Jay-Z’s album 4:44 was a vulnerable, self-analytical and cultural think-piece filled with tracks that gave fans further insight into his personal life and opinions which he typically keeps…well personal. The most personal project to date for your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper did not disappoint. The album’s sixth track ‘Family Feud,’ featuring Beyoncé, was a standout song that dove directly into Jay-Z’s opinion on the rift within the Hip Hop culture and his personal indiscretions. By the end of the song, we learn that his use of the term “family” is not only about his own family but about a bigger family including the black and Hip Hop & Rap community.
While the song is mostly about the separation in Hip Hop & Rap, the music video for the track takes an alternative visual representation for the song.
If you haven’t seen the video yet, check it out below before you read major spoilers.
The 7 minute and 56 second video, directed by award-winning director Ava Duvernay, is a futuristic retrace of presumably Jay-Z’s descendants. The music video opens up with a quote by novelist and political activist James Baldwin.
“The wretched of the Earth do not decide to become extinct, they resolve, on the contrary, to multiply: life is their weapon against life, life is all they have.”
The video then transitions to the year 2444 in a setting that is reminiscent of classic European style architecture. In the initial scene, we hear the voice of and later see the familiar face of actor Michael B. Jordan. Michael is heard yelling about family, respect and honor. He then walks into a room where his assumed sister, actress Thandie Newton, is sleeping in bed with her lover Moonlight star Trevante Rhodes. Michael further scolds his sister for not being the right fit to carry the family legacy and then physically assaults her. This prompts, her lover, Trevante to jump in. A fight ensues between the two with Trevante killing Michael. Thandie seemingly satisfied with her brother’s death proceeds to kiss her lover then stab him saying that “it’s my throne”. This scene lacked all emotions that would usually be associated with someone whose sibling is being murdered in front of them. Clearly, both Michael and Thandie only cared about being the head of the family on the throne and not each other. This scene further sets up the rest of the video and the lyrical message.
The second scene of the video switches to Omari Hardwick and Irene Bedard, who are President and Madame President respectively. They are being interviewed by actress Jessica Chastain who questions them about the deaths in the family and how it has publicly tarnished the family legacy. Omari answers Jessica, in what turns into a retrace of his family’s history spanning back over 400 years. We see his family banning together, protecting the law and fighting war for justice and freedom in 2148 and 2096 He proceeds to explain to Jessica that his family is not defined by their bad times, but by their commitment to what is for the good. We are then transitioned into the year 2050 where we see a roundtable of women discussing the topic of the 2nd amendment. This roundtable of women is lead by ‘This Is Us’ actress Susan Kelechi Watson, who Omari refers to as “America’s founding mother”. She delivers a touching statement to the women about how “America is a family and the whole family should be free.” She then reflects on something that her father used to tell her. “Nobody wins when the family feuds.”
All of the scenes come together to set up the year 2018, where it all started. We see Jay-Z walking down the aisle of a Cathedral with daughter Blue Ivy in hand, who is wearing an outfit similar to Blue Ivy’s. This moment is where we realize that America’s foremother is Blue Ivy. At about the 5 minute 31 second mark is where the actual track for “Family Feud” comes in. Jay-Z is in a confessional professing his opinions about the state of Hip Hop, giving feedback to his haters and really letting us know that something happened in his marriage. The latter part of the video flashes between him in the confessional, beautiful shots of Queen B and Jay pacing the church’s floor.
As I tried to not read others opinions of the video before I watched it for myself, just from the headlines I saw, I quickly realized that they missed the whole point of video. Jay-Z is not only “confessing his sins” to Beyoncé and the song and video is not just about her. He is “confessing” or releasing his real thoughts on real stuff. The message that Jay-Z wants to send is clear. Like the lyrics of the song, Jay-Z want us to know that “nobody wins when the family feuds.” He wants us to know that it is better to work together than against each other, especially when we have common ideas and goals. Instead of there being a loser, there can be more than one winner. Isn’t this a lesson that Clifford the Big Red Dog taught us? Too bad it took all these years for Jay-Z to teach us how important it is to collaborate and to not self-centered or against one another. While the video can be seen as controversial due to its religious and Game of Throne-esque aspects, it is definitely something that needs to be watched more than once to fully grasps all the themes included.
The star studded video also has appearances from David Oyelowo, America Ferrera, Janet Mock, Rashida Jones, Brie Larson, Mindy Kaling, Rosario Dawson and many more.