Cliff-pop-song-professor.png

Welcome!

My name's Clifford Stumme, and I explain the deeper meanings of popular songs. Let's have a conversation about what you think about the songs and go deeper together. Feel free to email me at clifford@popsongprofessor.com with questions or ideas!

What does "4:44" by Jay-Z mean?

What does "4:44" by Jay-Z mean?

Lyrics Meaning of "4:44"

You're going to have a heart attack, but I didn't really get into music until after Jay-Z stopped producing music because he had to manage a label and not seem like he was biased towards promoting his own music. So, that being said, I don't know a lot about him other than all of the all-but-confirmed (by his and Beyonce's lyrics) rumors that he cheated on Beyonce. But I feel like "4:44" is about all of the introduction I need to who he is. He lays out everything here. 

Don't forget to check out my podcast on iTunes and here!

"I'm never gonna treat you like I should"

"4:44" is Jay-Z apologizing for the things he's done to his wife and to his kids. He tells us that he wishes he hadn't had an affair and worries about what his children will think of him when they are old enough to find out. He actually thought of the song when he woke up in the middle of the night at 4:44 AM. He wrote it down, and now we have quite a bit to explain the details of.

Intro

Do I find it so hard
When I know in my heart
I'm letting you down every day
Letting you down every day
Why do I keep on running away?

Singer Hannah Williams lays down the melodic vocals for Jay Z's rap track singing, "Do I find it so hard / When I know in my heart / I'm letting you down every day?" She's singing from Jay-Z's perspective here to Beyonce, his wife. Jay-Z wishes he were a better husband and struggles with his limitations and mistakes as a human. Hannah Williams wonders for him, "Why do I keep running away?" as he thinks about how he keeps messing up.

Verse 1

Look, I apologize, often womanize
Took for my child to be born
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
I harass you out in Paris
"Please come back to Rome," you make it home
We talked for hours when you were on tour
“Please pick up the phone, pick up the phone”
Said, “Don't embarrass me,” instead of “Be mine”
That was my proposal for us to go steady
That was your 21st birthday
You mature faster than me, I wasn't ready
So I apologize
I seen the innocence leave your eyes
I still mourn this death and
I apologize for all the stillborns
'Cause I wasn't present, your body wouldn't accept it
I apologize to all the women whom I
Toyed with your emotions because I was emotionless
And I apologize 'cause at your best you are love
And because I fall short of what I say I'm all about
Your eyes leave with the soul that your body once housed
And you stare blankly into space
Thinkin' of all the time, you wasted it on all this basic shit
So I apologize

Jay-Z tells us in this first verse of "4:44" that he apologizes for his past as a womanizer and admits that it "[t]ook for my child to be born" to be able to "[s]ee through a woman's eyes." It wasn't until his first child was born that he understood how much pain he was causing. And he continues, singing that when his "natural twins" were born, he began to "believe in miracles," leaving him a better person. 

He admits that it took him "too long for this song" in which he apologizes to Beyonce and acknowledges his mistakes and blessings. He wishes he'd made these feelings public earlier. He admits that he doesn't "deserve you" to Beyonce and remembers a time when he "harass[ed] you out in Paris." He asked her to "come back to Rome," which she did, and he feels bad perhaps for ordering her around or for being inconsiderate. But he was still crazy about her and talked with her "for hours when you were on tour" and remembers hoping that she'd be able to "pick up the phone" when he called so he could talk with her. 

When they got together "to go steady," Beyonce was twenty-one and Jay-Z, lacking finance or true care for her, told her, "Don't embarrass me," and regrets having been so callous, realizing now that she is actually the more mature one and that he was the one who "wasn't ready." He needed her more than he expected, and now he wishes he could change what he said: "So I apologize." 

Over the course of their relationship, he's "seen the innocence leave your eyes" as difficult things have happened to her and as he's hurt her repeatedly. He "mourn[s] this death" of innocence and apologizes "for all the stillborns / 'Cause I wasn't present, your body won't accept it." We know that Beyonce miscarried at least once, so "all the" could refer to their love not being ready or mature being a sort of stillborn. Looking back, he rationalizes that because he wasn't emotionally present (and was likely cheating on her) maybe that's why her body seemed to have decided it wasn't time to give birth. 

Jay-Z continues with the apologies of "4:44" by apologizing "to all the women whom I / Toyed with your emotions because I was emotionless." This could be about women he dated before his wife; he seems to have been a bit of a player. But he then focuses the apologies right back on his wife rapping, "And I apologize 'cause at your best, you are love." She seems to be so kind and so forgiving here that Jay-Z doesn't waste time saying that she's loving. He just calls her love itself incarnate. 

Compared to her, he knows he "fall[s] short of what I say I'm all about." And this knowledge hurts him even more because he knows it's what sometimes causes her "eyes [to] leave with the soul that your body once housed / And you stare blankly into space." As she stares off into space when she's with him, he worries that he might be losing her. He worries that she's "[t]hinkin' of all the time, you wasted it on all this basic shit"--his basic shit as he kept failing her. 

And appropriately, he finishes the first verse by rapping, "So I apologize."

