Jay-Z's June 2017 was momentous. The 44th president of the United States inducted him as the first rap lyricist into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The Beyonc Knowles-Shawn Carter family added fourth and fifth members. Going by a jocular shot at specific Al Sharpton social media activity within, there was also the completion of 4:44, delivered on the last of the month. Approach-wise, the 13th Jay-Z studio album is a change of course for its employment of only one beatmaker, No I.D., whose previous Jay-Z credits across a decade plus -- a comparatively flashy crop that includes a major portion of The Blueprint 3 -- amount to an album's worth of tracks, primarily as co-producer. Even more noteworthy is its chronological distinction as a follow-up to Beyonc's Lemonade, a cathartic album prompted in part by Jay-Z's extramarital behavior. This somehow makes album 13 seem older than its true age. From any other artist, 36 minutes of repentance, self-satisfaction, and wisdom regarding issues such as faithfulness, vast wealth, ethical consumption, and the deficiencies of a younger rap generation would likely fall flat, but Jay-Z continues to write at a Hall of Fame level and raps with high levels of conviction, contrition, and wit. He and No I.D. are consistently attuned. The whole album has a fine matte-like finish with nuanced rhythms and soul, funk, reggae, and prog samples that frequently enhance the tracks on an emotional level, not just a sonic one. Even the Frank Ocean and Beyonc appearances sound sourced from a crate. Filled with references to profit and forms of pride granted by birth and earned by hustling, 4:44 nonetheless is an unglamorous set well suited for solitary and reflective late-night listening. There are no radio play bids. Jay-Z has been in this mode at various points, but never in such concentrated, enlightened form, whether the subject is his mistakes as a husband, the struggles of his long-closeted lesbian mother, the effects of enduring systemic racism, or the assertion of his supremacy. ~ Andy Kellman
Rolling Stone - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[He] can still work ruddy beats and ungainly rhymes into rough magic, and dazzle his audience in the process."
Spin - "A far more thoughtful album than the glossy and disconnected MAGNA CARTA HOLY GRAIL, it's a 36-minute confessional that attempts to bring JAY-Z's narrative full circle."
Entertainment Weekly - "4:44 is Jay's most realized record in more than a decade, a lean tour de force that tackles issues of race writ large but still gets deeply personal..."
NME (Magazine) - "These heartfelt, confessional apologies are delivered via Jay's most concise, straightforward album in years. 10 tracks and 36 minutes long, this is a filler-free return to form..."
Paste (magazine) - "What makes 4:44 powerful is that Jay Z isn't preaching from a gilded throne: He's speaking from the position of someone who's overcome numerous struggles and wants to give others the keys to do the same."
Clash (Magazine) - "The crux of the album has Jay apologising to Bey and his daughter Blue Ivy in the form of a lyrical love letter. While admitting his faults he transforms from Superman to Clark Kent with a refreshing vulnerability."