It’s official: JAY-Z’s new album, 4:44, is dropping on June 30.
Though the album was only confirmed last night, the rollout is already reminiscent of Magna Carta... Holy Grail’s campaign four summers ago: air a mysterious commercial during the NBA Finals, announce the album just a few weeks before its arrival, and partner with a telecommunications company for an exclusive release.
The biggest difference this time round (aside from this thing called TIDAL, of course) lies behind the boards. While JAY-Z—all-caps now, and the hyphen has returned—opted for the super producer approach on MCHG, which failed to live up to the hype of having Pharrell, Timbaland, Swizz Beatz and a zenned out Rick Rubin in one room, 4:44 is produced entirely by No I.D., according to director and filmmaker Chris Black (who’s worked with the likes of A$AP Rocky, Dev Hynes, and Kali Uchis).
No I.D. may not qualify as a “super producer,” but he’s no less of a beast when it comes to the beats. The 45-year-old Chicago native, who currently heads up A&R at Capitol Records, is best known for his work with Common, Kanye West, and Big Sean. But over the last 15 years, No I.D. has also built up an impressive catalog with JAY-Z that includes “Run This Town,” “Death of Auto-Tune” and “Primetime.” Given his recent work with Vince Staples, Rihanna and Vic Mensa, Dion’s beats are by no means past their prime.
Sure, Swizz Beatz, Mike WiLL Made-It and Zaytoven have all been linked to 4:44, but as two 40-something hip-hop veterans with plenty left in the tank, JAY-Z and No I.D. is a partnership that makes sense. Hov has become more politically active in his old age (see: TIME: The Kalief Browder Story, bailing out fathers from jail) and the “Adnis” snippet—a nod to his late father—suggests that 4:44 will be a personal album with purpose. During his six-year stint as a Def Jam executive, No I.D. oversaw concept-driven albums from uncompromising lyricists like Vince Staples, Logic and Common. JAY-Z partnering exclusively with No I.D. could be his best creative decision since Watch The Throne.
Until 4:44 arrives next Friday, let's recap JAY-Z and No I.D.'s collaborative history—a relationship that goes a little deeper than just the songs they've made together. No I.D. on the track let the story begin...
2002: The Blueprint 2
JAY-Z and No I.D.’s first collaboration came on The Blueprint 2, a lengthy and divisive album littered with beats from superstar producers (Dr. Dre, Scott Storch, The Neptunes). Even 15 years later, No I.D.’s soulful yet triumphant “All Around the World,” featuring LaToiya Williams, feels like more of a gift than a curse from one of Hov’s more forgettable efforts.
Hov and Dion’s ties were established long before “All Around the World,” though: in 2001, No I.D. produced Beanie Sigel’s “Man’s World,” which was originally intended for JAY-Z’s The Blueprint. Before that, he introduced his young protégé Kanye West to Roc-A-Fella A&R Kyambo “Hip Hop” Joshua. No I.D. was even around during the mixing process for JAY-Z’s 1997 album In My Lifetime, Vol. 1.
(Fun fact: In 1997, No I.D. released a solo album called Accept Your Own and Be Yourself (The Black Album). Six years later, JAY-Z announced his "retirement" with his own The Black Album.)
2007: American Gangster
Half a decade passed until JAY-Z and No I.D. officially worked together again—partly due to Hov’s “retirement” and new gig as CEO of Def Jam—but it was worth the wait. 2007’s American Gangster—Hov’s real comeback album—boasted two majestic beats from No I.D., who co-produced “Success,” featuring Jay’s former foe Nas, and the Bilal-assisted “Fallin” alongside Jermaine Dupri (the pair worked together on Bow Wow’s Wanted and The Price of Fame albums after No I.D. sought to learn from the So So Def hitmaker).
If there was ever a metaphor for No I.D.’s under-the-radar genius, it’s “Success”:
“So we’re in the studio and Lebron’s there, and Beyonce’s there. And I was off to the side with my headphones on doing the beat on my laptop. Everyone kept looking at me like ‘What’s this guy doing over there on his computer?’ No keyboard — I was just on my MacBook. I’m sure they thought I was just surfing the net or something.
