mu­sic re­views

Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture - - NEWS - re­view by Fredrick Sa­ly­ers il­lus­tra­tion by Cris Latorre { Roc Na­tion }

4:44, Girl Dis­rupted, Okovi, and more.

RAT­INGS: Buy it now

Buy a few of the tracks Stream it and de­cide Pass

Many Black men have lis­tened to Jay-z through 13 stu­dio al­bums, a record la­bel, a cloth­ing line, a cognac brand, le­gendary verses, and im­mense fame. They re­fer to him as Hov, an ex­alted fig­ure who is rich in ex­pe­ri­ence and wealth. When he speaks, they lis­ten. On 4:44, Hov uti­lizes that in­flu­ence to ask the ques­tion: What does it mean for Black men to prac­tice vul­ner­a­bil­ity? 4:44 of­fers a sonic foray into Jay-z’s in­ner­most thoughts about Black wealth, self­aware­ness, and his mar­riage. On the al­bum, he rein­tro­duces him­self as a trans­par­ent and in­ten­tional rap­per who has mas­tered the game of life, or more specif­i­cally, the game of cap­i­tal­ism. In this com­pe­ti­tion, men test their wills to earn more dol­lars than the next man, but for Black men, this is a game of sur­vival. In or­der to es­cape the streets and sit in board­rooms, Black men must har­den them­selves.

While growth and vul­ner­a­bil­ity are pow­er­ful, does it have to oc­cur at the ex­pense of those who love them? There is a still­ness be­tween Black men, a ten­sion filled with top­ics avoided and words un­spo­ken. When hang­ing up the phone with my best friend of 15 years, I still hes­i­tate to say “I love you.” It took me four years to come out to him as gay, and an­other four years to come out to my col­lege homies. As a Black gay man, I feel anx­i­ety when ad­dress­ing other Black men. I fear that my love for them will be seen as soft and any­thing I say or write in ser­vice of my broth­ers—specif­i­cally the het­ero­sex­ual ones—may fall on hard­ened hearts.

When Black men ex­press their feel­ings, they of­ten are forced to con­front the dan­ger­ous par­a­digm of hy­per­mas­culin­ity. Be­ing per­ceived as soft or fem­i­nine is a gam­ble. Jay-z has em­bod­ied this men­tal­ity on some of his most mem­o­rable records, in­clud­ing “Big Pimpin’” and “Song Cry.” He has se­lec­tively shared his emo­tions while at­tempt­ing to conquer or col­lect as many women as pos­si­ble. The al­bum’s ti­tle track, “4:44,” apol­o­gizes for that be­hav­ior.

“I apologize/ Of­ten wom­an­ize/ Took for my child to be born to see through a woman’s eyes,” he raps. “Took for these nat­u­ral twins to be­lieve in mir­a­cles/ Took me too long for this song/ I don’t de­serve you.” At the age of 47, Shawn Carter has awak­ened—wiser, more ma­ture—and knows that his in­dis­cre­tions have brought shame to his fam­ily.

As I lis­tened to the al­bum, I vividly re­mem­bered the men I have loved and how we fell out of love. I vividly re­mem­bered the men who raised me, felt their im­pres­sions in my bones. I re­flected on the Black boys

I’ve taught and men­tored over the years. All of these Black men have ex­pe­ri­enced sim­i­lar jour­neys in­ward to un­der­stand them­selves. The com­po­nents of these ex­pe­ri­ences de­pend on the in­ter­chang­ing vari­ables of love, di­a­logue, and, sadly, iso­la­tion.

I have ex­pe­ri­enced this iso­la­tion a few times on the jour­ney to find­ing and un­der­stand­ing my­self. First as a young boy with an es­tranged fa­ther, and then much later when I at­tempted to val­i­date my­self by per­form­ing the dom­i­nant, het­eronor­ma­tive stan­dard in my teenage years. I would boast about hav­ing any girl I wanted. I would draw all of the at­ten­tion on my­self from girls, and even­tu­ally other boys, be­cause I wanted to be af­firmed. In re­al­ity, I was ter­ri­fied that no one saw me fully. I ex­pe­ri­enced this iso­la­tion one fi­nal time when strug­gling to come out as gay.

I wanted to be open and proud. I wanted to main­tain my dig­nity, my fam­ily, and my friends. I didn’t want to change the soft­ness in my voice or suppress parts of my­self la­beled as de­viant or dam­ag­ing to my peo­ple. When Black men ex­press them­selves in a way that shat­ters the par­a­digm of Black mas­culin­ity, it of­ten leads to tan­gi­ble penal­ties against Black bod­ies, psy­ches, and spir­its.

Black men of­ten iso­late them­selves as pro­tec­tion, as a refuge to bury feel­ings, to sub­li­mate their emo­tions in sac­ri­fice of stereo­types that limit au­then­tic con­nec­tion. On “Fam­ily Feud,” Jay uses the ti­tle as a mul­ti­fac­eted anal­ogy of his wife and chil­dren, the cur­rent cli­mate of hip hop, and the Black com­mu­nity: “No­body wins when the fam­ily feuds/ We all screwed ’cause we never had the tools/ I’m try­ing to fix you/ I’m try­ing to get these n*ggas with no stripes to be of­fi­cial.” He uses his in­flu­ence to draw a con­nec­tion be­tween wealth and the im­por­tance of fa­mil­ial bonds. It’s not enough to pos­sess ma­te­rial wealth be­cause true abun­dance comes from a strong foun­da­tion.

Typ­i­cally, Black men see them­selves in di­rect com­pe­ti­tion to white men, of­ten over­look­ing the im­pact that has on other Black peo­ple, specif­i­cally Black women and Black lgbtq peo­ple. In “Smile,” Jay-z’s mother, Glo­ria, re­cites a poem about liv­ing in the closet, as­sum­ably in ser­vice of her son’s pub­lic im­age:

You live in the shad­ows for fear of some­one hurt­ing your fam­ily or the per­son you love/ The world is chang­ing and they say it’s time to be free/ But you live with the fear of just be­ing me/ Liv­ing in the shadow feels like the safe place to be/ No harm for them, no harm for me/ But life is short and it’s time to be free/ Love who you love, be­cause life isn’t guar­an­teed/ Smile.

Jay-z draws a di­rect lin­eage from his mother’s growth and mat­u­ra­tion to his own. “Smile” sug­gests that love and lib­er­a­tion isn’t

When Black men ex­press them­selves in a way that shat­ters the par­a­digm of Black mas­culin­ity, it of­ten leads to tan­gi­ble penal­ties against Black bod­ies, psy­ches, and spir­its.

lim­ited to Black men. Black queer peo­ple and Black women also need af­fir­ma­tion from their com­mu­ni­ties.

4:44 ini­ti­ates a larger con­ver­sa­tion among Black men. We can fol­low in his foot­steps, or learn and pre­vent sim­i­lar mis­steps by prac­tic­ing trans­parency and vul­ner­a­bil­ity in all of our ro­man­tic and pla­tonic re­la­tion­ships. Jay-z’s new­found vul­ner­a­bil­ity chal­lenges pre­con­ceived no­tions of Black mas­culin­ity. But the next ques­tion is: Are Black men lis­ten­ing? RAT­ING:

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