I Listened to ‘4:44’ and ‘Lemonade’ Track-for-Track and Here’s What Happened | #444 #Lemonade Hope Carter July 7, 2017 Albums, Music The Carters may have been even more calculated than we thought in planning their latest albums. While people are playing songs backwards to hear if there are demon voices, I got this wacky idea to listen to Jay-Z’s latest, 4:44, and Beyoncé’s latest, Lemonade, track-for-track just to see if there was any correlation. While some of them are stretches, the thought process behind them correlates, so I figured the track order might, as well. Both albums are reflections and call into question the realities of each artist, not to mention forces some self-reflection and vulnerability about those reflections upon two people who would otherwise be virtual unicorns – creatures who may or may not be real but if you see one, you’re afraid to get to close and ruin the illusion. Listening to each album was like a tennis match where I bounced lyrics against each other to see the last season of each artists’ life from its inception, attempting to see where they collided. It was interesting to me – almost a study in how differently men and women handle love issues – that Jay could deviate so many times from the apologies to Bey. It seems that her entire album was about how she watched her hero fall but refused to give up on him. Jay’s album wrestled with that supposed “hero,” yes, and tried to make him more worthy of her adoration, but at the same time, it seems as if he still didn’t fully understand the extent to which her view of him crumbled… 1. “Kill JAY Z” vs. “Pray You Catch Me” The first track of 4:44 shows his “murder” of his old self – an admittedly selfish character, an image created either by the media or by himself after his success. Ironically, this “character” may be the cause of his infidelity. It sounds, from the lyrics, as if Jay-Z has a ton of insecurities and realizes his shortcomings and knows he has to do better, if only for his daughter (How can we know if we can trust Jay-Z?/And you know better, nigga, I know you do/But you gotta do better, boy, you owe it to Blue/You had no father, you had the armor/But you got a daughter, gotta get softer). Meanwhile, in “Pray You Catch Me,” Beyoncé is on the outside looking in as she watches her lover stray and got through this mental anguish, hoping he notices and comes back to his senses. “Kill Jay-Z” seems to be a sorting out of Beyoncé’s final question in “Pray You Catch Me” (What are you doing, my love?), as Jay-Z attempts to figure out exactly what he is doing. 2. “The Story of O.J.” vs. “Hold Up” Where “The Story of O.J.” and “Hold Up” correspond is a little more interesting and a lot less obvious. Jay-Z is talking to black people, letting them know that they need to “wisen up” about their economic status, stop stuntin’, and engage in activities that will be beneficial to them in the long run. The chorus, “Light nigga, dark nigga, faux nigga, real nigga/Rich nigga, poor nigga, house nigga, field nigga/Still nigga, still nigga” sort of signifies that no matter what you do, you’re not going to fit in because of the color of your skin. The message is that acceptance is not fully attainable except around those who are like you. Ironically, this is Beyoncé’s message to Jay-Z in “Hold Up.” Her telling him, “They don’t love you like I love you” is a message that she is the one who has worked for his love, and no matter where he goes, he’s not going to find anyone else to accept him the way she has, “flaws and all.” Both have the same theme: “You’re trippin’. Come back home.” 3. “Smile” vs. “Don’t Hurt Yourself” The message of Jay-Z’s “Smile” is clear: There will be good times and bad times, but we should find a way to smile through them all. Similarly, the message of “Don’t Hurt Yourself” is clear: There will be good times and bad times, we are in a bad time right now, and you better come to your senses before I find my way to smile – leaving you. Doesn’t get much more complicated than that. 4. “Caught Their Eyes” vs. “Sorry” While Jay-Z rides the struggle bus in song, Bey and her friends are actually on a bus in the video, not sorry for their overtly “free” behavior, despite their “taken” statuses. The two songs are both about survival. Jay describes his survival from life’s events – growing up in the environment in which he did, and surviving the haters and fakes around him. Meanwhile, Beyoncé is learning to unapologetically (’cause she ain’t sorry) live without him, even if that means going out and drinking all night with friends, wilding out, or digging her heels into her work. Here, she declares she will survive and have a good life with baby Blue, and she also introduces the infamous “Becky with the good hair,” as if to set the scene for the next track on 4:44… 5. “4:44” vs. “6 Inch” These tracks – the middle of each album – confirm every Carter Family fans fear. There is another woman with whom Jay-Z has been unfaithful. Beyoncé fans and simply curious pop culture indulgers wondered for quite some time if Lemonade was the story of Bey and Jay or if it was someone else’s story, an extended metaphor, or just more creativity. Fans leaned toward believing it was all real because of clues given in on songs like “Ring the Alarm,” “Irreplaceable,” “No Angel,” and “Jealous.” Above all, the elevator incident where Solange beat the mess out of the rapper with no interference by Bey left no doubt in some people’s heads that there was trouble in paradise. Well, in the title track of Jay’s album, he makes it completely clear that he has cheated and he is incredibly remorseful – for everything, going all the way back to her 21st birthday when he extended the most effed-up, unromantic invitation to go steady ever (“Don’t embarrass me). He realizes that one day his children will be able to go online and find out what all he had done, and he laments his mistakes bitterly, realizing what he’s almost done and that, at any moment, his wife could be done with him. Meanwhile on Lemonade, in “6 Inch,” Beyoncé recounts seeing the “other woman” walk into the same venue she’s in (perhaps the MET Gala afterparty where the elevator incident took place). Bey subtly likens the woman to a stripper – someone who works very hard for what she has. In a way, it’s like Bey respects the mystery woman’s hustle and acknowledges her as another strong woman. Even when being cheated on, we can still count on Mrs. Carter to be a real feminist. 