Posts tagged 4:44
Grown man raps: 4:44’s predecessors

We are now a few weeks removed from the one of the most prestigious awards that are handed out in entertainment. The 2018 GRAMMYs had fooled us into thinking this year's ceremony would be different from years past. With their nominations, the Recording Academy finally gave recognition to some of the lesser known music acts on a national scale. That hype was quickly dashed and short lived.

A similar tune of results was played as relatively safe picks won each major category without any notable upsets, just notable snubs. Snubs are to the award shows as loud irrational opinions are to a New York sports fan (guilty). A GRAMMY won't entirely make or break a career, but they're not completely worthless. Among the dozens of nominees in attendance that night, the most nominated artist came up trophy-less, in front of the world but more importantly, in front of his home turf. Brooklyn's Own JAY Z went 0 for 8 on January 28th, bringing home no hardware for transparent honesty on his most personal project to date, 4:44.

HOV's 13th studio album should not be remembered as just "the Lemonade response CD." While he does address the marital infidelity, there are many different grown ass topics the 48-year-old MC speaks on through the lens of a fully formed adult. "Kill JAY Z" was the first phrase to be uttered on 4:44, making way for Shawn Carter to enter with some commentary to impart wisdom and drop knowledge through the process for discovery of true self.

Putting aside the gaudy persona for a minute to openly speak about buried family secrets, fiscal responsibility, and the Black Community knowing and tapping into our valuable self-worth. Especially coming off the heals of his prior release, Magna Carta Holy Grail (Basquiat, Tom Ford, Basquiat again, etc.), 4:44 was an unexpectedly close and personal CD for a maturing legacy rapper. In the same vein as Denzel Washington's own passion project (Fences) at the Oscars, the critical acclaim was wide-spread, but the golden trophy was nowhere to be found for either legend.

A tweet came across my Timeline on that Sunday morning of the GRAMMYs. I agree with the last 3/4 of the message, but the opening sentence almost soured the entire point. Saying that rap "has never seen"  is a gross oversight. 4:44 deserves all the praise and accolades that it has been given, but the album is not a novel concept within the genre; 4:44 had predecessors.

Prime examples of recent predecessors were created by two of his worthiest peers in the pen game, the versatile assassin, Phonte Coleman and QB's Finest, Nasir Jones. Charity Starts at Home and Life is Good were released in a 10-month span in 2011 and 2012. Direct parallels can be drawn about the subject matter of lyrics on these 3 albums. For the most part, for the length of an entire project, the rappers spit some honest truththrough an unfiltered perspective about some grown man shit: family life as they age.

Age is not entirely indicative of increased wisdom, experience, and knowledge. Yes, it is worth noting that it's commendable for someone this late in their career, nearing the age of 50, made a mature pivot from their normalcy.

But different life circumstances could create different experiences that force people to pivot earlier, in different ways, at a different time in their adult life.

In September of 2011, Phonte was only 32 years old when he made Charity Starts at Home, but he was a man with a family of his own and decade-plus of the music industry under his belt. Ever since the early days as a college student in North Carolina with Little Brother, Tigallo had always presented himself as an old soul with his raps filled with observational bars about the humor in life. He's kept things real with is wisecracks and advice about the good and bad that this life has to bring, mixed in with innocuous jokes to lighten the mood.

About a decade after his main crew's inception and a little less after the official start of his RnB campaign, Phonte branched off to do a solo hip-hop record of his own, the very first of his respected career. The focus of his observational bars was drawn inward, this time zooming in on the 3rd stanza of life: the navigation of relationships in your 30s as you creep towards middle age. Charity Starts at Home was an introspective look at the start of adulthood.

Not "I just graduated college and now I split rent with 7 roommates" adulthood, but "dawg, I started a family with the person I love, doing work in a career I hate, but mortgage payment is due in a week" type adulthood.

