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Music News: Jay-Z Releases New Album, '4:44'

Jun 30, 2017
Originally published on June 30, 2017 6:10 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Let's end this hour with the latest in music news. A lot has happened in just the last 24 hours with two major album releases by legacy artists. For more on this, we're joined by NPR's senior editor Jacob Ganz. Hey, Jacob.

JACOB GANZ, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Before we dive into this new music, two brief headlines. One, a big resignation at a major streaming service. Tell us about it.

GANZ: Pandora, the original streaming service in a lot of ways, the radio site where you could plug in a song or an artist that you like and have a whole stream laid out in front of you, the guy who came up with that idea - the guy who founded Pandora, Tim Westergren, who has been with the company for 17 years - resigned this week.

It's been a bit of a tumultuous couple of years for Pandora. They've made their way into the on-demand streaming arena, the area that Spotify basically owns, that Apple Music has been the most recent challenger to. They've not done quite so well. It was a really late arrival into that. And his tenure has been pretty bumpy, and this week it ended.

SHAPIRO: All right. Let's talk about the big release, Jay-Z's album "4:44." It's written like the time, "4:44." How was this released?

GANZ: Well, it came out exclusively on Jay-Z's streaming service, Tidal. You had to be a subscriber to Tidal or you had to be a customer of Sprint to get access to this record. Jay-Z has partnered with corporations a lot in his sort of, like, post-retirement career. He's put out four albums since he ostensibly retired about a decade ago. And he's more of an adult. He raps about grown man things. He raps about having a family. He raps about collecting art. It is a tightly focused record. It's only 10 songs. It's about 35 minutes long. And it's getting more warmly received than anything he's put out in quite a while.

SHAPIRO: It's also really tempting to look at this in the context of "Lemonade," the last album by his wife, Beyonce, which was very much about their relationship. And in some ways, this album feels like it's answering that.

GANZ: Well, it's impossible to think about this record as existing without "Lemonade."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLD UP")

BEYONCE: (Singing) Hold up, they don't love you like I love you. Slow down, they don't love you like I love you.

GANZ: I mean, she laid a groundwork in terms of opening their relationship up to the public. And this record exists really in the aftermath of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "4:44")

JAY-Z: (Rapping) I apologize, often womanized. Took for my child to be born to see through a woman's eyes. Took for these natural twins to believe in miracles. Took me too long for this song. I don't deserve you.

GANZ: He talks about his family. He talks about his mom. He talks about his wife and his kids. The twins get mentioned on this record. It feels very much like it exists as a partner to "Lemonade" but couldn't exist without it, for sure.

SHAPIRO: And women also make their way into this album in other ways. He samples the Clark Sisters, Nina Simone. In some ways, the music almost feels like a tribute to women even though it is a Jay-Z album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE STORY OF O.J.")

NINA SIMONE: (Singing) My skin is black. My...

GANZ: It certainly feels like these women are speaking to him or providing a voice in his ear as he's trying to grapple with these emotions. He talks about going to therapy on this record. He talks about his personal responsibility. There's a heartbreaking moment where he talks about how he's going to tell his kids in the future about the mistakes that he's made. And you can imagine that these women, who are all over the record in terms of the samples, that they're speaking behind them, that they're the voices in his ear as he's trying to hold on to the emotions that he's communicating on this record.

SHAPIRO: Jay-Z's album has sort of overshadowed everything else. But Public Enemy, another '90s powerhouse group, also released a new album. Tell us about it.

GANZ: Yeah. This record is called "Nothing Is Quick In The Desert." It's a reference Chuck D, the leader of that group, has said to the music industry being like a desert and it appearing that everything is dead, but if you know where to look that there is a vitality. This is basically the stance that Public Enemy has taken for its entire career. It's in opposition to the way that things work.

Unlike Jay-Z, they're not trying to grab more things. They're not trying to become moguls. They released this record via Bandcamp, which is mostly known as an indie rock site. They released it for free, at least until the Fourth of July. And it exists very much next to rock 'n' roll. It has guitars all over. And it's Public Enemy saying, this is our space. We own this space. They may not be reaching out to a lot of new people, but if you like what Public Enemy does, you know where they live.

SHAPIRO: That's Jacob Ganz of NPR Music. Thanks a lot.

GANZ: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REST IN BEATS - PARTS 1 AND 2")

PUBLIC ENEMY: (Rapping) My man, still in shock at the loss of Afeni and Pac. His spirit lives on. It won't ever stop. Scott La Rock, heard a dope story about him from the Blastmaster. Out west, RIP Mac... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.