A Tale Of Two Cities: Lemonade and 4:44

Special guest Post by: Kawana Williams, M.A., LPC

‘Tis a crazy world we live in. Expectations are high; accountability is low. Art and social media dictate our morals; self comes above the group dynamic. Relativity is the name of the game; if it’s not directly relevant to me, then it is not relevant. Nothing more has shown this deep dichotomic mannerism other than the respective releases of Lemonade by Beyonce’ and 4:44 by Jay-Z. Both are well-respected artists with their own individual lists of accomplishments, both albums were released to rave critical and commercial reviews; and deservedly so. Both albums gave their audiences a somewhat elusive, however all-too-apparent, peek into the cracks of their seemingly uncrackable relationship and marriage. Both albums speak to the pain of infidelity, trust lost, love almost squandered, and a broken commitment based on a broken ego. As I listened to both albums, I found some semblance of respect for both artists on a larger scale. Honesty and transparency, to me, are the highest forms of vulnerability. For these two exceptionally private people, the transparency offered by both via musical and visual production was nothing short of masterful.

So, how is it that these two albums, with virtually the same subject content, were (and continue to be) treated so differently? While Lemonade gives a painstakingly precise analysis of the full range of emotions of a woman scorned on multiple levels, 4:44 was the confirmation that Lemonade needed to be relevant to, and validated by, black men.

I am not here to debate how much harder black men have it; I have been a black woman for 34 years, so that is where my expertise lies. And as such, that is what I will speak to most often throughout this think piece. As a black woman, I am highly offended that it took for a black man to admit to having his “ain’t shit” moments for black men to even give Lemonade and its messages any credence. I find it highly offensive that when asked what the black man may have done to scar women, our opinions (which were asked) are dismissed and invalidated with such simple phrases as “Not ALL black men,” “It’s not ALWAYS like that,” “…..but YOU CHOSE him,” and weak-willed nature of man being to typical go-to for why women are so readily broken and left to piece ourselves back together. That’s the strength that you all, as black men, love about us correct? That you can literally break our souls and somehow, we are still able to stand up, head high, seemingly unbothered, with no obvious traces that you, as a black man, decided that my experience of your pain was not my exact experience. I had to have been over-exaggerating. I’m being too sensitive. I’m not taking into consideration the many eons that systematic oppression has given the black man everything but a capacity to love his black woman properly. And what’s worse: I, as a black woman, should maintain my strong stance and accept all of this. Allow all of this. Because the black man has not yet found a way to navigate his feelings or ability to be accountable for their wrongdoings.

Now, here is what’s funny about the release of 4:44. To be clear: I loved the album. From first track to last. I love and appreciate the maturity, wisdom, transparency, and passion within Jay-Z’s lyrics. And at my initial preview of it (after reading the millions of lyric references on social media) was one of pride: pride that a reformed O.G. Triple O.G. had done what no Super Thug before him had the courage to do: admit that he cheated on the “Baddest bitch in the game” with little regard for her, her feelings, or how it would affect both her or their family. My soul opened up and was ready and willing for The Rapture: a black man admitted to the entire world that he had endangered the covenant of his marriage and the trust of his wife by being “aint’ shit.” His talk of financial matters, appreciation versus depreciation of values and assets, and the American Sniper-esque shots taken at rappers living menial lives with their menial money left me to not only clutch my pearls, but stand and applaud his analysis of most of the rappers of today. My respect for him, already relatively high, shot to the stars and hems of Jesus’ robe once I heard 4:44 in its totality. After reading a blog entitled 4:43, by Candace Benbow however, I had to take a closer look at how I viewed Jay-Z’s album. The insightful blog didn’t necessarily change my mind about either album. What it did was make me take a more critical look at how I chose to analyze Jay-Z’s. And my final conclusive question is this:

What will it take for a black woman’s word to mean something to black men as a whole?

Consider how each album, and contents, were accepted and criticized. Lemonade, a woman’s description of the pain inflicted onto her by a man, was met with a slew of comments both negating and invalidating the possibility that a black man could ever be so callous, ignorant, and cruel to any woman, let alone the personification of God known as Beyonce Giselle Knowles-Carter. I mean, we are talking about Mr. Big Pimpin’ here. We are talking about a man who let Superhead give him condom-laced head in the back of his truck for a “coveted” scene in one of his videos. This is the same man who further perpetuated the very player-esque line originally delivered by Notorious B.I.G: "I’m a pimp by blood, not relations…….y’all be chasin, and I replace ‘em!!!” She should have known how he would be. She already had both a literal and figurative “Blueprint” of his pattern of behavior. And even with this blueprint laid out before her, she still chose him. So, he can’t have been all that bad, right? Was he really operating out of character for her to have embarrassed him by blasting their information like she had not been aware of how her relationship would eventually play out?

Now, let us consider the high esteem in which black male fans of Jay-Z now hold 4:44. I find it highly hypocritical that the very same men who dragged him for showing a visual of his vulnerability towards his wife by kissing her feet are now proudly reciting the very lines from Jay-Z’s newly released “masterpiece”; the very masterpiece that gives a comprehensive explanation of why that moment of vulnerability was not only necessary, but allowed to be shared with the public. In one album, Jay-Z has black men re-thinking their entire lives and how they have lived them up to the point of hearing said album. Black men are now understanding that they, too, may have some deeper issues to work through. Black men have now concluded that mistreating your mate, no matter what the excuse, is not good for the longevity of your relationship. Black men have finally begun to understand that their own pain can, and will, be the cause of pain in your mate if continued and without acknowledgement. Black men have now realized that black women are not always exaggerating about their experiences with a range of black men with a range of internal, and external, issues.

……..but why did it take for a black man to confirm the experience for you all, as black men, to believe that these experiences occur? And how do you expect us, as black women, to ever feel wanted….needed……desired…..cared for……loved……or protected if you refuse to even acknowledge our experiences of you, whether positive or negative, as valid?

This is not to imply that we are not aware that good men exist: we know that they do. We were raised by some of them. Instructed by others of them. Defended by a handful both in the past and present. And loved beyond measure by a lot of them. This, therefore, can no longer be used as either an excuse or a defense about the good black men of the world and the validity of their existence

THIS. IS. NOT. ABOUT. YOU.

Kawana N. Williams is a native Chicagoan and the author of, “Coming to My Crossroads", a memoir about her diagnosis of and struggles with ovarian cancer. She is currently a licensed Professional counselor with the State of Illinois and a second year doctoral student at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

Kawana N. Williams is a native Chicagoan and the author of, “Coming to My Crossroads", a memoir about her diagnosis of and struggles with ovarian cancer. She is currently a licensed Professional counselor with the State of Illinois and a second year doctoral student at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

This is about your brethren who seem to prefer the sound of the black woman’s voice as a lullaby to their ego versus being a response to what can be done for her to feel wanted and protected by them. This is for the black men who ask a question, and reject the response given by black women based on one-part cognitive dissonance and one-part subjective vantage point. This is for the black men for had enough respect for Jay-Z to listen to him admit to his fuck ups, however lacked the respect for Beyonce’ to validate or acknowledge the pain she explained…..and Jay-Z later confirmed.

This is the Tale of Two Cities: one where the black man’s words are gold……and the black woman’s words are scraps…to be fed to the pigs willing to listen, ingest, and absorb.

……and I’m tired of living there………..