When you wake up this morningI want you to go to the mirrorAnd I want you to look at yourself in the eyes and sayFuck you, fuck your hopes, fuck your dreams, fuck all the good you thought this life was 'gon bring youNow lets got out there and make this bitch happy

Everybody prays for the day they see the lightBut the light at the end of the tunnel is a train
5 dollar gas, and poverty rates, are rising much higher than your hourly ratesSo if you thinkin 'bout quittin you should probably waitCuz everybody gotta do a fuckin job that they hate - Phonte, "The Good Fight"

Phonte stayed par for the course by knocking another joint out of the park but the mid-career pivot came from a wise and mature mindset that's again not solely indicative of age. Highly relatable lyrics about grindin' and hustlin' legally can put the listener in his shoes for the length of the project. Everyday adult shit gets touched on, from not wanting to wake up for work on a Monday to mending relationships before and while things may be falling apart.

In the hilarious, yet poignant outro of "Sending My Love," from a place of sincerity, he speaks about beating down the strong urges of cheating on his significant other, an extremely human feeling that circles the mind of anyone, even in the most committed of relationships. "C'mon, Tigallo, Be Strong!" becomes the mantra of the moment with the following inner monologue:

I know she get on your nerves sometimes
But man, you got a good woman at home, man
Just go home, it-it-it's 'bout 4:30
Ain'tnothin open this time of night but legs and hospitals
Just go home, just take it on home
Martin Luther King did not die for niggas to be trickin off on HOES, nigga
Just, just take it home (all my love to you) - Phonte, "Sending My Love"

Important topics and life lessons dealing with family were discussed on Charity Starts at Home. Phonte briefly puts down the cloak of a rap superhero, opened up the door to his home, and showed the general public how not easy it is to not only create a family but how difficult it is to keep the core of the nucleus intact.  On the most basic level, it requires honest work and honest communication.

One of the main complaints from critics of 4:44 say the praise for the lifestyle and family advice was not life altering or super impactful. I disagree. With these kinds of projects, they're not supposed to be thesis papers using scientific data to reinvent the wheel. They offer a different side of rappers who share family principles that aren't a secret but serve as important reminders from time to time.

Storytelling has always been a major staple in the career of Nas. In his Book of Rhymes, Nas' "pen taps the paper" to create some vivid and detailed imagery from a pure lyricist standpoint. Life is Good, the 11th studio album by the Queens native, shares more career and biographic similarities with the creator of 4:44, but the content strongly remains comparable to Charity Starts at Home as well. Like Phonte, Nas was under 40 years old when creating his album, but the then-39-year-old had already lived out a full career at this point. 2 decades after his first official recording, with 2 children and 1 nasty divorce that still affects him to this day, Nas had experienced a great deal of triumph and adversity.

The heavily produced No I.D. and Salaam Remi project has an equally somber and rejuvenated balance to it both sonically and lyrically. Nas sounds energetic, refreshed and youthful. Aside from a few musical and topical misfires (*coughs in "Summer on Smash"*), Life is Good has a throwback sound in many spots on the album like genuinely upbeat tracks that captures the bounce of mid-90s NYC (i.e. "Reach Out" featuring Mary J. Blige). On the surface, Life is Good is a project that mixes old-school ideas with new school sensibilities as an older, matured individual. Nas, very transparently, shares details about having to deal with two dilemmas with two important women in his life: disciplining his teenage daughter and a divorce from his ex-wife, Kelis.

On "Daughters," an adult is facing a rewarding, yet terrifying time in the life of a father: the baby steps into the early stages into their child's adulthood. Nas created this song to speak directly to men out there that are also going through this father/daughter relationship. Not necessarily to the extent below, but he openly discusses potential hypocrisies that he notices from himself while trying to give the best possible advice to his daughter to make sure she lives her best possible life.

