The title track of Jay-Z's 13th solo album, "4:44" is both a love letter to his wife Beyoncé (the rapper details how their relationship started) and an apology for his past womanizing. In an interview with iHeartRadio, Jay explained why the track is so important to the album.
"I woke up, literally, at 4:44 in the morning, 4:44 a.m., to write this song," he said. "It's the title track because it's such a powerful song, and I just believe one of the best songs I've ever written."
During Beyoncé's 2016 Lemonade album, the songstress seemed on several songs to be calling out Jay Z for cheating on her. This cut represents his response and towards the end of the track, he details his infidelity and its potential effect on his children:
And if my children knew, I don't even know what I would do If they ain't look at me the same I would prolly die with all the shame "You did what with who?" What good is a ménage à trois when you have a soulmate? "You risked that for Blue?"
The song title references, Beyoncé's longtime fascination with the number four. For example, the songstress titled her fourth album after the numeral and announced "Grown Woman", the first song to be released from her eponymous fifth album on 4/4/2013.
While promoting her 4 album on Good Morning America Bey explained why the number is so significant to her and her husband.
"My birthday is on the fourth," she said. "My mother's birthday is on the fourth. My husband's birthday is on the fourth. I got married on the fourth."
Houston, Texas gospel singer Kim Burrell croons the soul-searching intro. Best known for her faith songs, Burrell has worked with a number of other secular artists, including frequent Jay-Z collaborator Frank Ocean ("Godspeed".)
The hook is a vocal sample of Hannah Williams' 2016 track "Late Nights and Heartbreak."
No I.D. supplied every beat for the 4:44 album. Speaking to The New York Times, the Chicago producer spoke about how Jay-Z and his team crafted this track as the one response song to Lemonade.
"Me, him and Guru, his engineer, knew that we didn't want him to do an album of Lemonade response," said No I.D. "We just wanted him to respond and then let it be and still touch on other things."
No I.D. created the song's beat with the intention of boxing Jay into telling his side of the Lemonade story. He explained:
"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 and calls Guru over [to record]," No I.D. continued. "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."
Jay-Z released a TIDAL documentary to accompany the song titled Footnotes for 4:44. He enlisted the help of a host of famous faces for the visual, including Chris Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Meek Mill and Will Smith, who all candidly discuss relationships and the general struggles to find love.
During the mini-film, Jay speaks about the emotional toll that the near-breakdown of his marriage to Beyoncé had on both him and her.
"This is my real life," he said. "I just ran into this place and we built this big, beautiful mansion of a relationship that wasn't totally built on the 100 percent truth and it starts cracking. Things start happening that the public can see. Then we had to get to a point of 'Okay, tear this down and let's start from the beginning... It's the hardest thing I've ever done."
The rapper then recalled how he reached a breaking point in his marriage, while on vacation with Beyoncé, and how he begged her not to leave. "What is happening to my body right now? Did I just say... 'Don't leave'? All this is new for me," Hova recounted.
Jay recounted how he played "4:44" for Beyoncé before making it available for the public. "We just got to a place where in order for this to work, this can't be fake," he said. "Not one ounce. I'm not saying it wasn't uncomfortable because obviously it was."