Wednesday night during Game 3 of the NBA Finals, ABC aired a black-and-white ad starring Mahershala Ali as a silent, plaintive boxer working a bag held by his trainer, Danny Glover.
The ad ends with three actor credits — Ali, Lupita Nyong’o, and Glover — set above an NC-17 rating and a promise of forthcoming content, presumably a movie, “EXCLUSIVELY ON sprint.tidal.com.” The ad’s largest font is reserved for what appears to be the project’s title, “4:44.”
Those numbers have been a recurring figure for the past few days, as social media has circulated photos of cryptic advertisements featuring “4:44” on billboards across New York City. News reports traced the ads to Tidal, which wasn’t named in the original billboards, but which appears in the source codes for the “4:44” banner ads that now blanket publications such as Complex and The Undefeated. Rap fans have speculated that “4:44” is a pretentious hint at new Jay Z music, perhaps an album, due out of the blue any minute now. But the latest wrinkle in all this speculation — the TV ad starring Ali — instead suggests that we may be in for a short film. Whether the short film will also feature Jay Z or have anything to do with him, specifically, is so far unclear. Still, a few clues suggest that the short film is pegged to a new Jay Z project:
- Jay Z has been obsessed with bougie, cryptic album promo since he and Kanye dropped Watch the Throne in 2011.
- “4:44” is styled in an old-people font that wouldn’t really suit other Tidal-affiliated artists such as Rihanna or J. Cole.
- Jay Z is overdue for a new project; he released his last album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, four years ago.
- Beyoncé is about to have twins, so you know papa’s got plenty to rap about.
Assuming there’s a Jay Z album at the end of all this, it’s an interesting time for him to reenter the fray. We’ve spent more than a year wondering whether Jay Z, the husband, is doing right by Beyoncé, and we’ve spent longer than that wondering whether Jay Z, the rapper, at the tender age of 47, is too old to resonate with his recently teen-obsessed genre. Cellphone-sponsored mega-albums are boondoggles as often as they are worthy commercial art, but I say we hear the old man out.