice it, his children will have nothing to worry about and will be free to pursue their dreams without fear because their parents worked hard to ensure it. In the end, as any man, or women, this is all we could hope to do for our kids despite any set of decisions we may have made.


On tracks like “The Story of O.J.”, “Caught In Their Eyes” and “Smile” Jay gives us a lot of games and gems that we all should live by, especially African American men.


(DJ Booth)

“The Story of OJ” teaches us that there is such a thing as race and that it’s very apparent in how people look at you and treat you. As this is evident, he encourages us to invest our money instead of blowing it or holding it up to our ears for social media because where he’s from, that’s not real money over here. He encourages financial freedom in every way because their are people, businesses and corporations out there who are designed to take our money and monopolize it for their own gain, while we are left with the crumbs. It also teaches us that no race is above any other, or no person is above any other. We can learn this from O.J. Simpson who famously said, “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” to which Jay sarcastically replies “Ok”. Possibly the most important song on the album, it really tells us to not be censored and to live our lives on our terms, not society’s.


“Smile” is as cliche as he gets on this album basically saying that through all of the pain and negative things that come our way, that we must smile through it all by making our future better because of these things that we experienced. He displays this through the narrative of his mother who came out as a lesbian and had to navigate through the pain and struggle that comes with not only going against the grain in that way but doing at as the mother of one of the most recognizable and famous people on Earth. He talks about having to cope with his mom being a lesbian by picturing her as a “Thespian” pretending that she was acting and that this wasn’t really true. In time however, he not only realizes it’s truth, but he accepts it and comes to terms with the fact that his mother has found love again and that’s what matters most, especially when you’ve worked your whole life for her to be truly happy in the first place.


On tracks like “Marcy Me” and “Moonlight”, we see Jay taking a nostalgic look through his life and to those times in which he, like most other people in their own lives, had thoughts about not making it. We see more doubts surface as he has to grow up in the harsh environment where not many people see it or make it out and he somehow breaks through. As he then moves from nostalgia to the present, he brings us toward the future and gives his take on how we can push the culture forward together. He airs his thoughts out about how we can’t allow ourselves to be stuck in this La La Land that is society which tries to temper our dreams and derail our aspirations. We have to see through the BS and push ourselves through it so that new ground can be made through it and new doors can be opened.


Finally, on my two favorite tracks, “Family Feud” and “Bam” we hear a familiar tone from Jay, one that recognizes that he is who he is and that no one can do it better than he can. We hear Hov instead of Shawn and this is most notable on “Bam” when he says, “F*** all that pretty Shawn Carter sh** this is Hov!” over a Caribbean style beat with an uber amount of base and horns added to it which I believe is a knock to artists going after the Caribbean sound so much for radio play. We also hear him critiquing the new wave of rappers on “Family Feud” saying that they all sound the same and that he can’t distinguish one from another, all while imploring all rappers, old and new, to not go against each other but to stick together as a culture. He also does this while claiming that he is still the realest rapper out which, in his mind (and mine as well) goes without saying at which point he tells the congregation (chorus) to say Amen twice.


These two tracks are just Jay the way we’re probably used to hearing him and through an album that introduces us to a new form of the man, I definitely appreciated are very back to some old habits.


All in all, this album, in time, time will be labeled as another classic. Again, this is more about Shawn Carter than it is about Jay-Z while at the same time showcasing why Jay-Z is considered one of the greatest rappers of all time. We hear a man, who has donned the mask of invulnerability, become vulnerable in a way we have never seen him and through it all, he becomes even more mythological because of it.


How would you rank this album among his others? Let’s talk about it here or find me on Twitter @Phenombc3.