4:44 Connections and References You May Have Missed
"Kill Jay Z"
Kill Jay Z, they'll never love you / you'll never be enough, let's just keep it real, Jay ZYou may be surprised that someone as confident as Jay-Z has expressed a lot of self-doubt in his back catalogue. He's released two tracks solely devoted to people hating him, 2002's "Some People Hate" and 2009's "Hate". He also rapped "Everybody wanna know what my achilles heal is / Love, I don't get enough of it" on Kanye's 2010 track "Monster". His first address to haters comes even earlier, on 1999's "Come and Get Me", stating "I expected to hear 'Jay, if it wasn't for you...' / Instead, all I hear is buzzing in your crew". On "Kill Jay Z" he's using these experiences to convince himself to put that moniker, that persona, that lifestyle, to bed once and for all.
You got people you love you sold drugs toOn "You Must Love Me" from 1997 Jay rapped "What I do? I turned around and sold you crack / I was a bastard for that, still I'm drowning in shame". This isn't an admission that he physically sold drugs to his family members, rather that he sold crack to people from his neighbourhood, a neighbourhood he's always tried to uplift and empower. In Decoded he explains how to succeed while dealing drugs: "You have to be willing to suffer and to make someone else suffer, because only one of you can win". The persona "Jay Z" boasted of these sales. The new JAY-Z wants to do better.
You got high on 'The Life', that shit drugged you"The Life" is something Jay uses to describe dealing drugs. He speaks about it repeatedly in Decoded, "This was the flip side of The Life. Here's what I loved about hustling. Forget the money... It was usually a fun way to spend time. It was an adventure. I got to hang out on the block with my crew, talking, cracking jokes. You know how people in office jobs talk at the watercooler? This job was almost all watercooler." On "Fallin'" Jay raps: "The irony of selling drugs is sort of like you using it / Guess it's two sides to what substance abuse is".
You walkin' around like you invincibleThese specific lines are not about Kanye at all. On 2017's "Shining" Jay rapped "I've been winnin' so long it's like alchemy." This sentiment has been the backbone of many Jay Z boasts. On "I Got The Keys" he raps "case y'all ain't notice, I ain't lost yet", a throwback to an oft-repeated Jay brag of "I will not lose", first uttered on his 2000 single "Change The Game" from Dynasty, and repeated on "U Don't Know" in 2001 and "Blueprint 2" in 2002. Jay Z doesn't lose, he pretends everything is okay, that he is emotionless and impenetrable, that his actions won't have consequences. His early music is littered with aggression and misogyny, as if he alone is above the law and above love. This is a frank admission of guilt that he'd continue on "4:44".
Let go your ego over your right shoulder / Your left is saying 'Finish your breakfast'While Genius picked up on the reference to a line from "Public Service Announcement" off The Black Album, they missed the deeper meaning. Strict (as stylized in Decoded, a reference to John "Franchise" Strickland, a street baller who Jay employed during the famous Rucker Park series in which his team famously lost to that of Fat Joe in the final game) used this saying to encourage Jay to "finish your job up strong" (from Decoded). It's an example of the push-and-pull of Jay's conscience, and a subtle reference to "Dirt Off Your Shoulder", and the idea that you must brush off anything holding you back. Jay brushes his ego off, but it comes back around, telling him to remain stoic.
"The Story of O.J."
O.J. like, 'I'm not black, I'm O.J.'.... okayIf you've ever watched a Jay-Z interview this simple "okay" will really give you cause to pause (pause). During his 2013 Breakfast Club interview he used an identical inflection. He actually possesses a sharp sense of humour (just check out this interview with David Letterman). This "okay" is how he speaks, and rarely does he speak or rap on record the same way he talks in real life. There is a larger than life quality to his music that he's abandoned on 4:44, and it gives the record a truly organic quality. This is Shawn Carter, not Jay Z.
I bought every V12 engine / Wish I could take it back to the beginnin'This isn't an exaggeration. He had a song titled "Parking Lot Pimpin'", a track devoted to his love of expensive vehicles. Way back in 1996 he even rapped "NSX rental, don't be fooled, my game is mental", the implication that despite renting a car when out of town, he buys them off the lot when he's back home. We know this to be true, Jay revealed in Decoded he was pushing a "fleet" of Lexuses before rap, and he often references the Mercedes S600, a car with a V12 engine, notably on 1999 track "There's Been A Murder", and of course "03' Bonnie & Clyde" from 2002.
I turn that 2 to a 4, 4 to an 8Direct reference to 2001's "U Don't Know" from The Blueprint, in which he raps: "One million, two million, three million, four / In just five years, forty million more", and "One million, two million, three million, four / In eighteen months, eighty million more / Now add that number up with the one I said before / You are now lookin' at one smart black boy". These bars were about his net worth, and the way he kept flipping his profits, re-upping, and making even more every time.
