Mental health illness are vastly under discussed in the African American community. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Diverse-Communities/African-Americans ), many African-Americans misunderstand what a mental health condition is. This lack of knowledge causes people to see mental illness as a weakness or personal flaw rather than a medical condition. This shame and stigma leads many African Americans to neglect discussing mental illness and fail to seek resources.
The same can be said for the field of rap music. In this hyper-masculine environment, much of the conversation involves attacking one another’s character flaws. Yet, facing both of these barriers did not stop rapper Jay-Z from opening up about his experience with therapy in a recent article released by T, the New York Times’s social magazine.
Jay Z’s most recent album feels noticeably different than his previous works. In contrast to the hype diss tracks found on Roc La Familia and The Blueprint, 4:44 sounds and feels softer. The beats and lyrics are smoother- words flow into one another to form a story, an emotional outpour of events and their consequences. Why the sudden change in vibe? Hova started therapy.
As Jay Z told T magazine, “I learned so much from therapy. But the most important thing I got is that everything is connected.” (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/11/29/t-magazine/jay-z-dean-baquet-interview.html https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/11/29/t-magazine/jay-z-dean-baquet-interview.html ). This helps explain the newfound synthesis in his lyrics. The ability of Jay Z to tell a story from beginning to end, to categorize and recapture the feelings from their conception to their demise, is prominent on 4:44.
In the title song, 4:44, Jay Z relives his marriage complications with Beyonce. “Took for these natural twins to believe in miracles,” Hova shares. “Took me too long for this song, I don’t deserve you.” This alludes to the birth of Jay Z and Beyonce’s twins, as well as his infidelity to Beyonce. Later in the song, Jay Z goes on to rap, “I promised, I cried, I couldn't hold. I suck at love, I think I need a do-over.” Jay Z’s openness to his flaws and willingness to admit his shortcomings is something new to rap music, where the conversation typically focuses on boasting oneself or diminishing the accomplishments of another. Examples of this in his previous albums include his 1999 song “It’s Hot,” where he calls out rapper, 50 Cent, saying “"Go against Jigga, yo' ass is dense/I'm about a dollar, what the fuck is 50 Cents?"
That isn’t to say that Jay-Z’s sound has changed entirely. On 4:44, in the song Family Feud, Jay Z still brags about his success, with lyrics such as “Beyonce in the crib feeding the kids liquid gold,” and “ain’t no such thing as an ugly billionaire, i’m cute.” Jay Z is still proud of his accomplishments and talks about them vividly, but there is a humanizing element to his music that shows a much deeper level of personal awareness.
In an interview with iHeartRadio, Jay-Z says that he thinks 4:44 is one of the best songs he’s ever written. A large part of this confidence can be linked to his emotional development over the course of the album. In Kill Jay-Z, Hova comments, “you walking around like you invincible.” But he admits that people, including himself, have open wounds that need healing. “The pain is real you can’t heal what you never reveal,” he discusses on the track.
Yet Jay Z admits that talking about such personal issues on such a large scale hasn’t been easy. The writing process was delicate, studio sessions were long, and performances are inamite and raw. Yet therapy has helped Jay Z learn so much about himself and others around him. This includes being sensitive to the pain and experiences of others. Despite the discomfort that can come with sharing deeply personal stories, Jay Z embraces his ability to do so. “I knew it would have that sort of impact beyond myself. It's my responsibility as an artist to go to these places.” With such pivotal and legendary artists like Jay Z starting to talk about mental health, hopefully we as a society can get closer to ending the stigma.