If you've already heard the good news and digested it a little, you're probably ready to dive deeper. Me, too. But clues about JAY-Z's 4:44 from the "Adnis" teaser are a little complex to unpack. Rolling Stone has already reported that 4:44 isn't just the new JAY-Z album, it's also a Tidal-exclusive film that will boast the cream of Hollywood: We're talking Mahershala Ali, Lupita Nyong'o, and Danny Glover. But if the teaser below is anything to go by, there's going to be significant overlap between the two projects.
In the teaser, Shawn Carter raps, "Letter to my dad that I never wrote, speeches I prepared that I never spoke." Given that the rapper doesn't have any special affinity with boxing and the fact that the old man in the video appears just before JAY-Z starts on the phrase "Letter to my dad," I'd argue that, much like Lemonade, this is going to be the rapper's most personal outing to date. After all, it's no secret that he has a tumultuous relationship with his father, who left his family when the rapper was just 11 years old.
In a 2009 interview with Oprah Winfrey, he revealed:
Once you've let yourself fall that in love with someone, once you put him on such a high pedestal and he lets you down, you never want to experience that pain again. So I remember just being really quiet and really cold. Never wanting to let myself get close to someone like that again. I carried that feeling throughout my life, until my father and I met up before he died.
As such, I'd argue Ali's boxer character is a stand-in for JAY-Z, and the fighting is a metaphor for his relationship with his dad. This is a big assumption, but the fact that the teaser premiered on the evening of Father's Day lends weight to the fact that this album will be focused on what could be JAY-Z's most difficult relationship. And that, as such, the old man in the video isn't just any elderly citizen, but the protagonist's father.
Did you notice the way that Ali's character is seemingly alone in the room, but how the old man appears now and then behind the punchbag, but never in the same shot as Ali — almost as if he's not quite real? This felt like the video touching on how you can be haunted by loss and forced to wrestle your demons alone (but demons that someone else is at least partially responsible for). This brought to mind another part of the Oprah interview for me, when the Tidal artist-owner also revealed how his father's departure changed him, stating:
It made me not express my feelings as much. I was already a shy kid, and it made me a little reclusive. But it also made me independent. And stronger. It was a weird juxtaposition.
We see this here, with the Moonlight actor's performance — he's both intensely focused and isolated. It supports Beyoncé's husband's thesis, that his father leaving him hurt him immeasurably, but also made him stronger. This would also suggest why the older male figure is ambiguous. He looks just as much like a boxer's trainer as he does a father and that's important. It feels like the rapper is suggesting that his father's absence was a sort of training in that it forced him to be independent.
Of course, another interpretation of the old man in the video is that he's not appearing behind the punchbag so much as he is hiding behind it. That also felt open to interpretation. In the same interview referenced above, JAY-Z spoke about how he reportedly found out his father had been living just 10 minutes away, at JAY-Z's grandmother's house, the whole time, hiding in plain sight.
He also notes that, when his mom arranged for him to meet up with his father the first time, his dad allegedly never showed up, which also feels like a type of hiding — or at the very least, avoiding the uncomfortable responsibility of facing up to the son he'd left behind.
Perhaps "the greatest MC of all time" is learning from his wife. When it comes to pain, the best revenge is your paper. If the new record is even a 10th as powerful as this teaser, this album could elevate JAY-Z's career to stratospheric new heights.