Self-Sabotage and 2 Other Things Insecurities Make You Do: A Jay-Z (Not 4:44) Review
THIS IS NOT AN ALBUM REVIEW. Ok? Cool. Now that we've made that clear, let's chat. 4:44 is the 13th studio album release from Brooklyn's heavyweight champ, Shawn Corey Carter aka Jay-Z. The album finds Mr. Carter at a crossroads of growth, self-realization, fatherhood and regret. The topics run the gamut from accepting his mother's sexual orientation to teaching us how to build generational wealth. He's not just older in age, he's mature. He's Blue and the twins' daddy. He's Beyonce's husband. He's schooling the young guys on longevity instead of bullying them into submission with reminders that he's worth more than half a billion dollars. He's a player in the 9th inning and this is, likely, his last homerun. He's created a masterpiece ,no doubt, but bleeding through the pulse of the album are Jay's insecurities. Yep, the man who built an empire out of drug money and rap caviar is struggling with the same self-esteem issues that many of us with less accolades struggle with. Insecurities are that daily whisper telling you that you don't deserve love, goodness, the things you've worked for or to be forgiven for your mistakes. Insecurities define our relationships not only with others but with ourselves. Insecurities are the devil on your left shoulder telling you to just "do you" when your whole world is at stake. The first sign of insecurity, and one that Jay-Z seems to be well acquainted with, is...
"I'll mess up a good thing, if you let me..."
When you believe that you're undeserving of a good thing, for whatever reason, you'll find a way to ruin it. It doesn't matter if it's a marriage, a job opportunity or a friendship. The issue is not the thing, it's you. You think you're not beautiful enough, smart enough, saved enough, etc...and so the other person in the equation must think the same, huh? And if they don't...they must love you in a way that you could never love them back...so what's the point, right?
Like the men before me, I cut off my nose to spite my face
I never wanted another woman to know
Something about me that you didn't know
I promised, I cried, I couldn't hold
I suck at love, I think I need a do-over
No, Jay, you need to love yourself. Love is a verb, yes, but it's not all that hard to do. If you can make it from the streets of the Marcy projects to the executive offices of your own record label, sports agency and management company---you can love, honor and respect your wife. Insecurity constantly tells you to ruin things so that you don't fear losing them. And if you listen to it, you'll be 47 finally understanding Vito Corleone's advice to his sons in The Godfather but not before almost going Eric Benet.
Lack of Self-Forgiveness
Accountability is great. Revisiting the lessons you've learned over the years is necessary. But there is a through line in Jay's albums of an inability to forgive himself for perceived wrongs. Whether it's the drugs he sold in his old neighborhood or the dissolve of his relationship with Damon Dash---he takes the blame and keeps it. So much so, that the opening track of his newest offering, "Kill Jay-Z" is a literally listing of all his wrongs.
"you got people you love you sold drugs to..."
"you got high on the life that sh*t drugged you"
When you consider the fact that Reasonable Doubt came out in 1996, making Jay's departure from selling drugs to feed his family at least 20 years ago, you wonder---will he ever be able to shake his past? Can he look back at his life and say "I did what I had to do but that doesn't mean I have to spend the rest of my life revisiting every mistake and being defined by them" at any point? Insecurity's job is to constantly remind you that you've done things to be ashamed of and to be unrelenting in proving that shame is greater than mercy. He's far from being the bastard that Marcy had fathered but he's too close to the pain to forgive himself.
Abuse Others and Make Excuses for It
Hip-hop doesn't always allow for the vulnerability that Jay-Z shows on this album's title track. On "4:44", Shawn is shining a light on his biggest mistakes as a husband and father. He's saying the words that every woman who's left a man after years of enduring his abuse would probably want to hear. He details his infidelities, his shortcomings and his fear of being the one to break his own children's hearts. It's gut-wrenching and infuriating all at once. Without a real timeline of their private life, it seems that Jay's "aint shit-ness" carried him well into his 40s and at least 10 years into his relationship with Beyoncè.
Look, I apologize, often womanize
Took for my child to be born
See through a woman's eyes
Took for these natural twins to believe in miracles
Took me too long for this song
I don't deserve you
It took for your child to be born for you to realize that you mistreat women habitually? *hard eye roll*...ok. He goes on...
That was your 21st birthday, you mature faster than me
I wasn't ready, so I apologize
I've seen the innocence leave your eyes
I still mourn this death, I apologize for all the stillborns
'Cause I wasn't present, your body wouldn't accept it
I apologize to all the women whom I
Toyed with you emotions because I was emotionless
This is just...hard to swallow. I'm sure it took big cajones for Jay to get on wax and admit to being this level of trash but though I appreciate his honesty, I can't overlook how much it must have hurt the WOMEN in his life more than him. And if we're doing the math based on what we know--when Beyonce was 21, Shawn was 33---a full 12 years her senior. Apologies are wonderful and imperative for healing but "I wasn't ready"...isn't good enough. Whatever he was doing that he feels contributed to the loss of their child---had nothing to do with his stunted maturity and everything to do with the part of him that has always felt that he was undeserving of a woman of her stature. Constant infidelity isn't about age, it's about power. It's about leveling the playing field by breaking the person who loves you down so much that they'll leave you eventually. It's about ultimately being left alone with nothing but your insecurities to keep you warm. It's answering that soft voice that says "do it to her before she does it to you" even though you know she loves you too much to serve what she's being fed. But you do it anyway. And for her suffering, you offer four minutes and forty-four seconds of half-baked acceptance sprinkled with a last ditch effort to show her appreciation she deserves---15 years and 3 children later.
You can charge it to his father's absence. You can charge it to his mother's having to hide her sexuality. You can charge it to his being first generation wealthy. Hell, you can charge it to Reagan's special delivery of crack cocaine in the 80s but whatever you do, don't ignore that Shawn Carter's shortcomings are undoubtedly connected to what he believes about himself. Not what he says about himself but what he truly, truly feels about the man he was, has become and is becoming. Because of that, 4:44 should be a beginning and not an ending. Every great work begins with a willingness to examine light and dark with a surgeon's precision, missing no details and leaning into the sharp parts. The blade Jay will fall on will be his own. And his survival depends on shedding himself of the fake armor of insecurity and replacing it with unconditional love and acceptance of all that he is.
Iman's book is now available in print here.