Yesenia Jones | Correspondent Shawn Fredericks | Correspondent
On August 29, the Women’s Center, in collaboration with the Black Male Initiative and the African American Cultural Center, held a listening session and discussion about Jay-Z’s newest album, “4:44.” The album featured Jay-Z’s opinions on black identity, wealth, and black love.
In addition to listening to the album, the “Footnotes for ‘4:44’” documentary was also shown. It featured celebrities speaking on topics such as black masculinity, education, and black life. The film included celebrities like Kendrick Lamar, Will Smith, and Chris Rock amongst others. Within the documentary, Jay-Z divulged intimate details on the making of the album, including playing it for his wife, Beyonce.
Angela Gay, graduate programming assistant in the Women’s Center, organized the event.
“When I first thought about doing a ‘4:44’ listening party, I was listening to ‘4.44,’ and I’m a big music person,” Gay said. “I was thinking ‘how do we create a space for people, in general, to come in and talk about some of these taboo subjects.’”
The conversation began with a presentation by new African American Cultural Center Director Moses T. Greene, detailing the depictions of stereotypical black caricatures. He spoke on how racism fueled the depiction of black people in media such as cartoons. He described black caricatures in cartoons such as the coon, the mammy, the buck, and the uncle tom.
Greene then moved the presentation on to discuss racism and ethnicity as social constructs and ended with a discussion on how black masculinity, and masculinity in general, are shaped by experiences and can be turned toxic through the enforcement of societal expectations of men. Toxic masculinity is a term that refers to the common inability of men to express their emotions and display vulnerability.
Some Jay-Z fans felt the recently released album was too vulnerable. One attendee of the event mentioned that in relation to the rest of his albums, “4:44” was a sign that the hardest rapper in the game was becoming soft.
In the title track ‘4:44’, Jay-Z said, “ I apologize, often womanize/ Took for my child to be born to see through a woman’s eyes.”
This is a far contrast from ‘Big Pimpin’, where Jay-Z raps, “Me give my heart to a woman?/ Not for nothin’, never happen; I’ll be forever mackin’/ Heart cold as assassins, I got no passion/ I got no patience and I hate waitin’/ Ho, get your a** in and let’s ride!”
Jay-Z’s album also featured songs such as ‘Kill Jay Z’ which spoke to an internal conflict many men face with their ego and the inability to admit to wrong doings. Other songs such as ‘4:44’ and ‘Family Feud’ discussed his own infidelity and his ability to “mess up a good thing,” such as his marriage.
At the event, one student mentioned that as a black woman she has always wanted her male partners to be open, honest and vulnerable. However, one of the leaders of the conversation brought up the point that when he told the truth to his girlfriend about his infidelity she decided to leave him.
One of Gay’s goals for this event was to provide a setting for discussion amongst people from intersectional identities in order to provoke thoughts and express opinions that would otherwise go unheard.
“When we talk about blackness and the African American experience, it’s always situated on race,” Gay said. “How do we talk about it in an intersectional way that allows us to explore what blackness and masculinity and all of the things that are perpetuated within that in a safe environment where people can feel that they can authentically express who they are and what they represent?”
One attendee, who did not identify as black, mentioned that society’s expectations of him also made it hard for him to express his own emotions in a productive manner especially since his father was absent.
The event helped attendees who weren’t black to empathize with black men and understand how systematic oppression and societal expectations shapes their idea of what a man is and how one should act.
One male student who also did not identify as black mentioned that the only emotion he was taught to express is anger and how this is a common teaching amongst young boys.
According to the objectives set by Gay and her team the event was a success. The Women’s Center will continue to host events to promote critical thinking, equality and equity. For a calendar of events, see their website at https://oied.ncsu.edu/divweb/womenscenter/.