JAY-Z‘s new album 4:44 hasn’t even been out for 24 hours and I’ve already been through it at least 20 times. It kept me up late. It was the soundtrack to the morning. Hell, I even ran it back twice during an early bike ride. Each listen providing an opportunity to pick up on another slick line from the Hall of Fame songwriter.
Although there’s plenty of lyrics to dive into, that same joy of discovery also plays in part on the production side of things with No I.D. lacing Hov with his most soulful canvas to date. On top of Donuts-esque chops and vocal contributions from Kim Burrell, Beyoncé, and The-Dream, the Chicago beatsmith hit it out of the park with his crate-digging efforts and choice of records to sample.
Across the ten tracks, JAY-Z delivers his grown man raps over beats that embody the likes of Nina Simone, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Hannah Williams, and others.
No I.D. spoke with Rolling Stone about the making of the album and pushing their creative limits.
This album is so sample-heavy at a time when so much of rap has moved away from that sound. Did you two speak on the album’s sonic direction?
That was part of my 500-idea regimen. In the process, I realized that the business half of samples is a bad thing, but [samples are] an instrument. I began to play the samples like I would play an instrument. At some point I knew that was my strength. I had stepped away from my strength sometimes because the business makes you think you can’t do it. I’m like, I can do it. And I can create new art. That allowed me to be myself and put my personality in the music.
There are a couple of Nina Simone samples – were those from Jay-Z’s playlist?
Yes, that was definitely him. He put both of those on there. That’s the score to his life. That’s the core reason for using them. There’s a million things to sample that could sound good.
This is where switching up the process helped me. Maybe before I go, “We can’t use two Nina Simones! We can’t use Steve Wonder!” But that’s what he wanted. I left it up to him to do the rest of the business. It freed me up to just be creative and be told, “this is what I want.” It’s challenging as well.
Check out each sampled used on 4:44 below.