What Jay-Z’s 4:44 Means For Black Millennial Leaders

In 1997, Jay-Z, a Brooklyn MC emerging in popularity and ambition, released his second studio album, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. Still perfecting his sound and his persona, Jay was at his hungriest then yet seemingly stuck between the rap game and the dope game, and the streets and the boardroom. Also in 1997, the African American community emerged as the fastest growing consumer base worldwide with a total purchasing power of $469.4 billion. As our influence climbed so did our access to education and entrepreneurship setting the stage for the youngest in our community – the millennials – to witness this growth and progression firsthand.

20 years later, Jay-Z is known as the legendary rapper holding the number one slot on just about everyone’s top five list. From beats to business – then Beyonce and Blue Ivy – he’s been able transcend all aspects of entertainment, leverage philanthropy for the cause and master entrepreneurship with the best of black excellence. His latest album 4:44 is proof, and most black millennials will agree. With themes like financial freedom, generational wealth, ownership and entrepreneurship all woven into dope, soulful beats, and not to mention, the slick short movies as videos for songs like Moonlight and Story of O.J., and an inside scoop from the Rap Radar podcast on TIDAL, 4:44 is a blueprint for black millennials who are poised to lead.

Yet, we still have a reality to face. In the Black community, money circulates zero to one time and one dollar circulates between us for only six hours, according to Nielsen, making us the least wealthy U.S demographic. However, Nielsen also tells us that the overall Black spending power is projected to reach $1.4 trillion by 2020. And with millennials representing 50 percent of the global workplace by 2020 making us huge influencers on how business works, the projected $162 billion that Black Millennials have in buying power along with undisputed cultural influence, means we as leaders must get serious about avoiding “living rich and dying broke” as Jay-Z said.


With new wind of inspiration from Jay and a major cultural shift at hand, here are four things 4:44 should inspire black millennial leaders to do:

black millennials aerial ellis jay-z 4:44

We must own.

“You walkin’ around like you invincible/You dropped outta school, you lost your principles” – ‘Kill Jay Z’

Millennials are only interested in purposeful work. School may teach you how to get jobs but there’s no guarantee school will teach you how to create jobs. Ownership is a priority because for black millennials the future of business depends on our ability to be employers. With all our smarts gained from school or otherwise, we must maintain the vision to be owners – own everything we can from property to businesses. Whether you run a startup in your basement or you jet set to make big deals, ownership is your key to financial freedom and generational wealth. For black millennial leaders to build legacy, we must apply compelling vision to own our own – whether it’s a website selling apparel or a food truck selling cupcakes. Without ownership, we jeopardize our progress. It’s about principle above all.

We must invest.

‘Please don’t die over the neighborhood/That your mama rentin’/Take your drug money and buy the neighborhood/That’s how you rinse it’ – ‘Story of O.J.’

Millennials are magnets for creativity and community. Whether you buy the block in your old neighborhood or cut a check to a local nonprofit, directing your resources to your own community curates and preserves its cultural originality. When you invest in the black community, you generate profits in pursuit of social goals. Use your profit to invest in your purpose in leadership. Remember, your profit is not just your money. You can invest your profits in form of time, advice and raw talents. Not only does investing foster loyalty to your community, it introduces a culture of openness so that solutions can be explored to help solve the problems we want solved and ensure a legacy for future generations for follow.

We must innovate.

“Y’all think small, I think Biggie” – ‘Family Feud’

Millennials are vocal about what we want for our lives. We think big. We create lifestyles that support innovation which means we keep an open mind about the way the world works. As black millennials, we have a legitimate role to play in the innovation of leadership. We must lead with incremental steps that make old ideas new again and repurpose the familiar into the unexpected. The cultural shift of innovation forces us to the frontline of leadership. When black millennials embrace innovation and build a culture to support it, we demonstrate intentionality in our leadership. When we deliberately and routinely think big, we show that innovation is a way of life. And when boundaries appear, we use innovation to push them by facing the fast-paced world head-on with no fear.

We must build.

“We’re supposed to vacay ’til our backs burn / We’re supposed to laugh ’til our hearts stops” – ‘4:44’

Millennials love life. We do not want to put our passions on hold – travel, food, love, technology, etc. Meanwhile, we are still building. Its part of the black millennial experience. We are building ideas that successfully raise awareness of issues facing the Black community and influence decisions shaping our world. We must use our collective power to build the future together —we must focus on outcomes, not hours, and results, not hype. We must have a challenge to continuously learn and do better. Though our ambition and zest for life may get us labeled as self-centered, what we really want is to get better at what we are doing, take care of our families and have an impact on the world. As we build, we must empower each other to eliminate the “me” mentality. When we do so, and do it together, we earn the power and privilege to lead lives of unlimited potential. Besides, “what’s better than one billionaire? Two,
especially if they’re from the same hue as you.”


In 4:44, Jay-Z masterfully proves the bond between cultural change and social entrepreneurship. Cultural change exposes problems by disrupting a system. This is a result of generations asking why. Social entrepreneurship solves problems by disrupting a system. This is a result of generations asking, why not? And, asking why not is what millennials do best.

Though Jay is a Gen-Xer and one of the most respected voices in pop culture, the so-called legends and power brokers from his generation aren’t the only ones responsible for creating the most exciting things impacting our culture these days. Increasingly, millennials are having the biggest impact on culture thanks to his influence along with others from Gen X.

If black millennials leaders intend to lead, and we are showing that we do, all the inspiration we need is in front of us.

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