Jay-Z has spend the last decade of his career looking for new and dynamic ways to open up to fans. The millionaire mogul built his career off the back of music inspired by his time as a drug dealer, his lust for a better flasher life and eventually his success and status as one of the best to ever do it. However after taking several hiatuses from music, getting married and starting a family with Beyonce, his focus has undoubtably shifted towards making more dynamic and impactful records. His last album 4:44 was particularly poignant, as it was a direct response to Beyonce’s explosive Lemonade and also held a handful of revelations about his upbringing, particularly his mother and her sexuality.
4:44 was Jay-Z’s thirteenth studio album. It was released on June 30, 2017 through his label Roc Nation as an exclusive to customers of Sprint and his streaming service Tidal. For a short time, on July 2, the album was made available for free digital download on Tidal’s website. A physical edition was released on July 7, including three additional tracks. On the same day, the album was made available to other streaming platforms, such as Apple Music, Google Play Music and Amazon Music. According to producer NO I.D, Jay-Z’s intent for the album was to talk about things he’d never discussed before. The album featured some references to Beyonce’s Lemonade including the line “Tell Becky to leave me alone” on “Family Feud”. However it was not intended to be a full response to Bey’s album.
Jay-Z‘s mother Gloria Carter was revealed for the first time to be a lesbian on the 4:44 track “Smile,” which featured a poem from her. “Mama had four kids, but she’s a lesbian / Had to pretend so long that she’s a thespian,” Jay-Z said on the song. “Had to hide in the closet, so she medicate / Society shame and the pain was too much to take / Cried tears of joy when you fell in love / Don’t matter to me if it’s a him or her.”
Jay recently revealed that his mother was not a fan of the song initially and asked him not to include it. “It changed the dynamic of our relationship,” Jay-Z said during a sitdown with “The Shop: Uninterrupted.” “When she first heard that song she got super defensive” he recalls. “I was in L.A. and she flew out to L.A. and then she left and was like, ‘No’. We talked through it. And then when she flew back to L.A. she had written a poem. She wrote that on the plane. It came with the American Airlines note pad… I was like, ‘You got bars, ma!’”
“It’s a lot, but it had to be done,” the rapper said. “It was… an evolution of all the things that I’d been through… It was important to write… To be vulnerable in that space after you’ve done all this work… I had so many super gangsta rappers tell me, ‘Thank you for that!’ They would tell me on the side, ‘You saved my relationship’.”