Jay Z’s new album 4:44 is one of his most introspective records to date. It can be seen as a reply to Beyonce’s Lemonade, but there is more going on here. Even though I found the record inconsistent, I found it a leap forward from Magna Carta. The one track I cannot stop listening to is Bam.
There is an interesting theme running through 4:44 that is worth exploring. At this time in his life, Jay Z can add “father” to his list of identities and personas. In fact, Jay Z references fatherhood as much on this album as he has “HOV” in his previous records and the conflict between the tow is interesting. The first track, Kill Jay Z, sets up this conflict, which delivers in interesting ways. That track argues that the drug pushing, fast talking, “I don’t give a fuck” Jay Z persona is at odds with the businessman, husband and father he aspires to be. In this sense, it is time to kill Jay Z….and the only man who can kill him is Jay Z himself.
However, much like Jason in Friday the 13th, Jay Z is never really dead….he is just hiding in the woods, waiting to pounce on some unsuspecting MC who has wandered too far into the trees without his flashlight. On Bam the listener is lured into the woods by angelic chymes and Damian Marley’s smooth flow, but the tables are turned when Jay Z clears his throat, pounces and declares “Fuck all this pretty Sean Carter shit.” Like a machete to an unsuspecting slasher flick coed, this opening verse cuts right to the core. Even though Sean Carter needs to take centre stage as a father and a husband, Jay Z needs to be let loose every now and then.
The beat is stripped back with yelps of affirmation and distorted female cries in the background. Jay Z’s delivery is also vastly different from earlier tracks. Like he says “Fuck all this pretty Sean Carter shit / This is HOV.” He brings us back to the boisterous and macho Jay Z in the Black Album. Like Jay Z says “…sometimes you need to remind these fools / Who they’re f’n with.”
The addition of Damian Marley is an excellent musical decision. It harkens back to when hip hop employed raw and powerful reggae voices in their tracks. I must admit that in 80% of these collaborations, the reggae artist is mainly a token addition; however, when it works, it really works. Bam is an example where it really works. Damian’s smooth yet powerful delivery gives the track an added complexity, while also breaking it up nicely. Moreover, it reminds me that I really like Damian Marley and I hope that this track signifies more work coming out from Damian.
Ultimately, Bam is tight, sharp and ferocious. This is the Jay Z we love to hear spitting fire on a track. Most importantly, this track reminds us not to believe that Sean Carter has killed Jay Z off entirely. He is merely laying in wait, sharpening his tools of the trade. So, when someone tells you that the woods are safe and tales of Jay Z are just stories from crazy people, think about Bam and tell them that you know better. While they laugh and carry six packs of Coors into Camp Crystal Lake for a rowdy all nighter, you know what is really going on. As Jay Z silently picks them off one by one with surgical precision, you remember Damian Marley’s warning “It’s hunting season.”