Jay-Z’s 13th album, his latest project 4:44 is unlike anything we’ve ever heard from him. It’s uncharacteristically honest, introspective and shares a vulnerability many artists tend to avoid.
In true Carter fashion, Jay-Z dropped the project–on Tidal first, of course–and while he did briefly explain the meaning behind each song, he’s been silent since then.
But his producer No I.D. (real name Dion Wilson), who was the only producer on the project, is sharing how the creative work, which is already being called a masterpiece, came to be.
In an interview with The New York Times, No I.D. said that the album was recorded in his Hollywood studio. The two began in December and ended very recently. If you’ve listened to the lyrics, particularly the one about Al Sharpton, you might have gathered that.
“We did that maybe Monday?” No I.D., 46, said with a laugh. “Maybe Tuesday. I finished it Thursday morning.”
The New York Times asked if there was any song that hit him particularly hard.
“One that I didn’t see him record that really hit me was obviously “4:44.” Me, him and Guru, his [recording] engineer, knew that we didn’t want him to do an album of “Lemonade” response. We just wanted him to respond and then let it be and still touch on other things. I created that beat to box him into telling that story. I put the sample from the singer Hannah Williams — it starts off with, ‘I find it so hard/When I know in my heart/I’m letting you down everyday.’ I remember him hearing it and looking at me like, ‘O.K., fine.’ He went home, wakes up at 4:44 [a.m.] and calls Guru over [to record]. I was blown away. I just walked out of the studio and wanted to go find my wife and hug her. I told him that’s the best song he’s ever written. Everything it covers about being a man, being in a relationship, being a father, how you affect your kids. These things don’t really get touched on in music, especially in hip-hop.”
“No, we never directly spoke about that album. Mainly because if he talks about himself, it’s going to bleed into that regardless. But there’s a difference in talking about it for the sake of response and for the sake of honesty and the truth. The truth needs to explain why you are the way you are, why you did what you did. We know what happened. We got it. But what were the circumstances that led to this and how do you feel about it?”
Were you getting outside input as you went along? Was Beyoncé coming by the studio?
“I always call Bey our de facto A&R. Pillow talk is the strongest conversation on the planet. Every song has to get past her ears, in my eyes. She came by a lot and played a good part in helping us get over hurdles on certain records. Of course she’s genius-level with that.”
We haven’t really had a rapper of Jay’s stature put out an album of this magnitude this late in his career. Did you discuss the hurdles of getting people to take an older man seriously in a young man’s game?
“Absolutely. A couple times we said, “Has there been anyone in any genre that really tapped into themselves on a new level at that age?” It’s really kind of unheard-of across the board, not just in rap. But there are certain cheat codes that are available now — you have streaming, and the ability to listen to everything that ever happened. We could gauge: Why does Adele do this? Why did Led Zeppelin do this? Why did Jimi Hendrix do this? What are the common threads? Honesty, vulnerability, pain — these are things that always supersede the trends of the day.”