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After several listens of Jay-Z’s newest album 4:44, I felt both revived and conflicted. Jay’s bars of self-empowerment, excellence, and entrepreneurship were inspiring and helped lift me out of a complicated funk I’ve been in for the last several weeks. Standout songs like “Family Feud” and “Smile” made me want to rebalance my investment portfolio and scheme up my next professional move, but those same records also made me feel a little disappointed.

Jay-Z is one of hip-hop’s kings, combining musical talent with a savvy business acumen. Over two decades, he’s earned 21 Grammys, sold over 100 million records, and influenced the culture like no other artist. Plus, he’s translated his brand into major paydays. Dating back to his classic debut Reasonable Doubt, Hov has always been very calculated with his hustle, which has worked well now that he’s worth approximately $810 million.

But eventually, Jay’s success made him seem out of reach. His music transitioned from that of an ambitious street hustler from Marcy Projects to “luxury rap” of an ostentatious business tycoon, referencing expensive art, the companies he owns, his friends in high places, and other things inaccessible to the common fan. Add the fact that he’s getting older in a game dictated by youth, and one may question Jay-Z’s current relevance. With 4:44, does Jay still have bars that can shake up the culture? Can he break through to the young mumble rap fans? Was this just a marketing ploy to generate new users for Tidal and Sprint?

After an initial listen, 4:44 surprisingly struck a nerve with me. As you get older, you spend more time reflecting and this album was a personal contemplation of a 47-year-old married man with three kids. Rather than his usual braggadocios self, Jay-Z showed vulnerability, touching on topics like marriage, parenting, relationships, and personal growth. He also assumed a “mentor” type of role, willing to kick game on how to be personally and professionally successful. This project demonstrated Jay’s maturation and made him more relatable, especially to a 32-year-old guy like myself.

4:44

“Y’all think small, I think Biggie”

Jay paints stories that resonate with the hustlers and grinders, and he reinvigorated my ambition, which has been subdued since leaving NYC last year. It’s been a tough transition in various aspects, and sometimes I just feel defeated. But it’s nothing I haven’t faced before. I’ve always been the underdog and this chip on my shoulder has fueled me to work harder for everything. Did record labels give Jay a chance when he was shopping Reasonable Doubt? No, he believed in his greatness and paved his own path. The mindset that I have to constantly prove myself plus the fear of wasting precious time makes me set my goals high. But like Jigga Man, my priorities have changed over the years, especially now, and it’s about finding the right balance in professional and personal motivations.

“Financial freedom our only hope, Fuck living rich and dying broke.”

As an MBA grad, hearing Jay-Z rap about personal finance gets me amped. It showed his maturation as a grown man, as he’s more concerned with building generational wealth for him and his family than flexing his riches for the approval and recognition from others. On a deeper layer, it’s having the freedom to be the boss of your life. Be it initiating career moves rather than waiting for the opportunity to arise, or becoming less reliant on others as a source of happiness, or taking the means to care for your loved ones, I should feel empowered that I’m in total control of my destiny.

“Slappin’ out of the toy, the separation is clear, In my rear-view mirror, objects are further than they appear”

You’ll make a number of big decisions in your lifetime and you’ll have to live with the consequences of those choices. 4:44 is built on reflection, however, it isn’t valuable to dwell too long on what has already happened, especially when things didn’t go your way. Jay recognized a lot of the negatives caused by him or done to him, but continues to full steam ahead.I can’t go back and change the past, however, I can use it as a foundation to impact what’s ahead.

“A loss ain’t a loss, it’s a lesson. Appreciate the pain, it’s a blessin'”

As mentioned earlier, 4:44 not only gave me a positive kick in the ass, but it also made me feel a little critical of myself. Reflection is not only about the positives, but also the pitfalls, and like Jay-Z, you admit your faults to get better.

  1. My ambition leads me to expect a lot, almost too much, from other people and this demanding view could lead to disappointment. It’s not fair to others, and I often alienate myself because I’m slow to trust people or just too picky for no good reason.
  2. Since moving back to Los Angeles, I’ve depended too much on others to gain a sense of comfort and content.  When things don’t pan out, I get distraught and allow my mind to go into a disarray.
  3. I’ve held on too tightly to the past and need to let some things go, especially when it comes to nostalgic relationships that no longer fit my current state. People change.

We all can’t be Jay-Z, but we can share the same growth as Hov. Ultimately, it all relates to scarcest resource known to us: time. Listening to 4:44, you can tell that he values his time so much more, either trying to maximize the value of it or appreciating it with his inner circle. So stay ambitious, set solid goals, surround yourself with quality people, and just be a well-rounded person.

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Rex Pham

Originally from the Bay Area, who then moved to Los Angeles, then out to New York City. NYU Stern MBA c/o 2014. Inspired by the grind of NYC to create something that has value. Lover of all things digital, culture, and brand strategy.