Chorus

I'm never gonna treat you
I'm never gonna treat you like I should

Hannah Williams provides the refrain to Jay-Z's thoughts, reminding listeners that Jay-Z is very aware of his own status as someone who continues to fail to treat those he loves as well as he wishes he would. It's a sad and soft moment in the song, and it summarizes everything he's saying very well.

Verse 2

I apologize
Our love was one for the ages and I contained us
And all this ratchet shit and we more expansive
Not meant to cry and die alone in these mansions
Or sleep with our back turned
We supposed to vacay 'til our backs burn
We're supposed to laugh 'til our heart stops
And then meet in a space where the dark stop
And let love light the way
Like the men before me, I cut off my nose to spite my face
I never wanted another woman to know
Something about me that you didn't know
I promised, I cried, I couldn't hold
I suck at love; I think I need a do-over
I will be emotionally available if I invited you over
I stew over, what if you over my shit?

Jay-Z begins the second verse by apologizing again and bemoaning how he hurt a love that "was one for the ages" and how it was him who "contained us"--or kept them from expanding and growing in love together. He then marvels at how despite this "ratchet shit" he's caused, they continue to grow "more expansive" and loving together (and seems like he would probably attribute that to her love). 

He doesn't want their relationship to end with them crying and "[dying} alone in these mansions" or "sleep[ing] with our back turned." He wants them together and happy and in love. Their real life, he proposes should involve them going on vacation together (so much so they get sunburns) and laughing together "'til our heart stops." When he refers to them meeting "in a space where the dark stop / And let love light the way," he could be talking about sex and the spiritual ecstasy it might bring them. Or he could be talking about them overcoming obstacles through the power of love together. 

He complains that "like the men before me," he "cut off [his] nose to spite [his] face." Perhaps he was mad at Beyonce, and that encouraged him to cheat on her. He wanted to hurt the person he loved, so he risked losing that person. But he claims that he still "never wanted another woman to know / Something about me that you didn't know." Perhaps through the cheating, he still wanted to go back to Beyonce and not give her up completely. He didn't share any secrets with other women that he wouldn't share with Beyonce (other than perhaps the secret of cheating itself). And perhaps when Beyonce found out, Jay-Z "promised" to do better and "cried" for forgiveness, but he "couldn't hold" and maybe made another mistake again. 

He admits, "I suck at love; I think I need a do-over." He wants to be able to go back and correct past mistakes so that they don't hurt his wife. And he promises that if he "invited you over," he will be "emotionally available," so that she knows he's with her. He also admits that he "stew[s] over" his concerns that she may be tired of his "shit" and all the ways he's messed up. He feels like he's sometimes on the edge of finally destroying her patience. 

Verse 3

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 prob'ly 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?"
If I wasn't a superhero in your face
My heart breaks for the day I have to explain my mistakes
And the mask goes away, and Santa Claus is fake
And you go online and see
For Blue's tooth, the tooth fairy didn't pay

The third and final verse of "4:44" has Jay-Z taking a look at how his actions might affect his children. He raps, "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 prob'ly die with all the shame." He knows his wife has forgiven him (though he doubts it sometimes) and hopes that his children will be able to do the same. 

He imagines them asking, "You did what with who? / What good is a menage a trois when you have a soulmate? / You risked that for Blue?" A menage a trois is a relationship involving three people, Jay-Z being the one who brings another sexually active person into the situation by cheating on Beyonce with her. The third question is a little more confusing and seems to be his hypothetical child asking why Jay-Z risked hurting his child (Blue Ivy) by having another sexual partner. 

He wants desperately to be a "superhero" in the faces of his children and tells us that his "heart breaks for the day I have to explain my mistakes / And the mask goes away, and Santa Clause is fake." Santa Clause isn't real and is a lie that parents tell their children knowing one day the kids will find out. Jay-Z feels like Santa Clause. His kids might think he's great for a while, but he wonders how they'll deal with knowing the truth that their dad cheated on their mom, information they will be able to find easily by going "online." 

His last line--"For Blue's tooth, the tooth fairy didn't pay"--is him continuing to think about how he'll have to rip down the curtain and reveal the man behind when his children age. 

Deeper Meaning of "4:44" by Jay-Z: Getting It Over With

I really love "4:44" and just about everything else from the album of the same name. Jay-Z is amazing as an artist and lyricist, and I simply love how real and honest he gets here. He's got some powerful personal experience to share, and I wonder if perhaps he writes songs like this as his way of explaining to his children what he did before they can find out another way. Perhaps when they get old enough, he'll play this song for them and let them find out from him what they might have found out from someone else. 

As far as the first two verses go, he appears to be apologizing to Beyonce in a public way, the same way that she already forgave him on her Lemonade album. He's amazed by her ability to do so, and now we have this album to fit into the spaces Lemonade left us. 

Jay-Z has done an incredible job here, and I can't wait to hear what you think. What was your favorite part of this song? Do you think it's deep or not? 

What does "Woman" by Kesha mean?

What does "Woman" by Kesha mean?

What does "Praying" by Kesha mean?

What does "Praying" by Kesha mean?