Mama had four kids, but she's a lesbian / Had to pretend so long that she's a thespianJay's dalliance with homophobia peaked and petered out on 2002's The Blueprint 2. Related to this line, he rapped on "U Don't Know (Remix)" "My nephew's situated, and my mom is straight, so I'm ready for whatever drama should come my way", perceived to be a dig at 50 Cent, whose mother was revealed to be homosexual thanks to the song "Hate It or Love It". But with these new bars, it's likely that wasn't a diss at all (considering "Hate it Or Love It" came out in 2005). Maybe Jay simply meant his mother was well-situated, and economically stable.
Jay wasn't particularly accommodating when it came to homosexuality. He uses the word "faggot" in a derogatory manner on "Lucky Me", "22 Two's", "Supa Ugly". "7 Minute Freestyle" (with Big L) and "Nigga What, Nigga Who", but all of these songs came pre-2003. He's gone through a lot of maturation since 2002.
A loss ain't a loss it's a lessonJay expressed this sentiment on 2002's "Blueprint 2", and 2006's "Brooklyn High".
Fuck a slice of that apple pie, want my own cakeIn another "Kill Jay Z" moment, he throws back to 2002 single "Guns & Roses", in which he raps "Who knew dude that loved apple pies from McDonald's / Would soon be the boss of the Big Apple, ya know". And don't you dare miss the Apple Music reference. And when you're catching that reference, don't forget that Jay pulled his 2007 album American Gangster from iTunes, saying: "as movies are not sold scene by scene, this collection will not be sold as individual singles." Pink Floyd did the same thing in 2010, for the same reason, but no-one picked up on the fact Jay had done it first...
Ours was, "Fuck you, pay me"A reference to the outro of 1998's "Money, Cash, Hoes" featuring DMX and Pain in Da Ass.
America likes me ruthless / My therapist said I relapsed / I said, 'Perhaps I Freudian slipped in European whips'During his Howard Stern interview in 2010, as well as during Decoded, "Sweet", and various other interviews, Jay has said music is his therapy, and listeners are the therapists. It's likely he's referring here to the lukewarm reception his 2013 album Magna Carta Holy Grail received. Refer back to 2006's Kingdom Come title track, where he raps: "Where's Iceberg Slim he was the coldest cat / Get your swag back daddy where your focus at", implying fans were upset that he'd retired his more ruthless persona from earlier in his career and instead focused on his wealth and stature. He hedges his bets on 4:44, displaying a solidarity with the common struggle but also promoting his wealth and prosperity as a beacon or blueprint for others to follow.
A stain on the white suitA direct reference to Frank Ocean's hook on "Oceans" from 2013: "I hope my black skin don't dirt this white tuxedo before the Basquiat show / And if so, well fuck it, fuck it".
Ahhhh, what did I do?You might remember Eminem ended his 2nd verse on Jay's 2001 track "Renegade" with the lines "What did I do? I'm just a kid from the gutter / Making his butter off these bloodsuckers". Jay also used Eminem lines on 2007's "Success".
This is Hov, no flex zoneJay said "This is Hov" with a very similar delivery on his 2000 single "Change The Game". It may be coincidental... But it was DJ Clue who was the helm of the remix, to that track, and these bars on "Smile" are aimed at Funkmaster Flex, with whom Jay had beef with in 2015. And yep, DJ Clue has had his own issues with Flex...
"Caught Their Eyes"
That dance, uhAn ad-lib from 2017's track "Shining" with DJ Khaled and featuring Beyonce.
These industry niggas, they always been fishy / But ain't no Biggie, no lazy eye, huhSimply put, he's referring to the video for 1997 single "Sunshine (Always Be My)". Director Hype Williams uses a "fish-eye lens", something he became associated with at the time. It's also well known that Jay employed Puffy to help oversee his second solo album Vol. 1, on which "Sunshine" appeared. The Hitmen, Puff's production team, produced the track, and Puff has been accused of being too "industry", notably on a Ruff Ryders compilation tape in 2000, and by 50 Cent on 2000's "How to Rob". Diddy was also heavily involved in Biggie's career.
So what exactly is Jay saying? He isn't part of the industry, and you could see his attempts to utilise that industry ("Sunshine") have been unsuccessful. He's been criticised for it, and won't make the same mistake again.
Hovi's home, all these phonies come to a haltThe best deep cut throwback on the album. He's referring to some bars from a 2002 Funkmaster Flex freestyle: "Yup, Hovi's home, but it's like I never left, I had the global phone". He used a similar line on 2002's "Hovi Baby". As the Genius annotation states, the lines were about Jay going on a European vacation and returning with his finger still on the pulse of rap music. These bars signify that despite being out of the game, Jay has kept in touch.
