If you were not a Tidal subscriber or Sprint customer as of June 26, you’ll need a new phone plan to play Jay-Z’s new album, 4:44, this week. Simply signing up for Tidal, the streaming service co-owned by Jay-Z and a number of other superstar musicians, won’t do it—you need a Sprint contract as well. To any would-be listeners annoyed at this situation, Jay-Z’s spin on the matter may not help things. “This is a perfect storm of sharing music with fans,” he said in a press release. “Sprint allows for and promotes creative freedom.”
Finding virtue in what appears to be selling out has, of course, long been part of Jay-Z’s package. His list of corporate partnerships over the years is lengthy, and Sprint is the third separate phone company through which he’s released an album. Many music listeners are, understandably, squicked out when an artist so enthusiastically links their work to corporate interests. But 4:44, Jay-Z’s best album in a long time, tries to answer those concerns. It’s the thoughtful refinement of a career-long argument that Jay-Z has made: that for him, making huge bucks serves a greater good.
The hip-hop veteran No ID produced the album’s 10 tracks, using chopped-up soul samples and crisp rhythms for controlled, bittersweet soundscapes that foreground the lyrics. And what juicy lyrics they are. Lemonade’s implication that Jay-Z cheated on Beyoncé? Confirmed, and heartily apologized for, on the title track. The mysterious video of his sister-in-law attacking him in an elevator? In 4:44’s first track, he expresses remorse for having “egged Solange on.” His increasingly tense relationship with Kanye West? They’re officially on the outs, with Jay-Z suggesting that his onetime protégé and friend is “insane.” There’s even a revelation that Jay-Z’s mom is a lesbian: “Had to hide in the closet, so she medicate / Society shame and the pain was too much to take.”