Jay-Z's blueprint for success
Shawn Carter made some serious history this year. On June 13, the iconic Brooklyn MC known best as Jay-Z—one of the top-selling musicians of all time in any genre—became the first hip-hop artist in history to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Of course, he had to miss the ceremony; it was the same day Beyoncé gave birth to the superstar couple’s twins. But Carter was well-represented, thanks to an induction video from President Barack Obama, who said: “I like to think Mr. Carter and I understand each other … and let’s face it, we both have wives who are significantly more popular than we are.” Obama also noted that he’s “pretty sure” he’s the only president to blast Jay-Z tracks in the Oval Office. “That may change at some point, but I’m pretty sure that’s true now.”
The recognition is significant, but it’s also another honor in a long list for Jay-Z. More important to the rapper’s legacy is what happened later in June; he released 4:44, his 13th solo album and sixth prominent work since he “retired” with 2003’s The Black Album. For whatever reason, the concept of the late-career gem doesn’t really exist in hip-hop. It’s still a relatively young musical genre, and therefore remains focused on younger artists who are approaching or operating in their prime. At age 47 and well into the mogul stage of his career, Jay-Z has proven that not only can he still create relevant and resonant music, he’s also still capable of artistic growth and boundary-breaking.
4:44 is the evidence, deserving alignment with classic Jay-Z albums like Reasonable Doubt and The Blueprint. Pitchfork writes: “It only takes Jay-Z 36 minutes to create the historical artifact he’s wanted to make for years, a tell-all document to be hung in the halls of rap about infidelity and outgrowing friends, the way family shapes us and the way we carry those burdens into parenthood, and about evolving into more complete versions of ourselves … 4:44 is about legacy, how Jay will be remembered, what he’s leaving to his children, what he’s done for the culture, and what he’s trying to do for society.”
The fact that he’s buddies with Obama demonstrates Jay-Z has been much more than a rapper for a long time now, but this album, easily his most personal and vulnerable, blows away all hip-hop clichés, trading in his iconic bravado for mature introspection. He’s still laser-precise with his lyrics and delivery, but now he’s his own target. Chicago producer No I.D. crafted a vintage, soulful sound for all 10 tracks, the perfect canvas for the sophisticated lyricist to work with. He performed the new album’s “Bam” and title track on the season premiere of Saturday Night Live weeks ago, and will really kick the tires on his latest material with his fall tour, opening in Anaheim Oct. 27 and taking a turn to the Las Vegas Strip at T-Mobile Arena.
It’s appropriate Jay-Z stands alone as a rapper in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, because his body of work is a similarly solitary monument—one he continues to sculpt.
T-Mobile Arena, 8 p.m. Oct. 28, starting at $39.50 plus tax and fee. 888.929.7849