“‘Jay and Jermaine looked over at me like ‘What do you got?’ So I play it and Jay’s like ‘Awww shit that’s it. Get that laptop back out and let’s do some more.’ So that was the first time we jousted like that in the studio. It was also my first Nas collaboration, and the record really put me back in motion.”—No I.D., Complex
That same year, No I.D.’s place in JAY-Z’s timeline was cemented on Kanye’s West’s “Big Brother”: “My big brother was B.I.G.’s brother / Used to be Dame and Biggs’ brother / Who was Hip Hop brother, who was No I.D. friend / No I.D. my mentor, now let the story begin.”
2009: The Blueprint 3
After co-producing Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak hit “Heartless,” which was originally intended for The Blueprint 3, it’s no wonder JAY-Z made No I.D. a key player on his 11th album. Continuing to blend inspiration from the past with ideas from the future, the Chicago native contributed to a total of six songs, highlighted by “Run This Town” and “Death of Auto-Tune.” Both records won GRAMMYs, but it’s the latter that made the biggest mark—not only on barbershop debates but on The Blueprint 3 itself. “When [Kanye] heard the [‘D.O.A.’] beat he said, ‘Man, this is just so hard! This has to be against everything — no auto-tune, none of that type of stuff!’” Jay told Billboard. “After we made the ‘D.O.A.’ record about a month ago, we were like, ‘if [Auto-Tune]’s got to go, it’s got to go.’”
2010: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
10 years after helping him sign to Roc-A-Fella, No I.D. and Kanye West’s relationship came full circle on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as the master assisted his former apprentice in making his magnum opus. With one of them laying down the music and the other handling the drums, Kanye and No I.D. crafted gritty, emotionally gripping songs like “Dark Fantasy,” “Gorgeous” and “Hell of a Life.” The Kanye-and-No I.D. connect wouldn’t be complete without a verse from Hov, though, who put all these little bitches back in their britches on “So Appalled,” yet another track originally envisioned for The Blueprint 3.
2011: Watch the Throne
Despite not being involved with the creative process (“A lot of my focus was going towards Common’s album at the time, and Watch the Throne wasn’t going where I was going creatively,” he toldComplex), No I.D. still came through with one of the best songs on JAY-Z and Kanye West’s blockbuster album. Featuring chopped up drums and a twinkling piano loop, “Primetime” was Watch the Throne personified: grandiose yet gritty, vintage yet inventive, classic hip-hop that still shifted the culture. Who needs a producer tag when Hov shouts you out at the start of his verse?
You can thank No I.D. for making "Otis" happen, too:
“I kinda didn’t agree with the direction that Watch the Throne was going because I felt like, ‘Y’all were two of the best that did it as far advancing, pushing the bar, the envelope of what hip-hop can do and is,'” Wilson told XXLMag.com. “And I felt like some of the songs were copping out a little to me.”
“I get the co-productions, but how you gon do an album and you don’t go to the machine and do one beat by yourself?” No I.D. explained. “We have always sparked this challenge in each other and it bled into the world, so I just wanted to hit him in the stomach real quick. This is what you got? He was like, ‘No, that’s cool. I’m bout to do something.'”
No I.D.’s challenge resulted in Yeezy chopping up Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” for The Throne’s smash hit, “Otis.” The song was added to WTT at the 11th hour and became the LP’s second single.—XXL
2013: Magna Carta... Holy Grail
Okay, “Holy Grail” isn’t exactly one of JAY-Z and No I.D.’s best collaborations. As glorious as it may have sounded in that Magna Carta... Holy Grail Samsung commercial, the track has aged about as well as King John’s corpse (who decided it was a good idea for Justin Timberlake to sing Nirvana lyrics?!). Don’t worry, though, No I.D. is only credited as an additional producer on “Holy Grail,” with The-Dream, Timbaland and Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon sharing the credit blame for the bulk of the beat. Let’s just hope 4:44 lives up to the hype that “Adnis” has already built.
2014: Back to Work
Not that Jay Electronica is the most reliable source in the world, but at least he gave us proof that Jay Z and No I.D. have been steady plotting over the last few years. Dare we dream for a Jay Elec feature on 4:44, too?