The verdict’s been out for a while. 4:44 is one of HOV’s best records in a long time. It accomplishes so much in a short running time with such constant focus. Economics, access, space, his personal failings, redemption and ego death wipe the slate clean. Lots of people have given great words on these themes.
I want to focus particularly on the production, from the widely recognised samples to the way these compositions now live in Jay’s discography, and how refreshingly modern and insular the production is.
4:44 feels intimate and insular but is brutally maximalist in it’s composition techniques even if it doesn’t feel like it. Honestly listen to Moonlight haha. Filter envelopes, stutters, octave shifting, glitch chopping, low-end bass that doesn’t hit with the intensity of the Atlanta trap scene definitely makes 4:44 a unique case in 2017.
“I began to play the samples like I would play an instrument.” NO I.D on Rolling Stone
The detracted attention from the low-end makes the textures in the mids (the voice) and the highs breathe more and we become more focused on what’s going (i.e the lyrical content/soundscape). In 2017, 95% of hip hop’s low end is monstrous so to reduce this is a decision of choice.
The drum patterns are fairly simple also – this helps compensate with the extensive sample chopping (on Caught Their Eyes taking Nina Simone’s reggae jam Baltimore into a classicist net-funk-rap jam.)
4:44’s samples themselves could function as a highlight reel and museum of black music over the past half-century: drawing from soul, gospel, reggae, funk, past decades of hip hop. (even those samples not exclusively made by those but functioning in those genres: the 4:44 and Marcy Me samples)
Their re-purposing, re-positioning over HOV’s tales give familiar music a new almost hologramed space to live in where the original framework is intact and can be traced but the angles are different. I can’t wait to hear more of these techniques creep up across the hip-hop landscape across different source materials. Old always builds new. And 4:44 does this too.