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How Jay-Z's '4:44' and Beyonce's 'Lemonade' Redefine Black Love, Fame

How Jay-Z's '4:44' and Beyonce's 'Lemonade' Redefine Black Love, Fame
From Rolling Stone - June 30, 2017

A year ago, the idea of Jay-Z releasing his own musical response to Beyonc's Lemonade felt banal. Fans of the couple immediately had reservations as to why anyone needed to hear his side of the storya story made perfectly clear with his wife's musical manifesto of grief and betrayal in the face of infidelity.

Thankfully, Jay-Z never released that album. Instead, he crafted 4:44,which among other things, is a stunning, raw and mature apology that's as much an ode to partnership and family as it is an example of how vulnerability can make for truly excellent art.

The album's title track is the most specific and touching. In the song, Jay-Z notes that the birth of his daughter Blue Ivy helped him change his ways and "see through a woman's eyes." In the heart-wrenching final verse, he ponders how he would explain his mistakes to his children, the moment when "the mask goes away and Santa Claus is fake."

On "Kill Jay Z," he takes responsibility for the 2015 Met Gala fiasco, when leaked footage showed his sister-in-law Solange Knowles physically attacking him in an elevator as Beyonc stood in the corner. The event itself was a rare break in the pristine public image the couple presented to the world, and the infamous photos of the trio exiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art showed Beyonc smiling, her sister scowling and her husband clutching his unmarked face and notably bruised ego. With class, he admits to egging on the protective younger sibling, noting the bigger picture of his mistakes.

Like his wife, however, Jay-Z is keenly self-aware. He knows that as a black man married to a black womanboth of whom rose from working-class roots to become a billionaire couplethere is a schadenfreude-driven desire from the whitest corners of America to watch them fail. People memed and devoured the Met Gala story for that very reason, basking in the revelation of cracks in their perfect family portrait.

So while Beyonc gave Lemonade listeners a mystery to unfold by dropping lines about "Becky"which many connected to the presence of designer and rumored Jay-Z mistress Rachel Roy on that fateful Met Gala nightand hinting at the level of betrayal she felt, she wrapped her personal story in a greater narrative of black womanhood. As many wondered how the world's most powerful and respected female artist could feel so dismissed, she provided a thesis-level analysis of the ways black women have been forgotten and subdued.

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