I saw my daughter send a letter to some boy her ageWho locked up, first I regretted it, then caught my rageLike, how could I not protect her from this awful phase?
Never tried to hide who I was, she was taught and raisedLike a princess, but while I'm on stage I can't leave her defenselessPlus she's seen me switchin' women, Pops was on some pimp shitShe heard stories of her daddy thuggin'
So if her husband is a gangster, can't be mad, I'll love him
Never, for her I want better, homie in jail – dead thatWait 'til he come home, you can see where his head's at - Nas, "Daughters"

Growth and self-awareness all come with time. Failures in life happen very often, but what you do with the detriment is key to success. Dwelling on something negative and not learning from the mistake or minor setback can leave you stuck.  Whether you're going through a messy divorce or relationship problems, having trouble with how you fit in with new-aged people in your profession or the "chinks in the armor" is becoming more noticeable to the kids, life is going to throw you a curveball.

"No matter what, Life is Good" was repeated several times throughout the project. It's a simple and effective phrase that could be a subtle reminder during a rocky time.

Again, I don't believe the original tweet was completely off-base, just a bit heavy-handed when saying "the rap genre has NEVER seen an album like 4:44." We have seen the introspective, late career, soul music influenced, rap album that was critically praised. Charity Starts at Home and Life is Good are two high-quality examples of that from this past decade. This piece is not a subjective discussion about which grown man project was better. It's an objective reminder that 4:44 had predecessors.

Because hip-hop, comparatively speaking, is a newer genre in the grand scheme of things. We haven't seen all of the most popular stars reach the pantheon of JAY Z and Nas (with Phonte on the precipice). We don't have a Stevie Wonder...yet. We don't have a Mick Jagger...yet. Is the introspective rap trend from the game's legends the next trend? The next decade or so will be a telling factor on whether or not more of the critically acclaimed and legendary lyricists from the 90s will adopt the same model of being extremely honest and open about daily stressors for the length of an entire project. Fingers crossed for an Andre 3000 joint executively produced by Organized Noize.

Grammy Predictions

The 2018 GRAMMY Awards are upon us. For the most part, the consensus believes the Recording Academy finally got the nominations right in the major categories.

It took 60 goddamn years but for the first time in the show's history, no white guys were nominated for "Album of the Year".

To top things off,  new, diverse acts like SZA, Rapsody, Goldlink and 6LACK were nominated for awards as well. In the past, these artists would normally get overlooked in favor of Top 40 artists.

Our writers Just JT and Eyeless gave their predictions for a few categories ahead of the GRAMMYs ceremony.



Record Of The Year

Redbone, Childish Gambino

  Despacito ,   Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber

• The Story Of O.J. , JAY-Z

HUMBLE, Kendrick Lamar

24K Magic, Bruno Mars

Eyeless: If we're factoring in everything - lyrics, vocals, production, and impact - then Redbone should definitely win Record of the Year because of its wholeness as a song. Gambino hit us with this gem of a track and it still gives me the chills. This will be a record that we'll play for our grandkids years from now.

Just JT: Crew by GoldLink, Brent Faiyaz & Sly Glizzy should’ve been considered a nominee but that’s neither here nor there.  Looking at this list, I feel like it’s going to come down to HUMBLE or 24K Magic. Both of these records are phenomenal and made huge impact in 2017.

But if I have to pick, I’ma have to go with 24K Magic. I’m shocked myself seeing that I’m rooting for Kendrick to take majority of the W’s this year. As much as I love hearing HUMBLE, there’s just something about 24K Magic that brings everybody together. Deep down I hope Kendrick takes it, but i’m rolling with Bruno with this one.

Album Of The Year

Awaken, My Love!, Childish Gambino

4:44, JAY-Z

DAMN, Kendrick Lamar

Melodrama, Lorde

24K Magic, Bruno Mars

Just JT: DAMN. DAMN. DAMN. And I say this in my best Florida Evans voice. Everything about this album is perfect; from the rollout to the tracklist to the visuals. Hell even for the tour. DNA & HUMBLE was the soundtrack for NBA Playoffs. Everytime I hear DNA, a basketball highlight reel begins to play in my head.

It makes sense to pick DAMN to win Album of the Year, even though we all know the Grammys are going to fuck it up & probably give Album of the Year to Lorde or Bruno. Moreso Lorde.

