WASHINGTON • There was a lot to unpack on Jay-Z's new album 4:44, which debuted near midnight last Thursday on Tidal, the rapper's artist-owned music streaming platform, ending weeks of speculation.
Soon after the album dropped, fans and critics began picking apart the lyrics on its 10 tracks, and they were not disappointed.
Though only 35 minutes long, the rapper's 13th studio album addresses everything from the rumours that he cheated on his wife, music megastar Beyonce, to the elevator incident with her younger sister Solange Knowles to his getting called out by rapper Kanye West.
You have questions, so let's get started:
What is the main takeaway from the album?
Jay-Z is back and he is vulnerable.
The 47-year-old's album features 10 intensely personal and provocative tracks that, yes, include a few references to the marriage-baring Lemonade album by his wife, Beyonce, 35, and the recent birth of their twins.
The title track of 4:44 is being interpreted as an apology to her, as he appears to own up to the infidelity she seemed to condemn in her 2016 album, and lament his absence during critical moments of their relationship.
"Look, I apologise/often womanise/took for my child to be born/see through a woman's eyes/took for these natural twins to believe in miracles," he raps.
He says he has "seen the innocence leave your eyes", but adds: "I never wanted another woman to know/something about me that you didn't know."
In an interview that aired on iHeartMedia, he described the song as "the crux" of the album.
"I woke up, literally, at 4.44 in the morning, 4.44am, to write this song," said Jay-Z, who recently became the first rapper in the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
"It's the title track because it's such a powerful song and I just believe one of the best songs I've ever written."
The album explores other aspects of the rapper's personal life as well. Guest performers include Frank Ocean, Damian Marley, Jay-Z's mother, Gloria Carter, and his daughter, Blue Ivy (who asks: "Daddy, what's a will?" on Legacy).
His mother comes out as a lesbian on the track Smile.
"Mama had four kids, but she's a lesbian/Had to pretend so long that she's a thespian," he raps. "Had to hide in the closet, so she medicate/ Society shame and the pain was too much to take."
Later in the track, which also samples Stevie Wonder's Love's In Need Of Love Today, Jay-Z reveals that his mother has found love again and that he supports her completely.
"Cried tears of joy when you fell in love/Don't matter to me if it's a him or her," he raps.
What does the album reveal about Beyonce and Jay Z's relationship?
They have been through the wringer, but they persevered.
The opening track, Kill Jay Z, explicitly addresses tabloid reports and fan-fuelled rumours, including the infamous elevator incident in which he was attacked by his sister-in-law after the Met Ball in 2014: "You egged Solange on/Knowin' all along, all you had to say you was wrong/You almost went Eric Benet/ Let the baddest girl in the world get away."
Another sample lyric: "You can't heal what you never reveal."
Kill Jay Z - which presumably also refers to Jay-Z changing his name again and reviving the hyphen - is "about killing off the ego, so we can have this conversation in a place of vulnerability and honesty", the rapper said.
Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker's television critic, put it well in a tweet: "I usually root for musicians to divorce & make brilliant post-divorce albums, but it's crazily impressive to make the albums & STAY married."
What about Benet?
R&B singer Benet was married to actress Halle Berry for a few years in the early 2000s, but their marriage fell apart after he notably admitted to cheating on Berry and went to rehabilitation for sex addiction.
Benet - who is currently married to businesswoman Manuela Testolini, the former wife of the late music superstar Prince - has already responded to Jay-Z's lyric on Twitter: "Hey yo #Jayz! Just so ya know, I got the baddest girl in the world as my wife... like right now!"
What is that about Kanye West?
It has been almost six years since the frequent collaborators - and, now, potential frenemies - Jay-Z and West put out their triumphant work Watch The Throne.
During a Sacramento concert last December, West called out Beyonce and Jay-Z, among others, and ended the performance early.
"Beyonce - I was hurt... because I heard that you said you wouldn't perform unless you won Video of the Year over me and over Hotline Bling," he said about the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards, according to Entertainment Weekly.
He later added: "I've been sent here to give y'all my truth even at the risk of my own life, even at the risk of my own success, my own career.
"I've been sent here to give y'all the truth. Jay-Z - call me, bruh. You still ain't called me. Jay-Z, call me, Jay-Z - I know you got killers.
"Please don't send them at my head. Just call me. Talk to me like a man."
On Kill Jay Z, the rapper responds to West.
"I know people backstab you, I felt bad too/But this 'f- everybody' attitude ain't natural," he raps.
"But you ain't a Saint, this ain't KumbaYe/But you got hurt because you did cool by 'Ye."
Did Jay-Z get input from Beyonce?
The album was produced entirely by No I.D., a long-time Jay-Z collaborator who is also known for his work with West and Vince Staples.
In an interview with The New York Times, the producer said Beyonce played a role in the recording.
"Pillow talk is the strongest conversation on the planet. Every song has to get past her ears, in my eyes.
"She came by a lot and played a good part in helping us get over hurdles on certain records.
"Of course she's genius-level with that."
WASHINGTON POST, NYTIMES
Twins to be named Rumi and Sir?
NEW YORK • Have music power couple Jay-Z and Beyonce settled on names for their twins? Signs point to Rumi and Sir.
The rapper, whose real name is Shawn Carter, and his wife have filed papers to trademark "Rumi Carter" and "Sir Carter", ensuring no one else profits from the names by selling anything from fragrances to music.
The filings to the United States Patent and Trademark Office come from the same California address as an earlier application for the name of the couple's five-year-old daughter, Blue Ivy Carter.
The couple have not commented on the twins' names or even confirmed the births, although Beyonce's father acknowledged the births on social media on June 18.
The new additions are a daughter and a son, according to gossip site TMZ.com. It was the first to report the trademark filings, which were dated last Monday, the day the parents were said to have returned to their Los Angeles home with the twins.
Rumi is the name of the 13th-century Persian poet who endures as one of the best-loved writers in the Sufi spiritual tradition, with verses that celebrate love, joy and tolerance.
On Jay-Z's new album, 4:44, he alludes to Persian poetry on the song Marcy Me, which describes his upbringing in a public housing project in Brooklyn.
He raps: "Sufi to the goofies/I could probably speak Farsi."
The choice of Sir is less obvious.
News of the twins has delighted the couple's fans, some of whom expect a musical dynasty along the lines of the Jacksons.
Blue Ivy already performs on Jay-Z's album closer, Legacy, in which he vows that his family will carry on his business empire and help represent African-Americans.
"Generational wealth / that's the key," he raps.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES