JAY-Z’s latest album, 4:44, has been dominant throughout the latter half of 2017 in several aspects. Critics aren’t whispering the word “classic” anymore, they’re coming right out and saying it, and the Brooklyn-bred mogul’s resulting 4:44 Tour is on pace to be the highest-grossing trek of his career. But perhaps most importantly, Jay has been adamant about 4:44’s continued presence in the daily hip hop conversation with an impressive run of music videos, and on Black Friday, he liberated the latest additions to 4:44’s visual components: videos for “Smile,” “Marcy Me” and “Legacy.”
The videos, each of which follows the arc of a short film, star a myriad of noteworthy actors and actresses, from Jesse Williams, Ron Perlman and Susan Sarandon to Kwame Boateng and Emile Hirsch. “Smile” features a brilliant cameo from Jay’s mom, Gloria Carter, who detailed how the track came together in a rare media appearance back in September. You can watch that video, “Marcy Me” and “Legacy” exclusively on TIDAL, until their inevitable YouTube drop.
“Legacy” takes place in the mess hall of a prison, and is centered around a band of inmates—played by Williams, Boateng and Hirsch, to name a few—fighting the feelings of pessimism they each have about their time behind bars. Eventually, they’re joined by the apparent leader of their crew, Perlman, who delivers a brief speech about legacy and “escape” before making an ominous exit—“What time you got? That’s a good time to die.” In a flash-forward, a high-ranking prison official interrogates and berates Williams’ character about the seven inmates that escaped the prison in the wake of whatever event followed the “legacy” speech, reminding him that he will die in prison.
The video for “Marcy Me” is set in a black, New York City neighborhood under constant NYPD helicopter surveillance. Cops hovering above monitor the goings on below, which initially appear to be alarming, but are ultimately normal situations. Like, two kids speeding down the block on foot, occasionally checking over their shoulders… To slap a third kid’s hand and win a race. As Jay raps in the background, the story hyper-focuses on a young boy making a store run for his elders, and how his surroundings only appear truly treacherous to the outsiders above.
The “Smile” video captures a portion of Gloria Carter’s life story as a Marcy Projects resident and mother to a young JAY-Z. Her struggle to maintain a heterosexual façade, despite her passionate love for a woman, is painted into the video delicately with almost no dialogue, as are the patriarchal themes that sometimes confused Jay as a child. At the tail end of the video, the real-life Gloria Carter appears, and reads the poem she penned that concludes “Smile” to a therapy group.
The three videos join the slew of other videos that have been released around 4:44, including the behind-the-scenes “Footnotes” series, and videos for “Adnis,” “Bam,” “Kill JAY-Z” and many more. The Beyoncé-featured “Family Feud” and the Frank Ocean-assisted “Caught Their Eyes” are the only two of the album’s 13 total tracks without videos.
Hopefully, that changes in the near future.