jay-z footnotes manyfacedgod

Jay-Z’s ‘Footnotes’ series offers a glimpse into the necessitation of one thing: vulnerability.

“A man only feels weak when he’s at his absolute lowest.”

It sounds dumb to say, to even put together as a sentence really. A man has weak moments consistently. Constantly. I could be having a “weak” moment right now writing this knowing I’m letting my naked thoughts into the world. But in this current climate of the world, being open about your feelings; the things that make you feel at times fragile and strong is the only salvation you can get.

In the black community, the only form of therapy ever instilled upon us from an older generation is church. To pray and merely wade through the waters of daily existence. If you brought up the concept of a therapist, you were called crazy. Because only “crazy” people need therapy. The truth is, that’s wrong. We may not all have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder but there are moments where we’re attacked. Where our thoughts and ideas cinch onto us like a vice grip and don’t want to let go. We need to be vulnerable. Not just in our relationships with our friends, family and partners but period.

The thing is, we question our openness and vulnerability when it is used as a weapon against us.

Jay-Z’s Footnotes series around his 4:44 album have been an eye-opening revelation. Not because it’s Jay-Z, who as he nears 50 coming to grips with the emotional strife he’s placed upon his family due to infidelity but because it’s a wide swath of black men and men of color openly discussing their warts, emotional crimes and at the most, unafraid to admit these things on the record. In a way, the group setting and confessional like tone of the vignettes have been therapy, for all involved.

“The weakest men I’ve met in my life have been physically strong men.” – Jesse Williams

For “MaNyfaCedGod,” the Jay-Z and James Blake collaboration that became a 4:44 bonus track, it is an extension of what “Family Feud” was as the transition from hurt to beginning anew.

The interesting tidbit I’ve drawn not just from all of the footnotes but the videos themselves is how they all speak to a form of vulnerability. “Moonlight” asked us to consider the ideas and wants of an artist who didn’t want to be conflated into basic, non-challenging television. It was a meta description of what Jerrod Carmichael actually went through as the third (and sadly final) season of The Carmichael Show wrapped up. Whereas other videos such as “The Story Of O.J.” and the title track spoke to racism, economic uplift and the strain a man can deliver upon a relationship, they’re unified by a common belief. Openly admitting one is wrong is the hardest thing imaginable, whether it be tipping your hand to feed people who would spite you or shunning your hand from those who would always keep it close.

“Our external reality is an opportunity to heal our internal upset.” – Jay-Z,

Black men yearn for support. They also at times have an inability on what to do after they receive said support. There’s being macho, containing a large body of bravado for your boys, your fellow men because as a boy, those are the only people you’re attempting to prove a point to. By proving points, men do ridiculous shit. We tout on about sexual prowess and how many women we’ve bedded, whether or not we’re faster, smarter, stronger and more. We never truly give a look at who we hurt by trying to prove things to other men, especially not at the expense of women.

What these Footnotes provide is an out for those who normally project ideas of strength that are founded in hiding something deep down. There’s strength in admitting that you may never be perfect and there’s also a strength in allowing someone to know, “Look, I’m not alright.” The struggle is attempting to regain that moment, that feeling after it has been stepped on before. Sometimes, talking to your boys in the open about these things is your therapy. Sometimes writing your ideas out happens to be therapy.

In Jay’s eyes, he’s growing up and wants us to grow up, too. Even as he may still make clumsy reflections on putting himself back together (the line about having a daughter finally opening up his eyes to women’s view for example). You need your support systems, far and wide to keep you in check. The world has its trigger moments with Charlottesville becoming another one word signifier for the actions of white supremacy and bigotry and racism. All of the Footnotes have spoken towards one simple thing: reflection. And how open we are when the mirror is finally held in our faces.