JAY Z’s 4:44 is a Mentoring Album and Here is Why

Yeah, I said it, 4:44 is a mentoring album and here is why… It does not take very long into the album before listeners realize that there is a maturity in JAY Z’s tone. His raw talent and ability to spit lyrics from his head (I did it all without a pen, I had to remind ya’ll again) are all too familiar to fans, but his subject matter, “pregnant pauses” and vulnerability, signal a certain development and wisdom. In fact, JAY Z sounds like Black elders all over America who have endured decades of racialized experiences and now opt to bare their battle scars for the youth who have not yet had time to have the same experience or make the same mistakes. And, this is where 4:44 becomes a mentoring album. JAY Z exhibits moments of salience that at times sound like the old man sitting on the porch or standing on the street corner who insists you’re missing the point because your youth and inexperience blind you. “Listen here youngster, let me put you up on game… ” And, like many of our elders, he does this out of love. He’s listened, he’s watched, and he’s reflected and now seems ready to move into his next phase of life and share what he has learned.

“You know you owe the truth to all the youth that fell in love with Jay Z”: The first track on the album, Kill Jay Z, has been described as JAY Z talking to and checking his ego. But this also sounds very much like a conversation between him and his younger and more reckless self. His intention to come clean about the destructive ways in which he has behaved and promoted that behavior in his music is a sort of reckoning and he is more than honest about how this has hurt him and his family. This track sounds like so many of the conversations happening in the My Brother’s Keeper mentoring space, where adult men are wrestling with their former and present selves in the presence of young men and boys in an attempt to pass on some wisdom about masculinity, fatherhood, love, and marriage. In fact, this intergenerational dialogue and reflection are not only necessary but a critical component of mentoring.

“Ya’ll think it’s bougie I’m like it’s fine, but I’m tryna give you a million dollars worth of game for $9.99”: In The Story of OJ, already a favorite track with a gripping visual, JAY Z talks respectability and racial politics, generational wealth and much more. The track’s music is already symbolic of the intergenerational dialogue happening in mentoring spaces because it is a musical conversation between Jazz and Hip-Hop. JAY Z samples Nina Simone’s Four Women and spits verses on top of jazz piano licks. Aside from the musical symbolism, his subject matter is all too familiar in mentoring spaces where folks of color are engaging. Advice about how to spend and save money, how to recycle dollars within the community and how to navigate spaces while Black.

There is more, but you are going to have to listen to the album to hear HOV drop gems.

Here is what mentoring programs need to understand:

Communities have mentors already in them

4:44 and the messages within should remind mentoring programs that communities already have mentors and that these mentors have access to cultural knowledge and experiences that can’t be “recruited” from outside. Programs must do more to work inside and alongside these communities so that the youth we serve have access to the voices and wisdom that these community elders provide.

There is value in the diverse recruitment of mentors

How many of your mentors are having the kinds of conversations with their proteges that JAY Z is having on the 4:44 album? We need to be giving the young people we serve the opportunity to engage with mentors who can dispense this type of wisdom. The time for simple conversations about school performance is done with; we need mentors who can have complex and nuanced discussions about socio-political issues. Some of these gems can only be exchanged because of shared experiences. Don’t let your limited recruitment models keep a young person from accessing these powerful lessons. The more diverse and intentional we are about recruiting and training our mentors, the more likely it is that these conversations will take place.

Respectability is not a predictor of effective mentoring

This album is a reminder that the respectability of a mentor does not necessarily predict effectiveness. While mentoring programs have necessary safety checks in place to ensure the safety of our youth, we are also very much attached to the idea that a mentor must be an “upstanding” community member. And, our definition of “upstanding” is often based on white and middle-class ideas. We don’t often recognize Hip-Hop artists as respectable enough to be mentors and if they aren’t respectable enough then this almost always precludes the Brothers and Sisters from the neighborhood. We need to check this line of thinking and renegotiate our ideas about who can be an effective mentor.

Make space for Hip-Hop in mentoring

We need to establish spaces for matches to listen to and dialogue about pieces like 4:44. Some matches may be doing this naturally, but programs who have overlooked Hip-Hop as a living and thriving intergenerational dialogue have missed youth culture entirely. Our young people have listened to this album, and they are listening with or without the guidance of a mentor. Imagine what mentoring moments can happen when mentor and protege listen to 4:44 together and can discuss the complexities of the content. We need more of these exchanges in our mentoring programs, and Hip-Hop can help to facilitate them.

Finally, 4:44 should be a call to action for all of us. As Dr. Bettina Love says, “we can’t wait until we are 47 to start mentoring, our young people need us now”.

