Notes on 4:44: Black Male Vulnerability

You know I thug em, fuck em, love em, leave em 
Cause I don’t fuckin’ need em
Take em out the hood, keep em lookin’ good
But I don’t fuckin’ feed em 

-Big Pimpin


Everybody wants to be needed on some level

Chris Rock


My brother was the one who brought Jay Z into my world. And a lot of what my brother paid close attention to when I was growing up inevitably entered my consciousness as well. X-Men comic books, metal ninja stars, GI Joe, Hip Hop…

I remember my brother buying a lot of Jay’s albums and a long landscape poster of Jay Z on his bedroom wall. I didn’t think he was attractive. He just looked like a regular dude to me, whatever that means, but his confidence was undeniable. And I remember thinking, who is this guy? What capital does he have to impress me with if he’s not super good looking? When I listened to him, I got it right away. He was not unlike like Sinatra who was also no studio heart throb. That didn’t matter though. He was gonna do it his way.

Big Pimpin was one of the biggest anthems of that Summer and one of my favorite tracks from Vol 3 Life and Times of S. Cater, regardless of it’s sexist sentiment. I remember moving to it and singing along to it whenever it came on the radio. I was fully conscious of the lyrics in it that degraded women the way I was about so many rap songs I liked but I still danced to it and still sang along. I can specifically remember hearing the lyrics above in 2001 and thinking, he just doesn’t want to be hurt. He doesn’t want to let anyone in his heart because he’s afraid of being vulnerable and of needing anyone. I told myself this for three reasons.

  1. I really liked Jay Z
  2. I really liked this song
  3. I really believed it because there’s nothing normal about avoiding emotional attachment to so many woman. Though I do understand that his mistrust of the attention he received from woman during his come up was somewhat legitimate (because many who were drawn to him were just seeing dollar signs) his denigration of them didn’t stop him from being intimate with them. These statements of invulnerability to being moved to pay attention to these woman for anything but mere physical gratification was fear masked as machismo.

Cut to 2017 and I’m watching him pour his heart out on Notes on 4:44 along with a series of other Black men in the industry. When he talks about meeting a girl (Beyonce) on a boat and being devastated at seeing her leave after they had shared such a good time together, I remember again how I felt hearing him rap about not needing any woman.

What is happening to my body right now?

Don’t leave…

Oh Jay…feelings….so many feelings

I know that most Black men get the messaging from media, from culture and unfortunately, from Black women, that showing emotion is the last thing we want to see. But I will say that for me, I just took it all in without judgment and was thankful that Jay Z put this project together. Jesse Williams, Chris Rock, Michael B. Jordan, Will Smith, Kendrick Lamarr and more show a side of Black men rarely ever represented in mainstream media, Black and Brown men, speaking to the pressure they feel all around them to understand what it means to be men in this society, how to love, how to get needs met with all the wrong tools, what it means to give of themselves and how to allow themselves to be vulnerable in a world that threatens them daily with violence, neglect, racism and humiliation.

As Chris Rock says at the very beginning of this feature, everybody wants to be needed on some level. And no one has had the desire to be useful and needed so devastatingly and traumatically cut off as the Black man. To me 4:44, like Lemonade comes from an an attempt to see that hurt and trauma, to face it, name it and attempt to heal through uncomfortable but liberating honesty.

As patriarchal as the our society is, women, at least, are able to feel and cry through their emotions without feeling abnormal. Society may deem it weak, but it’s expected of us. Masculinity requires a dysfunctional suffocation and denial of expressed emotions that do not resemble anger, violence and toughness.

Seeing Jay Z be “softer” does not make him look weak to me. It makes me realize how far he’s come and how Beyonce’s firm, loving and spiritual influence on him, as well as the birth of his daughter Blue Ivy and newborn twins have brought him closer to wholeness.

How beautiful that is…





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