6. “Family Feud” vs. “Daddy Lessons” In arguably the most popular song on the album, Jay-Z talks about the separation between hip-hop and the community, criticizing how old heads talk about newer artists as well as how rappers don’t support each other. In “Daddy Lessons,” Beyoncé recalls how her father warned her to run away from men like him (her father cheated on her mother, Tina Lawson, resulting in a divorce in December 2011). The only theme that connects both tracks is that of admonition – both artists warn or were warned of what can happen if they allow room for strife. 7. “Bam” vs. “Love Drought” In contrast to “Kill Jay Z,” “Bam” is a revival of the ego Jay claims he needs sometimes to “remind these fools who they effin’ with.” Jay says, at the beginning of the song and a couple more times throughout, “F*** all this pretty Shawn Carter sh**, nigga HOV,” to show that the old, cocky persona still existed and will make an appearance when necessary. “Love Drought” is also a song about rebirth and confidence – a plea to her lover to try the relationship again while acknowledging both of their parts in the infidelity. In contrast to “Bam,” “Love Drought” talks about a lack of confidence, wondering where she went wrong. (Ironically, the song is not about Jay-Z at all. Singer Ingrid wrote the song about how she and her label, Parkwood, could make amazing music if she were trusted with the chance.) 8. “Moonlight” vs. “Sandcastles” “Moonlight” is a softer song for Jay, as he recounts the staleness and complexities of the rap game, calling its future into question. He talks about how it’s gotten old and everyone is doing the same thing yet acting like they’re the best rappers alive. “Sandcastles” calls the future of the Carters’ relationship into question, likening it to sandcastles on the beach that are easily washed away with the tide. Here, we see for the first time that although she wants to and it would make sense, she cannot walk away from her husband, much like Jay alludes to when it comes to rap. Both songs contain the theme of the “Moonlight” lyric, “Even when we win, we gon’ lose,” as Jay talks about how rappers will still get paid even if their product is weak, and Bey talks about how their marriage can neither end or continue without a fight. 9. “Marcy Me” vs. “Forward”/”Freedom” I combined “Forward” and “Freedom” because “Forward” is such a short song that simply represents a turning point in the story of Lemonade where Beyoncé decides to move on from the hurt and fight for her relationship. “Freedom,” then, moves on and worries about more important matters – the resilience of the black woman. It is an anthem of sorts, paying homage to a strong sisterhood that comes from shared experiences, namely, infidelity, systematic racism, and a lack of appreciation. It is a celebration of strong, deep roots that comprise the modern black woman. “Marcy Me” is also an homage to roots – Marcy is the housing project in which Jay-Z grew up. Whether inadvertently or on purpose, Jay tells the story of many black men who were and are forced to hustle to make a life for themselves and their families. Both “Marcy Me” and “Freedom” speak of the conditions in which black men and women live in America. 10. “Legacy” vs. “All Night” “Legacy” starts with Blue Ivy asking, “Daddy, what’s a will?” The song is dedicated to Jay’s dreams of passing on everything he’s worked hard for to his children. Beyoncé also muses about the future in “All Night,” celebrating the restoration of her marriage and preparing to enjoy the rest of her life with her family. 11. “Adnis” vs. “Formation” “Formation” is a song about black power (especially the power of the modern black woman). It celebrates her swagger, her strength, and her inner prowess. It was interesting to me, here, how Beyoncé is finally beginning to focus on the future and Jay-Z has gone all the way back to the beginning, speaking to his father about how it was to grow up with his example, and how it felt to lose him. It was actually a little funny to me: when women move on tends to be the point at which the man begins to wonder where it all went wrong. 12. “Blue’s Freestyle/We Family” and “MaNyfAcedGoD” It makes sense for Jay to have more to say because, sir, you got a lot of explaining to do. I really think we had to hear from Blue Ivy to get to “MaNyfAcedGoD.” In the final bonus track and throughout 4:44, Blue is his “why” for being a better man. The last track is his verbal attempt at realizing that.”MaNyfAcedGoD” was Jay-Z’s “Forward,” which would explain the James Blake feature. Jay’s turning point came way later than Beyoncé’s, extrapolating upon his further point that she “matured more quickly” than he did. All these years later, the man who is 11 years her senior is still taking a while to get the big picture. The spelling of the song, with the upper- and lowercase caps reminds me of the mocking SpongeBob meme, and I totally do not put it past HOV to reference that on an album. If you are not familiar with either pop culture reference, people spell words like that and add a picture of a distorted SpongeBob when they are making fun on someone on the Internet. The Many-Faced God is a Game of Thrones reference to the god of death, who the characters believe they are doing the work of when they assassinate someone. In this final track, Jay goes back to talking to himself as he does in the first track, “Kill Jay-Z.” It looks like Jay is making fun of himself here, or his former self, and, at the same time, realizing he has done a good work by killing that guy. 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