Torie Weiston-Serdan is author of Critical Mentoring: A Practical Guide and CEO of the Youth Mentoring Action Network


A Call for Researchers and Practitioners: Mentoring Utilizing Critical and Culturally Relevant Perspectives

“Despite evidence that race and ethnicity plays an important role in mentoring relationships, there are limited research-based guidelines in the practice field regarding how race/ethnicity should be considered. Some of the most important resources in the field, such as Elements of Effective Practice (MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, 2009a), pay little attention to the role of race and ethnicity in mentoring programs (Sanchez, Colon-Torres, Feuer, Roundfield, Berardi, 2014).

This statement is the mentoring field’s call to action. While the newest edition of the Effective Elements does begin to address race and ethnicity, these nuanced issues are outside of its purview. Also, there is still a regrettable lack of information in this area, and much of it stems from a lack of critical and culturally relevant perspective, at least in documented ways, within the field. The Youth Mentoring Action Network seeks to establish a collaborative partnership and institute that will bring together mentoring researchers and practitioners to collaborate on projects, papers, training curriculum and other tools that can help make critical and culturally relevant mentoring a national and global reality. The development of this group will begin this year (2016) and will work to organize researchers, provide connections, and ultimately provide opportunities and resources for the support and promotion of this work.

We are currently seeking interest from mentoring researchers and practitioners who study and write about mentoring. After compiling a list of interested researchers, we intend to convene 1-2 meetings this year to establish a set of goals and objectives for our work. To guide our work, we have created the following guidelines for mentoring practice and research that is deemed critical and culturally relevant.

For Mentoring Practice:

-Mentoring that fully considers race, ethnicity, gender, class and sexuality when building the infrastructure for programs. Including programmatic structure, recruiting of mentors, training of mentors, support of mentoring relationships, mentoring activities and finally, target outcomes.

-Mentoring that is focused on critical consciousness and transformation rather than assimilation and adaptation

-Mentoring that places emphasis on the whole community, the whole protégé, rather than just parts of the whole

-Mentoring that includes, from its very inception, the needs of the community and the needs of the youth in the community (not about us without us)

-Mentoring that promotes and supports mentor/protégé partnerships for community transformation
For Mentoring Research:

-Mentoring research that utilizes critical frameworks; i.e. critical race theory, critical pedagogy, etc. for the analysis of mentoring relationships, mentoring outcomes, programmatic structures, and outcomes, etc.-Mentoring evaluation that moves beyond standard evaluative strategy and utilizes evaluative strategy that empowers the protégés and highlights programmatic outcomes beyond statistical ones. For example, empowerment evaluation, photovoice, etc.

-The full recognition of naturally occurring mentoring relationships as well as structures to “harness” and study them

-Challenging the mentoring meta-narrative with new and critical forms of research

E-mail tweiston@gmail.com with questions or other inquiries.

Submit Interest Here

Recent Thoughts About Black Death, Black Love, white Supremacy and the Fight…



It’s not too late. I know we’ve lost a lot of battles, a lot of beautiful boys a lot of beautiful girls. It might seem as if we can no longer fight, as if “imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” has won and maybe, for right now, it has. Maybe it has won this particular battle, in this particular place, in this particular time, but it cannot win the war. We cannot allow ourselves to “go gentle into that good night”, cannot continue to “wear the mask that grins and lies”, cannot cope, sleep, survive, yield, acquiesce or any other passive form of being. We cannot. It’s too late to wait, it’s too urgent to stand, we must do more and we must do more daily, in our everyday lives, with our everyday time, and our everyday resources. Our collective must be meaningful, must be robust, must be loud, must be focused, must be energized, must be ready.

No more questions or trying to figure out why, we know the answers, we understand the truth, we live it daily, we breathe the air, we see the stares, we watch it on the news, we got receipts, we are the product, the commodity, been bought and sold, been shot down cold, we already know that Black…Lives…Matter. And this isn’t a poem, a piece, art, something for your shelf, or textbook or classroom, or podcast, to put on display to read or listen to passively. No, this is a declaration of will, in body, in mind, in soul, in love, in pride, in ego, in beauty, in life, in death, in spirit, in molecules and cells and neurons.

We are in a revolution, it’s a revolutionary act, an act of resistance, an act of defiance, to live unapologetically, without shame, in love with yourself for yourself, in love with your Black-ness, in love with your Brown-ness, in love with your Muslim-ness, with your Gay-ness, your Trans-ness, your Other-ness, to have voice, to have agency, to check white supremacy, to disrupt capitalism, to block traffic, to interrupt routine, to force remembrance, to BE. This is not finished.