Image courtesy of genius.com
By Hunter Frederick
When Jay-Z released his new album 4:44 on June 30th, 2017 exclusively on his music-streaming service TIDAL, a lot of people, including myself lamented his decision. Let’s not beat around the bush: a lot of people don’t have TIDAL. I hate having to switch between the Music app and Spotify on my iPhone. The last thing I want to do is add another app into that mix.
However, I rejoiced when I found a music video for the number 2 track from the album, The Story of OJ. It floated around my Facebook news feed, way before it got released on YouTube on July 5th. It came from some page or person that I hadn’t expected it from. I was left wondering for a while if it was fan made or actually made by Jay-Z and his team.
I gave the video a watch and fell in love from my listen. Bass and glistening guitar start off the song, and a beat later joins, perfect for the energy for the song. Jay-Z’s vocal delivery matches the beat perfectly, coming in lowkey and with a flow that feels comfortable and honest in it’s message. Hov also samples Nina Samone for this one, lifting a piano riff and some vocals from her song “Four Women.”
Speaking of which, the song itself deals with some heavy topics; racism, stereotypes and how to use money to make real change. Jay-Z raps about the idea that regardless of what a black person’s accomplishments, actions or words, society sees them as a black person. Therefore, the stereotypes apply to everyone, from the poorest of the poor all the way up to black celebrities (in this case, OJ Simpson). Hov also raps about some regrets he has regarding his finances. He laments passing on the opportunity to buy property in Brooklyn before the gentrification. So, he spent money on cars instead. Jay gives purchased art to his children as it rises in value. He even calls out the famous holding-money-to-ear-pose and says that artist flaunting and flexing their wealth need to realize what real wealth is; investments and community building, so says Jay-Z.
My favorite line from the track does a good job of summing up the entire song:
“You wanna know what’s more important that throwing away money at a strip club? Credit.”
The music video itself is incredible in it’s on right. I don’t think the message would’ve hit as hard without such a strong visual accompaniment. Jay makes masterful of use of imagery to drive home his points about financial responsibility and stereotyping. This is done all in a black and white style reminiscent of early Disney or Looney Tunes. Everything the video bops and grooves to the beat of the track. However, that doesn’t subtract from the power of the video. The classically racist depictions of black people, the recurring images of a burning cross and slaves picking cotton and Jay’s depiction of himself as each “kind” of black person really give power to his words.
Unfortunately, this song could never play on the radio. Jay-Z has crafted a song that’s not only satisfying to listen to, but that also deals with a topic that society needs to discuss. I could see this track coming on in a car or barber shop and somebody turns it up so everyone can hear it. Then as the track fades, a discussion breaks out about stereotypes and racism and financial responsibility. Jay has effectively brought a conversation to the forefront for many circles and communities across the country.
UPDATE (7/9/2017): 4:44 is reported now also out on Apple Music and a physical version, with bonus tracks, should also be available soon.