I missed the karma that came as a consequenceJay devoted a large portion of Decoded to the idea of karma, sayin at one point: "I also think about Karma. It's a complicated idea that I've tried to make sense of. At the heart of a lot of these competing ideas of the afterlife and heaven and hell and thughangels and all that is the idea that if the universe is just, things have to even out eventually, somehow. And sometimes that's a scary thought. I've done things I know are wrong. There are times when I feel like I've suffered for those things... But then there are times when I look around me, at the life I have, and think I'm getting away with murder.
On his wildly underrated 2006 track "Beach Chair", Jay addressed the idea that his daughter would have to pay for the "sins of the father". His musings on that period of his life, and his fear of repercussions relating to his past activities, are clearly now over, or at least the fear is dull enough that he can proclaim "I missed karma" and not have to worry about the universe catching up with him.
Gotta remind these fools / Who they effin' with, and we got FN's too / Before we had A&Rs, we had ARs too / We the only ones really movin' like y'all say y'all do / We still movin' like y'all niggas say y'all didThe word "fool" is used often in Jay's music to describe someone who is slow or behind the times, or a hater. Notably, he opens "Renegade" with the bars "Do you fools listen to music, or do you just skim through it?" An incredibly relevant line, considering all the news outlets jumping out of the window to attribute all those bars in "Kill Jay Z" to Kanye West, when in fact Jay was talking about himself.
The "Renegade" reference is relevant because it featured Eminem, who signed 50 Cent, who has a partnership with Effen Vodka. Jay appears to be subliminally mentioning the Queens rapper. He could be doing so for two reasons. 50 Cent was known as someone who lived his rhymes, a topic that was constant in Jay's catalogue, especially around the early 2000's when 50 blew up (notably over the top of 50's track "If I Can't" when Jay rapped "I can make four more albums off memory", implying he lives his rhymes so he doesn't have to make up content).
Fif also oversaw a huge business empire, and Business Insider penned this piece on him in 2009. 50 may have filed for bankruptcy, but he remains a pivotal figure in the world of entertainment. These bars can easily be applied to his career as a rapper and businessman. Knowing Jay's love of a double entendre, I'd say he was side-eyeing while he spat these lines.
Please don't talk about guns / That you ain't never gon' useA nice recent throwback. On 2014's "We Made It Freestyle" Jay rapped: "Sorry Mrs. Drizzy for so much art talk / Silly me rappin' bout shit that I really bought / While these rappers rap about guns they ain't shot / And a bunch of other silly shit that they ain't got". It's three years later and Jay evidently feels the same, although we're seeing more and more gun violence from rappers, possibly because of the access we now have to artists via the internet.
Don't forget, "We Made It" was initially a Soulja Boy track, and in January 2017 Soulja Boy released "Hit 'Em With The Draco", a diss to 50 Cent, whom Jay referenced just one song prior...
Shout out to Nostrand Ave., Flushing Ave., Myrtle / All the County of Kings, may your ground stay fertile / Shout out to Big Poppa, Daddy Kane, heroesJay takes it way back to 1999 and his "Snoopy Track" that featured Juvenile. His opening bars are "This is for my niggas down in Houston on candy paint / All my niggas in the Dirty South, Miami maybe / All my niggas in the ATL throwing dem Bows / All them thugs that send slugs through your clothes". Every verse on that song shouts out a different category of Jay-Z fan.
She might start an institute / She might put poor kids through schoolThis is the expressed aim of the Shawn Carter Foundation, which was founded in 2003 and is currently run by Jay's mother Gloria. "The mission of the Shawn Carter Foundation is to help individuals facing socio-economic hardhsips further their education at institutions of higher learning". e
My stake in Roc Nation should go to youBlue is in for a slightly larger payday than Jay envisaged in 2006 on "Beach Chair", when he rapped "And when I'm no longer here to shade her face from the glare / I'll give her my share of Carol's Daughter and a new beach chair". Carol's Daughter was worth $27 million in 2014, and considering Jay's net worth is approaching $1 Billion, it's safe to say Roc Nation is worth a touch more than $27 million.
We gon' start a society within a societyA bar from the year 2000 has experienced stratospheric popularity in 2017. On "Get Your Mind Right Mami" Jay rapped "It's a secret society, all we ask is trust". That was about the Roc-A-Fella Records family, or Dynasty, solidified by Pain In Da Ass' intro to Memphis Bleek's 2003 track "Roc-A-Fella Get Low Respect It": "We'd always call each other Rocafella's, like you'd say to somebody you're gonna like this guy, he's one of us, he's Rocafella".
Rihanna and Kendrick used that line from 2000 on their collaboration "LOYALTY." from his 2017 album DAMN. The idea is to keep money within the family, to pass wealth on through the generations.