On June 15th, Jay-Z became the first rapper inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. One of the most notable moments of the induction is that Former President Barack Obama recorded a video tribute as an introduction to Jay-Z’s acceptance speech. During the tribute, the former President said, “So, I’m pretty sure I’m still the only president to listen to Jay Z’s music in the Oval Office.”
Obama also states many similarities between him and Jay-Z , such as how both of their wives are “significantly more popular than [them]” and how “nobody who met [them] as younger men would have expected [them] to be where [they] are today.” After such personal statements, the two of them could be considered friends. It’s no coincidence that Jay-Z dropped 4:44 June 30th, at what is arguably the height of political unrest thus far in the current President’s administration short stint in office. 4:44 may literally be titled “For 44” as homage to the 44th President of the United States.
Obama’s successor seems to be actively working towards the dismantlement of his eight-year legacy, starting with Obamacare, along with a number of core values and morals that have historically been characteristics embodied by the POTUS. With such a stark change in administrations, many artists such as Jay-Z have taken it upon themselves to reclaim societal-deemed “politically incorrect and unacceptable phrases of resistance.” 4:44 offers this resistance in the form of a strong, 10-song album about black liberation, colorism, financial stability and other pertinent ideas facing the black community. As black men in America, both Jay-Z and Obama likely have personal ties to the album. There’s also a possibility that Jay-Z wrote the album for Obama, or at least with 44 on his mind.
The opening song of 4:44 is titled “Kill Jay-Z”, but the title should not be taken literally. It’s more about the notion of having to kill certain parts of the self in order to succeed as a black man in America. The beat drops and Jay-Z opens with, “Kill Jay-Z/ they’ll never love you; you’ll never be enough/ let’s just keep it real Jay-Z.” Often times, these very statements are echoed among the black community when yet another police officer is granted paid administrative leave after killing an unarmed black man; Or, while facing the boisterous aftermath of the White Nationalists rally in Charlottesville, VA. A rally that protested the problematic history that seems to field the nationalists’ interests for reignition.
It’s impactful for Jay-Z to remain expressive in his analysis of his treatment in America because it’s something that a lot of young black men can relate to and learn from. Not even 30 seconds into the album, Jay-Z positions himself as a mouthpiece for the words Obama simply cannot say. To say them would jeopardize the retainment of the well deserved high regards that most constituents still bestow upon him, even out of office.
One of the songs towards the end of the album is titled “Moonlight” with obvious references to the 2017 Oscars snafu with the Best Picture being awarded to LaLa Land only to later find out that Moonlight won. Jay-Z raps, “Y’all stuck in La La Land/ Even when we win we gon’ loose.” The entire narrative of Moonlight actually winning can no longer be discussed without bringing up LaLa Land, which for many is considered a lose. Award aside, this lyric implicates what many view as another snafu titled “President Trump.”
After Former President Obama’s inauguration in 2008, it’s as if the black community thought it had finally arrived. So many blindly stated that “racism is dead now” because Obama is the HNIC. (For those who don’t know, urban dictionary can spell out this acronym). In the eyes of many people, living in LaLa Land for eight blissful years, Obama’s win shortly turned into a lose with the election and subsequent inauguration of his successor Donald Trump. Obama revealed his insight regarding this when he stated on the 2016 election trail, “I will consider it a personal insult— an insult to my legacy— if this [black] community lets down its guard and fails to activate itself in this election. You want to give me a good sendoff? Go vote.”
Throughout “Moonlight”, and all of 4:44, Jay-Z rawly talks about disparities between people of color and their white counterparts, unapologetically saying everything Obama’s ever present position of power doesn’t always allow him to speak as candidly. 4:44 is for the 44th POTUS because it recenters conversations around black lives and how systems of oppression actively work against people of color. What Obama worked hard to address in terms of real issues facing all of his constituents no matter their color, Jay-Z was able to rap about it in an unfiltered and intense manner. His dialogue was related to his experiences, and the experiences of many who identify with him, especially young black men in America.