Originally posted July 9, 2017
As I'm sure you know by now Jay-Z released his 13th solo album 4:44 last week. This post comes a week late because I'm one of the 6-point-whatever billion people in the world who don't use Tidal and never will. I'm an Amazon Music subscriber and refuse to submit to "The Man"!
All jokes aside, Jay-Z's newest album is one of his best. And in an age where the majority of hip-hop is incoherent, mumbling nonsense, this album is a bit refreshing. Jay addresses the subjects of taking care of his children, leaving a legacy, black entrepreneurship, his own personal arrogance and even his unfaithfulness to his wife. The aspirations of this album are high. But Jay-Z always aims high. I obviously don't know the man, but he comes off as a high thinker based on his music and interviews.
However, I don't think Jay aims high enough. I'd even venture to say that as much as I enjoyed the artistry and honesty of this record, Jay misses the mark completely. According to him, 4:44 is the album's title because that's what time he woke up in the morning, tormented by guilt, and wrote the song with the same name - a song primarily apologizing for his adultery. I propose that we rename the album "8:36."
Mark 8:36 reads, "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" And it's the question that kept coming to my mind throughout the album.
First, I'm a firm believer that all truth is God's truth and that it's important to redeem the aspects of our culture that highlight the truths of God's goodness and glory. While it goes without saying that adultery is bad, I do celebrate that a man with as much influence as Jay can identify his adultery as a major wrong as well. Rather than throwing stones from a distance, we can pray that the millions of men who have heard that song by now will take heed and be faithful husbands and attentive fathers. Lord knows we need more of that and not less! There's also wisdom in Jay's desire to invest in opportunities that are aimed at leaving a legacy for his children, his wife, and his close family so that they be a positive influence to those who come after them rather than waste money in materialism on himself. He talks about this idea quite a bit throughout the album. For example, in his song "Legacy" he raps,
This is a worthy cause to strive for. It appears as if Jay-Z's goal is for young black men and women to stop chasing success for the purpose of looking fresh, rather we should aim higher. We should aspire to own businesses, create opportunities, and leave a legacy for our families. These goals are high, but as I said before - not high enough.
"For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?"
It is a good thing for a man to leave his family in great shape when he leaves this earth. That's exactly what he is supposed to do. However, the best shape a man can leave his family in is leaving them the legacy of the gospel.
The Rich Young Ruler in Luke 18 was also aware that adultery was bad and family was important. When Jesus recited those particular commandments the young man's response was, "All these I have kept from my youth" (18:21). Yet, when Jesus told him that God requires more, that he should even be willing to sell everything - inheritances and all - he "became very sad for he was extremely rich" (18:23).
Jesus taught the exact same lesson in his Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12. The rich man in this parable aspired to build bigger and bigger barns with his great wealth, clearly not focusing on eternity. Jesus' response to him? "Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?"
Again, I think 4:44 absolutely addresses issues that need addressing and they come from a man with as much influence as there has ever been in the music industry. But young men aspiring to own bigger businesses to leave better legacies for their families does not solve sin. Sin is the real problem. Why do hip-hop artists aspire to "throw away money at a strip club" (from the song The Story of O.J.")? Sin. Why are rich young black men interested in popping bottle after bottle of "Perrier-Jouet" (from "Family Feud")? Sin. Why does anyone commit adultery? Sin. Or abdicate responsibility of their children? Sin, sin, sin! Any perceived solution to societal problems that doesn't address sin will ultimately fail.
This is why the church has been drilling the name of Jesus into the minds of all who will listen for the last 2,000 years and will continue to do so until his return. Jesus is the One who takes care of sin. He stepped into a broken world as the eternal God who created everything. He took on a human body and experienced this fallen world right in the thick of it. He resisted temptation and preached the good news and he was killed for it. But his death wasn't in vain - it was a strategic death meant to purchase the lives of all who would follow him. It was a strategic death that cancels the power of sin in all of his followers past, present, and future. He got up out of the grave three days later to complete this ultimate act of grace, demonstrating that death has no power over him or anyone else who trusts him as their personal Lord and Savior.
To put it succinctly, Jesus is the only answer to the problem of sin. Faith in Jesus Christ is by far the most important legacy anyone can leave their children and it is the only solution to the problems created by wrongful aspirations whether they come from within the hip-hop community or outside of it. Jay-Z needs grace; his wife needs grace; his kids need grace; black men need grace; I need grace, and so do you. We all need it.
So while Jay-Z's album is excellent, addressing very important issues, it fails to address the most important issue - as do all works without Christ. I pray for a positive impact from the good, moral lessons that can be gleaned from parts of this album, but I pray even more fervently for Christ's glory to reign supreme and for more lost souls to find their rest in Jesus each and every day.