Jay Z’s 4:44 is another addition to the rapper’s legacy, but let’s not forget even someone at his stature has a few things to address. Namely, a few assumed targets running hip-hop right now.
If we’re talking about subliminals, this isn’t the first time Hov has delivered a few sneak disses on record. Throughout his discography, you’ll hear him going at Mase (“Ride or Die”), 50 Cent (“It’s Hot (Some Like It Hot)”), Joe Budden (“Pump It Up (Freestyle) ‘03”), and of course, Nas (“People Talkin’,” “Takeover”).
Dig deeper than that, most Jay historians remember what was thought as a Mase jab was actually towards Harlem World’s Meeno on Memphis Bleek’s “My Mind Right (Remix).” (The line: “Using my name in vein like I won’t damage the boy/You think niggas was shooting your fat ass out of canons before (I’m that nigga).”) It goes without question that each of his lines are open for interpretation for the listener, which causes all kinds of debates by stans and newcomers alike.
Lately, rap theorists have delved into Jay’s complicated relationship with Drake, where they’ve come to the conclusion that he’s referencing him on songs like “I Got the Keys” and “Shining.” Whether you agree or not, nothing doesn’t sound as more direct as him rapping on DJ Khaled’s “They Don’t Love You No More”: “Haters wanna ball, let me tighten up my draw string/Wrong sport, boy, you know you soft as a lacrosse team.” All for sport, right?
Or if you consider this album is Jay letting his guard down, are some age-old feuds being squashed here on some grown man shit? When he went on that tweetstorm and shouted out all his influences after being inducted to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, a few of them were his once-rivals—Nas, Cam’ron, and Budden. It takes more than one listen to break down a subliminal, and we’d made sure to look at both sides.
On 4:44, Jay is in top form. Just like other big event albums from this year, we’ll be talking about this one for awhile. Here, we’ve complied all of the subliminal disses from 4:44.
“Kill Jay Z”
“I know people backstab you, I felt that too/But this fuck everybody attitude ain’t natural/But you ain’t the same, this ain’t Kumba ‘Ye/But you got hurt because you think kumbaye/You give him $20 million without blinking/he gave you 20 minutes on stage, fuck what was he thinking?/’Fuck wrong with everybody?’ is what you saying/But if everyone is crazy, you’re the one that’s insane”
“You almost went Eric Benét/Let the baddest girl in the world get away/I don’t even know what else to say/Nigga, never go Eric Benét”
“In the future, other niggas playin’ football with your son/You had lost it, 13 bottles of Ace of Spade what it did to Boston”
Assumed Targets: Kanye West, Future, Eric Benét
On the opening track, Jay Z raps about how he’s angry at himself. You can probably guess this is him killing the old Jay Z so the new Jay Z can flourish. There’s also a subliminal aimed at Kanye West, possibly addressing the nearly 15-minute rant ‘Ye did during the Saint Pablo Tour stop in Sacramento. On Jay, he said:
I’ve been sitting here to give y’all the truth. Jay Z, call me, bruh. You still ain’t calling me. Jay Z, call me. Aye, bruh, I know you got killers. Please don’t send them at my head. Just call me. Talk to me like a man. I’m not trying to be the man. I just am a man, the same as anybody here. I ain’t above, below none of y’all. We all equal. We all equal. This is the vibes, bro. This is the future.
In his last verse, Jay makes a reference to the infamous elevator fight with Beyoncé’s sister Solange, cautioning himself to not end up like Eric Benét who split from Halle Berry in 2003 amid rumors that he was cheating. Jay’s wordplay also points out the situation with Future and Ciara’s relationship, as well as their tense custody battle. There’s numerous photos of Ciara’s husband Russell Wilson playing with Future’s son, filling the void of a father figure.
“The Story of O.J.”
“I could’ve bought a place in Dumbo before it was Dumbo/For like two million/That same building today is worth 25 million/Guess how I’m feeling? Dumbo”
Assumed Targets: Gentrification
Jay Z told iHeartRadio: “We as a culture, having a plan, how we’re gonna push this forward.” Anyone savvy in real estate knows if you invest in property early, then it appreciates in value. Hov is kicking himself for not jumping on some cheap property before the neighborhood in Brooklyn was called Dumbo.
