In recent years, it’s been rare to hear a track with JAY-Z on it. So, when 4:44 dropped last night, many in the Hip-Hop world tuned in.

Hov’s thirteenth studio album may be his last and it showcases some of his musical excellence. However, it’s an album that requires several listens to understand everything he’s discussing. Fully produced by No I.D., JAY-Z addresses his feelings about the new Kanye West, rumors of infidelity in his marriage, the generational gap between older rappers and new rappers, and how he abandoned record deals to create his own empire. It should be noted, his label remains distributed by Universal Music Group, a major distributor. Hov throws some jabs and shots at rappers of today (and others), viewing today’s music from the lens of an OG who has already established himself and resides on a different level than most. Full of punchlines and name-drops, this album is raw, introspective, honest, and braggadocios. At this point in his career, JAY-Z offers the picture that he has nothing left to prove but he very clearly still has much to say.

We take time to highlight a few tracks for your review:

“Kill Jay Z”

I know people backstab you, I felt that too/But this fuck everybody attitude ain’t natural/But you ain’t the same, this ain’t Kumba ‘Ye/But you got hurt because you think kumbaye/You give him $20 million without blinking/he gave you 20 minutes on stage, fuck what was he thinking?/’Fuck wrong with everybody?’ is what you saying/But if everyone is crazy, you’re the one that’s insane

You almost went Eric Benét/Let the baddest girl in the world get away/I don’t even know what else to say/N***a, never go Eric Benét

In the future, other niggas playin’ football with your son/You had lost it, 13 bottles of Ace of Spade what it did to Boston

On the opening track, we assume that Hov targets Kanye West, Future and Eric Benét. Most explicitly, JAY-Z mentions ‘Ye’s 15-minute on-stage rant during his Saint Pablo Tour, where West said:

I’ve been sitting here to give y’all the truth. Jay Z, call me, bruh. You still ain’t calling me. Jay Z, call me. Aye, bruh, I know you got killers. Please don’t send them at my head. Just call me. Talk to me like a man. I’m not trying to be the man. I just am a man, the same as anybody here. I ain’t above, below none of y’all. We all equal. We all equal. This is the vibes, bro. This is the future.

The Eric Benét verse is a reference to the infamous elevator incident between Hov, Beyoncé and Solange. He seems to caution himself to not end up like Eric Benét who split from Halle Berry in 2003 amid rumors that he was cheating. Moreover, the verse references Future’s current situation with Ciara, where the two are in long custody battle and Future’s son is often seen playing football with Ciara’s current husband Russell Wilson.

“Family Feud”

I’m tryna fix you/I’m tryna get these niggas with no stripes to be official/Y’all think small, I think Biggie/Y’all whole pass is in danger, ten Mississippi/Al Sharpton in the mirror takin’ selfies/How is him or Bill Cosby s’posed to help me?”

Here JAY-Z takes aim at the new generation of rappers. The battle between the old and new rap has been an ongoing one. Hov sees the rap game as a family and suggests that they can all benefit from it, if only the young ones let the game veterans mentor them. He uses current cultural references like Al Sharpton’s mirror selfies and Bill Cosby (who used to have a loveable father-figure image) as examples of role models who aren’t leading us the right way.

“Bam”

Uh, niggas is skippin’ leg day just to run they mouth/I be skippin’ leg day I still run the world

It looks like the line from “Bam” references Kanye West’s “30 Hours,”: “I hit the gym, all chest no legs.” Jay clearly assumes that certain rappers prefer to talk the talk then put in the necessary work.

“Moonlight”

We stuck in La La Land/Even when we win, we gon’ lose/Ya’ll got the same fuckin’ flows/I don’t know who is who/We got the same fuckin’ watch/She don’t got time to choose

Look, I know killers, you no killer/Bathing Ape maybe not a gorilla, huh?/Glorified seat filler, huh?/Stop walkin’ ’round like y’all made Thriller, huh?/Fake Dracos all in the videos/We sure, we shoot ’em in my city, though/I don’t post no threats on the internet/I just pose a threat, blame Lenny S. for that

The reference to this year’s Oscar controversy, where “La La Land” first gathered the Best Picture and then had to give it back to “Moonlight” seems like a sore spot for Jay who feels that the culture is often taken advantage from out-of-touch influencers. Hov also expresses disdain for how unoriginal new rappers are and how they follow the same musical pattern, at the same time acting like the biggest stars.

“Caught Their Eyes”

I survived eating guys like you/I’m surprised y’all think y’all can disguise y’all truths/I seen eyes wide as they about to shoot/You can be a hair pin off or you can trigger your roots/I wave to these haters, don’t give me dap/You know the world can see just how phony you at, bruh/Y’all body language is all remedial/How you could see the difference in you and I

I sat down with Prince, eye to eye/He told me his wishes before he died/Now, Londell McMillan, he must be color blind/They only see green from them purple eyes/They eyes hide, they eyes high/My eyes wide shut to all the lies/These industry niggas, they always been fishy/But ain’t no Biggie, no lazy eye, huh/This guy a slave on his face/You think he wanted a master with his Masters?/You greedy bastards sold tickets to walk through his house/I’m surprised you ain’t auction off the casket/Don’t big bro me, don’t big homie/I’ve seen pure admiration become rivals/I’ve been to Paris at least two times/I’ve seen the Eiffel, I’ve seen an eye full

While it’s unclear who Jay addresses in the first verse, it can be assumed that he talks to Kanye West later in the track when he says: “Don’t big bro me, don’t big homie/I’ve seen pure admiration become rivals/I’ve been to Paris at least two times/I’ve seen the Eiffel, I’ve seen an eye full.”
He also takes shots at the Prince Estate and names Londell McMillan (attorney and owner of The Source) that Hov accuses them of being too concerned with generating money after Prince’s untimely death. This reference is likely a response to a battle over streaming rights with Tidal to late icon’s music where the Estate has filed a lawsuit against Hov. McMillan represented Prince for many years and served as a special business advisor to the Estate, and now half of Prince’s heirs. Jay also criticizes the Estate for selling tickets to Paisley Park (where Prince lived during the latter years of his life) which has now been converted to a museum, managed by a museum company at Paisley Park.

We still have a lot to process and many lines to decode, but JAY-Z is back in action and making music. The question remains: 1. is this Hov’s last album? 2. Who will respond to his jab?