4:44 and the Four Cardinal Virtues

By Alexander O. Onukwue

Towards the last quarter of 2016, I moved to Lagos, and stayed with the vibe-full family of an older cousin. “Vibe-full” because he has six children who are always on something that makes them move, whether it is the latest danceable music, or a new installment of ‘Every Which Way’.

I now miss their troubles. I realized a bit more about my inner self while I was there. Like how I thought I loved children, but came to the knowledge of the fear I have for actually catering for them on a daily basis. There were nice moments, many of which involved showing them how good I was at music, especially with a particular song.

It was Beyoncé’s “Sorry”.

2016 was the year of the Lemonade, the album in which the American artiste bared her thoughts from start to finish about her husband’s extra-marital affairs. Nearly every song on the album, I hear, was about Jay-Z’s infidelities to her, though she would round it off in the final tracks with the theme of forgiveness and reconciliation. I say “I hear” because I did not listen to the whole album. It was, and still is, exclusively available on the streaming service Tidal. I only listened to two of the songs from the album: Sorry and Hold Up.

And I like (love?) both.

I should say I have always liked Beyoncé’s music, but suspicions about the cryptic messages keep my praise or following of her mild and checked. For instance, “Sweet Dreams” from the ’08 album, I am… Sasha Fierce, is a good song, but…

Back to Sorry. My, and Uncle’s children’s, favorite line is the “I ain’t thinking about you” part; we remixed it, a bit. I sang that part for them anytime I wanted to form, while they made a request of me after previously looking for my trouble. Snapping my fingers, swinging my head from side to side, and with raised eyebrows that accompany a wry smile, it was the perfect way to “duh” them, with a mix of rhythm and some dash of cool. Now that I’ve been gone for more than four months, I don’t know if they still sing it.

Maybe they shouldn’t, because Beyoncé has got the response she deserved from the person she had sang it for.

This piece is not a review of Jay-Z’s thirteenth studio album, 4:44. Like Lemonade, it is also exclusive to Tidal subscribers. Much of what the public knows about it have come from official reviews from tabloids and magazines; besides “The Story of O.J”, there are no other tracks out there on public platforms, yet.

From the lyrics, we see what the album was about. The producer, Dion Wilson (aka No I.D.) has emphasized that it was not designed as a “response” to Lemonade, per se, but that’s what it was anyway. He said sorry, apologizing that he often womanized, referring to the role of their five year old daughter, Blue Ivy, in helping him to recognize the value of his family.

I am not so fussed about the poetic rhymes from 4:44 that have become articles of meditation on the internet; they are not particularly new, though “you cannot heal what you don’t reveal” impressed on me the most. Jay-Z reminds that rich people are those who actually take care of their family, and that you should shun spraying your wealth in a club, instead build your net worth. All good, and well.

But my thoughts on the album, really, are about Beyoncé. I think it was a good tribute to the way she handled her marriage, like a good wife should. The pressure was on her to quit, as some “experts” on the internet have advocated, being that she is a figure of “female independence”.

Oh, You don’t say?

She stayed and fought for her marriage, not going to cheat in revenge, or to leave in defense. She got him to change – the New Yorker now calls him a new Jay-Z. She did it for herself, for Ivy, for the twins that were to come.

There is a very comprehensive timeline of their relationship on TIME, and it struck me that at the time, in 2014, when her younger sister, Solange, had assaulted Jay-Z (mildly, in that younger sister-in-law kind a way), Beyoncé posted a prayer on Instagram, lifting her relationships up to the Lord. It may not mean an awful lot, but it meant she acknowledged that the institution of marriage, most times, needs a higher power to be able to work according to its institutor’s purpose.

For a number of the years since their marriage, life had given her lemons (a miscarriage, an unfaithful husband) and in 2016, she made Lemonade. In 2017, she became the mother of twins, and got a popular man who’d strayed to express his vulnerability. It’s little wonder she is seen as one of the more influential women of her generation.

My hesitation to declare for the ‘Beyhive’ comes from reasonable belief that some of her music and often seductive public displays are in opposition to the theological virtues. But I cannot fail to acknowledge that her Prudence in managing her family matters privately, combined with her Fortitude that all would work out well, made her temperate (when she could have followed the convention to call it quits and get another man) and delivered her sweet justice. In the 2017 environment, where marriage is under perpetual attack in many forms even by those who should know better, I think we should be happy that some famous people still see it as worth fighting for.

She ain’t singing “Sorry” now. Just “Ave Maria”.

Feature Image source: HBO

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