No I.D.'s production throughout feels rich, soulful and nostalgic. With understated boom-bap percussion, dusty piano keys and thoughtful sample selection, No I.D. sets the perfect stage for Hov to share some of the most honest and introspective verses of his career.
4:44 is Jay's existential crisis of sorts, but also a celebration of his growth. On standouts like "Family Feud," "The Story of O.J." and "Legacy," he examines the superficial trappings of success and weighs their value against the condition of his soul. On "Kill Jay-Z," he takes himself to task for allowing his ego to wreak havoc on his life, while "Smile" is a nuanced, multi-layered story of liberation. And although its cloying self-pity becomes a just a bit exhausting, the titular "4:44" is still impressive for its candour.
There aren't too many MCs from Jay-Z's era who had the opportunity to reach their full potential. In that sense, 4:44 is a refreshing, full-circle moment for hip-hop lovers — and a true pleasure to hear.
Order 4:44 on CD from Umusic. (Roc Nation)