So if you’re like me then you are probably trying to figure out what the heck is going on with this new mysterious Jay-Z album coming out tomorrow. Well check out some questions below that may give us some insight into ‘4:44’.
The rap titan is making a long-awaited comeback with 14th album 4:44, which will be exclusively released to Sprint customers and Tidal subscribers Friday (12:01 a.m. ET). It’s his first full-length effort since 2013’s Magna Carta Holy Grail, which weathered a messy Samsung-sponsored roll-out to sell 2.1 million equivalent album units to date, according to Nielsen Music. But with scant details revealed about the imminent release, and no information about when the album will be available outside of Sprint and Tidal, fans have been left to speculate about what’s in store on 4:44.
We take a stab at some of the biggest questions:
1. What’s the significance of the title?
Sean and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, his wife of nine years, have a long-standing connection to the No. 4: his birthday is Dec. 4, hers is Sept. 4, April 4 is their wedding anniversary, and she titled her 2011 album 4. But 4:44 could also be a nod to the couple’s good friend Barack Obama, the 44th president of the USA.
That might “speak to what we can expect in terms of the content of the album, this combination of personal, introspective (music), but also wider political commentary,” says Erik Nielson, an associate professor at the University of Richmond, where he teaches classes on hip-hop culture and African American literature. “He seems to be devoted to Barack Obama, so one of the things I’m curious about is what he does and doesn’t say about Obama’s successor,” Donald Trump.
2. How political will he get?
Socially conscious hip hop has made a resurgence in the years since Magna Carta, with rappers such as Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and Run the Jewels shedding light on mass incarceration and racism. JAY-Z released one-off track Spiritual last summer tackling police brutality and hit the campaign trail with Hillary Clinton — a noticeable course-correction after Harry Belafonte’s 2012 claim that the rapper and his wife “turned their back on social responsibility.”
“I am curious to what extent he wades into those political waters,” Nielson says. “I expect if he does, it will be biting and clever. That’s something he’s very good at.” But historically, “he seems more interested in capitalizing on business trends, and right now, politics and social commentary are a business trend in rap.”
3. Is this his response to Lemonade?
Beyoncé stopped the world when she dropped her sprawling, sonically adventurous Lemonade last April, launching the most critically acclaimed era of her career. But the hours and days after the visual accompaniment’s premiere on HBO were dominated by heated speculation over the state of the Carters’ marriage, with several hints about possible infidelity by JAY-Z peppered throughout its 12 songs. The rapper has only briefly referenced Lemonade‘s success on a remix of Fat Joe and Remy Ma’s All the Way Up, meaning that he could be saving his side of the story for 4:44.