When I first heard Jay-Z’s new album “4:44,” I was like, “Yes! Jay-Z is back! Finally!!!” From the first track until the last, I was captivated by his no-nonsense humor and honest self-reflection.
Jay-Z opens his album with a song called, “Kill Jay-Z.” It’s like he knows that before he can get into the album, he has to address his infidelity to the incomparable Queen B, Beyonce Giselle Knowles-Carter.
So, after a long period of silence, Jay-Z speaks. However, his words aren’t addressed to us or even to Beyonce. Instead, he addresses his own soul and calls himself to die.
He calls himself to die to his need for approval.
Kill Jay Z, They’ll never love you
You’ll never be enough, let’s just keep it real, Jay-Z
He calls himself to die to self-preservation, aka “his tough guy armor.”
You had no father, you had the armor
But you gotta daughter, gotta get softer
He calls himself to die to the “ugh” of his soul that led to his infidelity.
You almost went Eric Benet
Let the baddest girl in the world get away
I don’t even know what to say
(Homie), never go Eric Benet*
In the end, he concludes:
By the end of this song, Jay-Z had me all in my feelings considering my own brokenness and the ways I, too, need to die to the approval of others, self-preservation and the “ugh” of my soul that causes me to act out and seek comfort in old habits.
I love this song. It’s a human song. It’s a song about brokenness.
However, this song leaves you hanging. It’s a half-education. Though Jay-Z models for us how to confess one’s shortcomings, he fails to leave us with a pathway towards change. “Kill Jay-Z” is a confession devoid of hope for change, a half-education.
Though Jay-Z models for us how to confess one’s shortcomings, he fails to leave us with a pathway towards change.
King David wrote a similar song. After his indiscretions with Bathsheba, an unexpected pregnancy, his murdering of Bathsheba’s husband to cover up his actions, and being confronted for his sins, David penned Psalm 51. Yet his words were not addressed to himself, but to God. While Jay-Z had a “man in the mirror” moment, David had a “come to Jesus” moment. And though we, like Jay-Z, need to do the heavy lifting of honest self-evaluation, David models the posture we should take after looking so deeply into the mirror.
David appeals to God for forgiveness and cleansing from his sin on the basis of God’s character.
Be gracious to me, God, according to your faithful love;
According to your abundant compassion,
Blot out my rebellion.
Completely wash away my guilt
And cleanse me from my sin. (Ps. 51:1-2)
David makes God the sole judge over his life.
Against you – you alone – I have sinned
and done evil in your sight.
So you are right when you pass sentence;
You are blameless when you judge. (Ps. 51:4)
David asks for a new heart.
God, create a clean heart for me
and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Ps. 51:10)
David is confident in God’s grace towards humble and broken people.
The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit.
You will not despise a broken and humble heart, God. (Ps 51:17)
Now, this post has been difficult for me. When I selected this song to be a part of the Miseducation of Music series on my blog, I was critical of Jay-Z. But as I worked on this piece, I discovered that I am Jay-Z. When I sin, I have a pattern of being more disappointed and frustrated in myself for falling short of my own expectations, instead of falling short before the Lord, who has loved me with an everlasting love. I have a tendency to set myself up as the judge.
Yana, you know better. Stop seeking the approval of others.
Yana, you gotta stop taking your frustrations out on defenseless strangers.
Yana, your identity is supposed to be in Christ.
But, God is the judge. And, praise God, He ain’t me! He’s a gracious judge who doesn’t meet me with condemnation, but with faithful love, compassion and help. Though He calls me to die to myself, He doesn’t stop there. He forgives. He cleanses. He gives a new heart to those who are honest and broken before Him. He provides us with hope for real life change.
So beloved, don’t go staring too long in the mirror examining your imperfections before lifting your eyes to the One who desires to meet you with compassion, relentless love and help.
A version of this article originally published at Yana’s blog, Everyday Yana Jenay.