Eyeless: This is a really tough decision. All 5 nominees are great bodies of work that are deserving of top honors. Again, I'm gonna have to give the nod to Gambino (and composer Ludwig Göransson) for "Awaken, My Love!" because of the totality of the project. A new aged, funk record with flawless production that really shocked me in a major way.

Also, the Recording Academy have only given two rap projects Album of the Year (The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1999, and Outkast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2004. Awaken, My Love! would make the most sense.

Song Of The Year

Despacito, Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber

4:44, JAY-Z

Issues, Julia Michaels

1-800-273-8255, Logic Featuring Alessia Cara & Khalid

That's What I Like, Bruno Mars

Eyeless: It's gotta be Despacito, right? That song was inescapable all summer. Having an infectious beat, paired with star power like Bieber hopping on the remix, in addition to breaking streaming records across the world, this has all the makings of Song of the Year. (True pick: Crew)

Just JT: Im rolling with That’s What I Like. Again Bruno had a Killer year in 2017. I hear that record everywhere I go and plus the video is real simple but yet fire. (Also my True Pick would be Crew as well.)

Randy Shrosphire/Getty Images for HBO

Randy Shrosphire/Getty Images for HBO

Best New Artist

• Alessia Cara

• Khalid

• Lil Uzi Vert

• Julia Michaels


Just JT: Give it to the First Lady of TDE, SZA. She’s had one hell of a year ever since releasing CTRL. To me, it is a perfect depiction of exploring the minds of millenial women. She’s worked hard and made her presence known in the music industry this year and it’s worked out well for her. Her music is heat and I hope she takes home the W.

Eyeless: Just making it to the awards show with all these nominations is a major win for the First Lady of TDE. It'll be a shame if she doesn't, but I fully expect SZA to take home the GRAMMY for Best New Artist of the past year. She's been around for a minute but it's great to see her get mainstream recognition for her uniquely delivered honesty over RnB records.

Best R&B Performance

Get You, Daniel Caesar Featuring Kali Uchis

Distraction, Kehlani

High, Ledisi

That's What I Like, Bruno Mars

The Weekend, SZA

Eyeless: 24K Magic kind of got tucked away in terms of wide-spread recognition for music releases, but the singles from the album have been in steady rotation throughout the country. That's What I Like is a certified hit that is no exception. A mid-tempo groove that doesn't lack in pace or energy. I'm hoping for parity with the winners, but Bruno Mars might sweep the awards he's nominated for.

Just JT:  My true pick for this would be Get You, but since I have to be a realist, I’m also going to roll with That’s What I Like. And yes I would also not be surprised if Bruno was to sweep the awards he’s nominated for.

Best Traditional R&B Performance

Laugh And Move On, The Baylor Project

Redbone, Childish Gambino

What I'm Feelin', Anthony Hamilton Featuring The Hamiltones

All The Way, Ledisi

Still, Mali Music

Just JT: I’m Rolling with Redbone. I can already picture all of us playing this 10-20 years later telling our kids “Y’all don’t know nothing about this.” This is the perfect traditional R&B performance record in this list to me.

Eyeless: Redbone. Gambino's high-pitched and somewhat unintelligible vocals made for a great finished product. A throwback to 70s and 80s soul/funk, or traditionally black music, was such an important pivot for records during a time where everything sounds the same. You can play this song for damn near any age group and there may be some snark about the vocals, but the praise should be universal. It's damn near perfect.

Best R&B Song

First Began, PJ Morton

Location, Khalid

Redbone, Childish Gambino

Supermodel, SZA

That's What I Like, Bruno Mars

Eyeless: You already know...see my previous choice above. Watch the making of Redbone as well. It deserves all the awards.

Just JT: Hmmmmmmmmmm……my true pick is also RedBone but something is telling me that That’s What I Like is going to take the W.

Best Urban Contemporary Album


Awaken, My Love!, Childish Gambino

American Teen, Khalid

Ctrl, SZA

Starboy, The Weeknd

Just JT: I’ma just go ahead and pick CTRL for the W in this category simply because of more appeal than most of the category. Even though I'm not as big on 6lack as most are, I would feel he deserves to win this one much more. But because of star appeal, Im rolling with the First lady of TDE.

