D's Thoughts on things
August 8, 2017
Some thoughts on Lemonade at 4:44 a.m.

It is a curious thing to observe the differences between men and women and how they respond to infidelity in relationships.  

Consider, for instance, Jay-Z’s album 4:44 and Beyoncé’s Lemonade where they both address the issue in their marriage.

Jay-Z raps about his infidelity, his concerns about the impact on the marriage, and the fact that he would have to face his children when they are old enough to Google.

In Lemonade, Beyoncé invokes her literary, musical and spiritual women ancestors and entreats us to journey with her from anger, to hope and redemption. Her album recalls poet Ntozake Shange, whose women contemplated suicide when the world was too much. Beyoncé’s emotional spectrum touched something in a lot of women. It is difficult thing when a man occupies all that space inside your brain and all he does is sullies it.

While I could sing its praises as a Jay-Z album, I am less inclined to hold 4:44 up as an exemplar of masculine honesty. In the title track that seems a direct response to Lemonade, he apologizes for cheating and for not committing to his marriage.

The lyrics are indeed thought provoking. One example is where Jay-Z says “I cried, I couldn’t hold/I suck at love, I think I need a do-over/I will be emotionally available if I invited you over/I stew over/ What if?/You over/ My sh*t.” Here he apologizes and worries about how his actions impact his partner and whether she has reached her limit. The chorus that follows features Hannah Williams, a blues ballad songstress, who croons “I’m never gonna treat you like I should.” This chorus layers the meaning of the track and, ironically, grates against his expressions of apology and regret. It suggests that he is unresolved in his own feelings, and that things may not change. It undercuts the sentiments he expresses in the song. It is an aurally pleasing contradiction.  

Equally interesting are the responses to 4:44. Many have praised Jay-Z’s honesty, his vulnerability, suggesting that as a leader in the rap game, which is known for its toxic masculinity and misogyny, it is somewhat groundbreaking for him to get so emotional on an album…so emotional for a man, that is.

That is the issue here.

Lemonade’s emotional tenor has greater range. Beyoncé’s creation takes her audience through the processes of her pain, through multiple tracks and relevant pieces of spoken word that transition one movement into the next. It pulls us in. Jay-z’s response in this one track with its particular sample, in comparison, rings hollow. The differences in the albums speak to how women and men are socialized to express themselves; the former to be more in touch with their emotions and the latter to muffle them. This aspect of socialization is what has led many to give Jay-Z “props” for issuing a minimal response.

I marvel at this reaction. It tells me that the bar is set pretty low for expectations of emotional honesty from men, especially celebrities. It is set so low that an “iffy” apology garners accolades from commenters and observers.

I came away from my listening session feeling as though one album was immersive and more authentic than the other. Additionally, as Hannah Williams’s raspy voice tracks through my mind, I think about women who sit under the shade of silk cotton trees, fanning themselves, stewing in the heat of their memories, waiting for the men in their heads to get it right.

Dr Debra Providence was sipping hibiscus tea while typing these words.