I was speaking to my man nikon, who serves double duty as the director of the dummy clap film festival, the film portion of the brooklyn hip-hop festival as well as the resident skeptic of the team. Nikon is the man who made the argument that he didn’t like a tribe called quest when they first came out and other assorted heresy. He is also the person who first put me on to chance the rapper and the only person i know who can break down dr. Octagon and melle mel verses in the same breath.
Nikon is also the one who really alerted to the absolute genius that is jay electronica. So when he asked me my thoughts on jay-z’s “4:44” it made me return to this article that i have been chewing over ever since hov’s latest album dropped. From the first listen i believe that “4:44” was one of the most significant hip-hop works of art the culture has produced. I believe we will look back at this album in 20 years and realize that the hip-hop shifted on its axis upon its release.
Much has been written about this album and the tribe album ushering in a new age of middle age hip-hop. For years we have been told that hip-hop is a young man’s game and if you were not milly rocking on any block you were going to be left behind. This has birthed a whole class of what i like to call, “uncles in the club.” Middle aged men with jeans ripped at the knees in corporate offices convincing themselves that quavo or young thug are andre 3000 reincarnated. While i applaud some of these folks for their foresight and ability to resist joining the “make hip-hop great again” i abhor their peter pan mentality. Their inability to carve out a space for 40-year-olds as well as 17-year-olds flies in the face of their supposed progressiveness.
De la soul debuting higher than young thug, tribe shaking the world on the strength of a facebook post by q-tip and jay’s “4:44” proved that middle aged hip-hop was not only profitable but still an artistic juggernaut. The dominance of q-tip, posdnous and hov’s sons – chance, kendrick, and cole, only reinforced that there was room for more than future’s ‘molly and percocet’ and lil uzi vert’s gender bending.
But back to my point, why do i think this jay-z album is so important? Not only is it the jay-z album that heads have been hoping he would make for years, it is the album hip-hop needed. It is revolutionary in a cerebral, emotional and financial way. Much has been written that this is the answer to beyonce’s “lemonade” and solange’s “seat at the table.” The memes of the elevator fight were juvenile but more factually accurate than i cared to admit. But that’s not it.
This is jay electronica’s jay-z album. When you listen to jay electronica’s dispersed catalog you can hear his influence all over “4:44”. Not in a “that’s my style” or “i wrote those rhymes” way, but rather thematically. It is as if jay-z went to detroit or london wherever jay elec has held his monastic residence the past few years and sat and built with the new orleans mc. While a staunch capitalist, jay-z is also schooled in the same teaching of the nations of gods and earths that jay elec is.
For years, jay-z has been trying to balance his american hyper capitalism with the spiritual teachings he learned years ago hustling up and down the east coast. They are sprinkled throughout his lyrics from”reasonable doubt” to “4:44”. He famously wore the gods’ flag while puzzling the hipster media in the process. On the brooklyn hip-hop festival stage in 2014, he handed that pendant to jay electronica in what was seen as the new “chaining ceremony”.
Jay electronica has been signed to jay-z’s roc nation for years, only releasing an intermittent song. It has lead many to wonder why enter a bidding war with puff for an artist and then let him rest on his laurels and release so little music. I believe that jay electronica’s value goes far beyond his ability to be a human cd player as most artists are viewed. Having worked with him and his team as well as having attempted to digest his music his value lies in his presence. He is a unique character and moreover a ‘once in a generation’ thinker. I believe jay elec may serve as counselor to jay-z as much as roc nation artist.
“4:44” is definitely the result of deep contemplation by arguably the greatest hip-hop artist of all time. It is also the result of conversations between jay and his inner circle. The references to chaka, emory, lenny s. And ty-ty may have gone over some folks’ head. However, i can’t help but think that jay electronica was also part of the brain trust in one way or another.
While i hear jay electronica’s presence all over “4:44”, a close examination of “smile” best illustrates my thesis. Check, check it out….
“respect jimmy iovine
But he gotta respect the elohim as a whole new regime”
“respect the architect, never test the elohim
Goodnight, this is jay elec, live from new orleans”
-jay electronica “exhibit a”
The jays are certainly not the only mc to reference the elohim, but the use of the word and the tone are unmistakably similar in these verses. The idea that the culture has been taken advantage of by outsiders is a constant theme. The reason for this capitulation is that the creators of the culture have forgotten their divine nature. They (we) are the elohim, the powerful beings behind it all. Jimmy iovine is only a parasite who has tricked and rob us of our birthright. We can continue to work together, but there must be a level of mutual respect.
“god sent me to break the chain
I’m the true and livin’
God in the flesh, the rest of these niggas is vain
Ni**as’ll rip your shit off tidal just to spite you”
“they rather have a shot of belvy just to spite you
They casting judgments cause they feel they got the right to
Jay-z & jay electronica “shiny suit theory”
Jay-z appears to reference his song with jay electronica. On “shiny suit theory” jay electronica recants a conversation with puffy where the latter laments that how the hip-hop community would rather tear down a black owned business than support it, one of the major themes of “4:44”. A sentiment articulated on jay-z’s rap radar interview.
“drinkin’ ace of spades like it’s codeine now
Tryna put a million on the whole team now
Push through the pain so we can see new life”
“i’m on my lupita nyong’o
Stuntin’ on stage, after 12 years a slave
This ace of spades look like an oscar
Black tux, look like a mobster
Don’t make me rrrraa yah, ni**a watch your tone”
-jay electronica & jay electronica
“we made it”
While references to ace of spades, the champagne partially owned by jay-z, can be seen throughout the catalog here we see it not as a status symbol but as a symbol of jay-z’s liberation ideology.
“my therapist said i relapsed
I said, “prehaps i freudian slipped in european whips”
“in this manila envelope, the results of my insanity
Quack said i crossed the line between real life and fantasy”
Jay-z & jay electronica “shiny suit theory”
Here on the two songs, jay-z makes the only references to his mental health in his catalog, specifically his therapist. Jay electronica has made many references to his mental health. Battles with depression, hearing voices and crying himself to sleep are anecdotes that have endeared him to many. Perhaps jay elec’s honesty about his mental health lead hov to manage his. Again a point he made on rap radar.
“ahhhh, what did i do?
‘cept try to free you
Niggas’ll love you but hate you ’cause they can’t be you
Dump ’em all in the bayou”
“my lord’s too beneficent
The message grab a hold to every ear it get whispered in
The waters in the bayous of new orleans still glistenin’
The universe is listenin’, be careful what you say in it”
-jay electronica “better in tune with the infinite”
Jay electronica’s connection to new orleans and the larger area known as the bayou is an integral part of his art. While beyonce made reference to new orleans on “formation” here jay-z talks specifically about dumping the bodies of his enemies into the bayou’s water. Jay electronica also references the bayou as a resting place for corpses, albeit stemming from the destruction of katrina.
Just my take. Listen to the album and treasure the jewels you find.