So I listened to Beyonce’s Lemonade and Jay-Z’s 4:44 together (one Lemonade track and then one 4:44 track, in that pattern to the end–I mean, I took out “Daddy Lessons” because—I’m sorry, but I just can’t take any semblance of country twang, even if it’s by Bey) and it was…an interesting and surprisingly emotional experience to see how both experienced and perceived their marital and relationship struggles and more, such as empowering black people and speaking on this country’s current political climate. A very personal and political contrivance for both of them and I love it. And they both stand alone pretty well too. Lemonade is still full of bops and soul and honesty and rawness and remains Beyonce’s magnum opus! And 4:44 is fresh, feels like a renewal and a recognition of past wrongdoings with that old smooth and classic Jay-Z flow and I was surprised how much I actually liked it…now…
I do find it a bit problematic how 95% of you guys are taking a black man’s open vulnerability, honesty (as dirty and ugly as it is) and his baring of skeletons in which he admits all of his wrongs and tries to be capable of forgiveness, and turning it into a sideshow drama that you can pour all our of projected feelings of rage and disappointment into. I know we live in a culture that loves to feed off other people’s drama, particularly the drama of celebrities, but this is artistic expression that deserves more nuance than just the reactionary sentiments we’ve seen thus far. And don’t get me wrong, Jay is a real piece of shit for what he did and not just because Beyonce is Beyonce and is such an icon…any man who does this to their partner is trash on sight–and yet…the strength it takes to take all that pain and turn it into something people can experience and maybe learn from, heal from…that takes courage and some genuine soul searching. I mean, he doesn’t have to deal with it in the same way Bey had to at all–and his confessions are minimal when weighed against the feelings Beyonce expressed in Lemonade, but they are a indelible and invaluable piece of this artistic flourish showcasing black pain and black renewal and black forgiveness in all of it’s complexities–and that shit ain’t easy and it’s ugly and real cute to disparage from afar, but there is so much more to it than a state of rage and fury.
And sure, big celebrities such as Jay-Z and Beyonce have all the resources to do so, but you can’t deny their talent and I’m proud of them both…Beyonce particularly, finding a way to turn her pain and anger into beautiful art specifically to validate the complex feelings that come with someone you love betraying your trust, especially as it pertains to black women.
In this way I like to think of Lemonade and4:44 as a compilation piece of a relationship gone through turmoil and trying to find peace again. And I honestly don’t like how so many fans (either from the Hive or of Hov) are turning their soul-baring art into just another gossip travesty to gawk and whisper about, with all the lame memes and weird reactionary posts damning Jay-Z to hell and conspiring about Bey’s pregnancy. Like, get outta here with that…
That said, this world already makes it hard for men, particularly black men, to express their vulnerabilities, insecurities, and demons without ridicule or dismissal–expression that could in the future open up more healthy communication in loving relationships which could directly avoid things like infidelity and ego overriding one’s love for their significant other and their family.
And then there is the material that is bigger than them and their celebrity couple status, which already has so much relevance in current pop culture: The black uplift in both albums–the importance put on legacy, forgiveness, and excellence within the black family, the personal and political introspection of how America and the world in general interacts with black bodies whether or not they are wealthy and famous or living in the “ghetto” doing their best to get by with whatever means they have, be it legal or illegal. That is what I think I take most from this–they take their specific position and perspective and circumstance, wrongs and nuanced feelings and make it universal for black people—and I don’t like the fact that we reduce all of that down to the juicy gossip of “Oh shit, how is that dusty nigga Jay gonna take his ass out and cheat on Bey?!” Which is not to downplay their personal pain and struggle and not only a reconciliation–but a rare healthy black reconciliation–but I think we ought to observe the nuance of their situation and expand on that to a bigger, more imperative narrative, as them as artists, them as black artists telling their truth, and encouraging other black people to do the same.
“Kill Jay Z” is a great song about knocking down that toxic male ego to get to the vulnerability necessary to rectify past wrongs and prevent future missteps. “The Story of OJ” is…well, it speaks for itself. And like much of Jay’s new album, I think it is critiquing a lot about black male insecurities and how we try to overcompensate with all the money and ego and women and status symbols and how a lot of that is a result of how America disparages black male bodies which is not a forgiving excuse to do that things a lot of black men do but still an interesting expression of these issues and how it ends up having a deleterious effect on black women…how it all trickles down and attempts to ruin the black family. So the renewal and reconstruction of trust and love is something I do like to see in the black community, and for Beyonce and Jay-Z to be such big icons and to highlight that, I think it is a positive thing–and their artistic expression through music expresses so much more than the usual cynical crap that is meant to keep black men and women in a single simplistic state of mind. It’s time to move beyond that…it’s time to think and be better, and use that rage and confusion and hurt to fortify something that will be lasting and encourage and inspire others. And that is what Beyonce’s Lemonade and Jay-Z’s 4:44 do for me.