Grade: B –
All criticism is pointless, I suppose, given the sheer magnitude of the Shawn Corey Carter machine — his billions of dollars, his millions of sales, his ubiquity. This is the rapper even whitey can git down to, big pal of the Obamas, bad-ass Bedford-Stuyvesant gangsta made good. But even when Jay-Z and the genre have been comprehensively subsumed by the mainstream, there is still stuff about it that grates. Not the familiar homophobia or the championing of criminality. Not even the misogyny — hell, if it’s misogyny you’re after, check out The Eagles. Crackers do misogyny just as vigorously. It’s the relentless, self-obsessed, cock-clutching braggadocio — and, when it’s not braggadocio, whining. Gimme Respec’ victimhood doggerel, devoid of nuance and, mostly, of wit.
The album is called 4:44 because that’s the time Shawn woke up one night and all these words spewed out of him. That happens to me, too, sometimes, but I think it’s usually best to look at those words again in the morning, red pencil in hand. Shawn hasn’t done this. It’s his ‘sensitive’ album, so he’s worrying about kids and whether he’s a good guy or not, what his legacy might be, rather than telling us how good he is at drug-dealing. But it’s the same church, just a different side of the aisle — still all about ‘me’. There is no wisdom here — apart, maybe, from the artist releasing his product on his own newish download system, which makes you sign up to an extortionate monthly contract. Fuck da man, indeed.
The music is sometimes mesmerising, relentlessly imaginative, cunning and witty, deserving of all the superlatives. But the words — which are the point, surely — are cack-handed and banal: McGonagall for sad hipsters.