JAY-Z’s Ode to Masculinity and The Lives of Men
Music is the soundtrack of our lives. It has the power to transport us and elicit a wide-range of emotions. In rare instances, music also has a unique ability to encapsulate moments so vividly, that it feels as though the artist must have tapped into our souls and taken a polaroid picture of our lives.
JAY-Z’s release of his latest album 4:44 has been met with broad criticism from both men and women. Some of the most thought-provoking responses have come from Sisters who believe that JAY-Z’s admission of infidelity and his subsequent apology, only help to emphasize how in some cases a man’s growth and evolution come at the expense of a lady he’s hurt emotionally. DAMN! Let’s take that in for a second. That’s real shit. Sometimes anger and pain can lead to transformative change, I believe this album has sparked those conversations.
“We live in a society that more readily forgives men for cheating than it does women. In fact, men’s promiscuity has been celebrated as a rite of passage where women are ostracized and further degraded by the same and sometimes less comparable behavior.” – Jason Rosario
In my opinion, the album can be the beginning of what I think is an important conversation. One that begins to hold us as men more accountable for our actions, while allowing a space for growth, atonement and ultimately forgiveness. It creates a space for Brothers and Sisters to engage in vulnerable, heartfelt dialogue that serves as the basis for deeper growth and understanding. And, in that process, create stronger bonds of communication that will lead to more connected, healthier relationships.
As for the album, I think it’s one JAY-Z’s best pieces of work, in large part due to the timing of its release. The world is yearning to hear from men in a different way. The world wants us to speak vulnerably from that place within us that can only be Truth. The world needs us to step into our greatness and leave behind the boyish behavior. It needs us to step into a new definition of masculinity, one that does its part of deconstructing the structures of patriarchy and help create safe spaces of inclusion for all groups of people women and the LGBTQ community.
This album puts to song all of the values that inspired the creation of The Lives of Men as a platform – vulnerability, an unapologetic celebration of black excellence, masculinity and self-reflection. JAY-Z provides us with the perfect soundtrack for that introspective journey.
One particular song that jumps out at me is “Kill JAY-Z.” In it, he metaphorically kills his old Self in order to renew and resurrect into a better version of himself. This has been a central principle in my own therapy sessions. The trauma and shame of a deeply challenging experience can serve as inspiration for new growth, and Jay does a great job illustrating that in this song. My favorite line is “You can’t heal what you never reveal.” Whaaa?!
The other song that resonates with me is the title track “4:44.” Arguably one of the greatest songs he’s composed, Jay spills his heart out in the most vulnerable way. It’s an ode to personal growth from a 47-year-old man that inspires all of us to look at the ways we show up in our relationships and start to not only atone for those mistakes but also ensure that we address their root causes. The song challenges us to raise our young men differently and provide healthier representations of black masculinity. Lastly, in a subtle nod to artistic numerology, the most vulnerable song on the album stands at exactly 4 minutes and 44 seconds. My favorite line in this song was hard to choose, but this one resonates with me the most. "Look, I apologize, often womanize. Took for my child to be born to see through a woman's eyes."
So, whether you are a fan of the album or not, the fact that we have a black man in a position of influence in our community, seemingly taking responsibility for himself and revealing, in a very public way that he needs to change is something to be proud of. The album comes at a time when the collective male consciousness is being challenged to step into its full power. That means embracing all aspects of masculinity, debunking myths of what being a “real man” is and doing it in a vulnerable way that creates pathways to real healing and growth.