Back in the 80s and 90s, rap albums just got released. No matter how big the artist, it was simply another album, and rarely a cultural event that had people up in the night, waiting to analyse every lyric. How Jay-Z must wish it were 1996 now, the year he released Reasonable Doubt without the weight of the world on his shoulders. No major rapper can release an album in such a vacuum in 2017, and in the case of Jay-Z’s 4:44, he can expect a special kind of attention.
This is due not only to the rapper’s enormous profile, but also because it is his first album since the release of Beyoncé’s Lemonade, an ambitious concept record whose beautifully targeted rage laid bare the precarious state of her marriage with Jay-Z. Shots were fired at his infidelity, at his inconstancy, at “Becky with the good hair”.