“Caught Their Eyes”
I survived eating guys like you/I’m surprised y’all think y’all can disguise y’all truths/I seen eyes wide as they about to shoot/You can be a hair pin off or you can trigger your roots/I wave to these haters, don’t give me dap/You know the world can see just how phony you at, bruh/Y’all body language is all remedial/How you could see the difference in you and I”
“I sat down with Prince, eye to eye/He told me his wishes before he died/Now, Londell McMillan, he must be color blind/They only see green from them purple eyes/They eyes hide, they eyes high/My eyes wide shut to all the lies/These industry niggas, they always been fishy/But ain’t no Biggie, no lazy eye, huh/This guy a slave on his face/You think he wanted a master with his Masters?/You greedy bastards sold tickets to walk through his house/I’m surprised you ain’t auction off the casket/Don’t big bro me, don’t big homie/I’ve seen pure admiration become rivals/I’ve been to Paris at least two times/I’ve seen the Eiffel, I’ve seen an eye full”
Assumed Targets: The Prince Estate, Kanye West (?)
It’s unclear who Jay is talking about in his first verse (someone must have offended him recently), but he’s clear about his target in his second verse: The Prince Estate. The music industry advisers are Charles Koppelman and L. Londell McMillan, who is also the owner of The Source. Here, he chides them for profiting off Price’s death. Tours open to the public of his Paisley Park estate in Minnesota were organized months after his passing. It’s also worth noting that The Source honored Prince with a tribute cover, but Hov believes that was an easy cash-in.
Jay then makes a reference to fake people who call him “big bro” or “big homie.” This could be him referencing Kanye again, who is his biggest admirer. ‘Ye once dedicated a whole song to Hov (“Big Brother”), but lately there seems to be some rough patches in their friendship.
I’m tryna fix you/I’m tryna get these niggas with no stripes to be official/Y’all think small, I think Biggie/Y’all whole pass is in danger, ten Mississippi/Al Sharpton in the mirror takin’ selfies/How is him or Bill Cosby s’posed to help me?”
Assumed Targets: Younger generation of rappers
The old vs. new guard of hip-hop has been a hot topic of discussion recently (See: Lil Yachty and Joe Budden’s conversation on Everyday Struggle). Jay is taking the concept of family and applying it to the rap game—we can all get money and be successful together if the younger rappers let the older ones mentor them. He uses current cultural references like Al Sharpton’s mirror selfies and Bill Cosby (who used to have a loveable father-figure image) as examples of role models who aren’t leading us the right way.
“Uh, niggas is skippin’ leg day just to run they mouth/I be skippin’ leg day I still run the world”
Assumed Targets: Kanye West
“Bam” not only samples Sister Nancy (just like Kanye did on “Famous”), but this lyric might be in response to Kanye’s line on “30 Hours”: “I hit the gym, all chest no legs.” Hov comes to the conclusion that certain rappers like to talk more than actually putting in work.
“We stuck in La La Land/Even when we win, we gon’ lose/Ya’ll got the same fuckin’ flows/I don’t know who is who/We got the same fuckin’ watch/She don’t got time to choose”
“Look, I know killers, you no killer/Bathing Ape maybe not a gorilla, huh?/Glorified seat filler, huh?/Stop walkin’ ’round like y’all made Thriller, huh?/Fake Dracos all in the videos/We sure, we shoot ’em in my city, though/I don’t post no threats on the internet/I just pose a threat, blame Lenny S. for that”
Assumed Targets: The culture at large
This is a subtle nod to La La Land winning the Oscar, and then giving it to Moonlight. Jay wants to capture how the culture can sometimes feel taken advantage from mainstream, out-of-touch influencers. On the flip side, Jay thinks that it doesn’t help when younger rappers choose to be unoriginal and do what everyone else does. The line about Dracos could be dissing Soulja Boy, Famous Dex, and others who have used violent imagery to gain a following.