Eyeless: I'm gonna throw a curveball here and select 6LACK here. Reason is because of the wording: "Urban Contemporary." The sounds of hip-hop and RnB have kind of merged to create a new, unofficial type of genre "trapsoul," as of late. A shift in the sonics of music culture closely resembles the definition of this category. Free 6LACK fits the description well and it gives you the best of both worlds, mixing soulful cries and fluid raps without sounding forced.

Best R&B Album

Freudian, Daniel Caesar

Let Love Rule, Ledisi

24K Magic, Bruno Mars

Gumbo, PJ Morton

Feel The Real, Musiq Soulchild

Eyeless: Freudian is a traditionally pure RnB album from front to back. Love makin' melodies that are sure to instantly set the mood. Relatable trials and tribulations about relationships, a staple subject matter of RnB,  are all over the album as well. Soulful harmonies are clearly heard when paired with live instrumentation. Daniel's got a bright future in this industry; this is just Chapter 1 of his career.

Just JT:  My true pick would be Freudian, but I think 24K Magic will get picked strictly because of the appeal. Not taking away from it because 24K is phenomenal.



Best Rap Performance

Bounce Back, Big Sean

Bodak Yellow, Cardi B

4:44, JAY-Z

HUMBLE, Kendrick Lamar

Bad And Boujee, Migos Featuring Lil Uzi Vert

Eyeless: Hate it or love, but 2017 was the year of Cardi B. Bodak Yellow was a monster of a track in not only the hip-hop world, but it was a mainstream success. Being the crossover hit that it was, Bodak Yellow was more than a hot song of the summer, it was a moment that couldn't be ignored.

It'll be a close call with Bad and Boujee but I think Cardi will have the slight edge.

Just JT: To be frank, it would be so crazy if  Bodak Yellow takes home the W for this category. I definitely would be happy for Cardi forsure. she’s had a hell of a year. But I think HUMBLE is going to take the W in this category.

Best Rap/Sung Performance


Crew, Goldlink Featuring Brent Faiyaz & Shy Glizzy

Family Feud, JAY-Z Featuring Beyoncé

LOYALTY, Kendrick Lamar Featuring Rihanna

Love Galore, SZA Featuring Travis Scott

Just JT:  “She see Money all Around Me, I look like I’m the Man. But I was down & out Like Last week,,Tell me Where Have you Been..” …..  I speak it out to the Universe that GoldLink will take home the W for this record. If not, then fuck it we RIOT.


Best Rap Song

• Bodak Yellow, Cardi B

Chase Me, Danger Mouse Featuring Run The Jewels & Big Boi)

HUMBLE, Kendrick Lamar

Sassy, Rapsody

The Story Of O.J, JAY-Z

Eyeless: Speaking of crossover success, K. Dot achieved gold and platinum status several times with multiple songs DAMN. None were bigger than the Mike WiLL-produced HUMBLE.

Out of the choices in this category, I believe this will be the winner because of how appealing it is sonically. It's far from the complex Kenny that we all know, but he proves his versatility on how he can effortlessly crossover on this one.

Just JT: HUMBLE will win. The crossover success Kendrick had this year was astounding.

Best Rap Album

4:44, JAY-Z

DAMN, Kendrick Lamar

Culture, Migos

Laila's Wisdom, Rapsody

Flower Boy, Tyler, The Creator

Just JT:  If you’ve seen my answer for Album of the Year, then you already know who i’m picking. The CURRENT King of Rap, King Kendrick Lamar with DAMN.

Eyeless: Give it to Jigga Man. The four other nominees will be back in the category in one way or another. The diversity in the selections are incredible. But after JAY-Z gave us SHAWN's CD, 4:44 is wholly deserving of getting the title.

Hip-hop's elder statesman, over impeccable production by No-ID, was as open and honest as he's ever been while giving knowledgeable advice to the youth. Jay could have gone the Magna Carter route again with the expensive raps. He chose otherwise. And the results were great. Bravo HOV, bravo.