Jay Z dropped the long-awaited visual for 4:44 opener "Kill Jay Z" Friday. The latest piece of 4:44 art, directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, follows the previously released videos for "Bam," "The Story of O.J.," and the title track. Watch "Kill Jay Z" in full above via Tidal.
Though much attention has been given to the track's lyrical mentions of Kanye West and Eric Benét, the song as a whole—as Jay himself has said—is more concerned with the idea of killing off one's ego. "It's really about the ego," Jay told iHeartRadio on 4:44 release day. "It's about killing off the ego, so we can have this conversation in a place of vulnerability and honesty."
The "Kill Jay Z" visual touches on this idea and much, much more. Complex reached out to directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz—known collectively as Bush|Renz—to get a little more insight on the inspiration behind the latest 4:44 accompaniment. The resulting conversation, which has been condensed and edited for clarity, can be found below.
What's your favorite song on 4:44 so far?
Bush|Renz: "Kill Jay Z," "4:44," and "Family Feud" are our top three at the moment but that could change daily as we continue to absorb and devour the album. 4:44 is a work of art, created by an artist at the top of his game and it will age just as well as he has –– without a doubt. #InstantClassic
Who approached you to work on 4:44?
After the success of our visual EP 17 featuring music from Raphael Saadiq, Ty Dolla, and others and produced by Harry Belafonte for Tidal ––– we were approached by Jay Z and met with him at his studio in LA.
The visuals released ahead of the 4:44 drop were described as everything from teasers to ads to short films. Which, if any of those, do you prefer?
They are art films. Jay Z's powerful lyrics speak for themselves, these art films/shorts are simply an artistic interpretation of the music itself.
Aside from the album itself, what was your inspiration when shooting? What did you want to convey to Jay Z fans that hadn't been conveyed before?
4:44 is both a transformative and transportive body of work –– it was virtually impossible to disconnect from the music as we were creating. For our part, we wanted to match the raw, palpable emotion and edge of the music, while also communicating the incredible richness in culture and identity that is the black experience.
Given that no one knew for certain that a new Jay album was even in the pipeline as recently as a few months ago, how were you able to ensure maximum secrecy when developing and shooting this project?
We actually had everyone that was working directly for us on the filming of the project to sign ironclad non-disclosures, including cast, grips, parents/relatives of cast, etc. We had a zero tolerance policy on any discussion of the project; period. No phone use was allowed on set whatsoever. We couldn't even tell our own family members fearing that information on 4:44 could potentially leak...
"Kill Jay Z" received a great deal of attention upon the release of 4:44 due to its lyrics. Specifically, there was much discussion—some rooted in apt lyrical analysis, some rooted only in gossip—about the references to Kanye West. Though you were working on the visual ahead of the public's knowledge of these lyrics, did those passages have any bearing on your creative process?
Of course, we wouldn't have done the music justice if we didn't take a holistic approach creatively to the visuals. We lived with music and all of the nuance that is Jay's genius. We wanted to mirror the subtlety of some of Jay's messages, so that those in the audience would hopefully find the hidden meaning within the visuals, staring them right in the face––just as they did with his lyrics...
From a broader perspective, the track really sets off the introspective tone of the rest of the album. In an interview with iHeartRadio, for example, Jay described "Kill Jay Z" as being about the act of murdering one's ego to get to a place of vulnerability. How does the visual tie into this idea of ego death?
The visual really tells the story of the need for the ego to die in order to manifest destiny and make room for the evolution of the true self. In the context of the "Kill Jay Z" visual, there is a fight to hold on to your identity on your journey toward success–– for black men in particular there is always this ongoing battle to preserve your identity; maintain your stamina, your blackness, if you will–– while killing off those parts of yourself that are detrimental to your forward movement–– but in many ways the weaponized ego was a necessary tool–– if you had any hope to survive to reach such heights. Each scene within the "Kill Jay Z" visual is metaphor for the various aspects of that battle to destroy the ego… Jay Z, like so many black men–– had to construct an impenetrable armor to survive, much less thrive –– as he has, but now he will need to shed those vestiges of a troubled and challenging youth in order reach his highest destiny, this is what the "Kill Jay Z" visual represents.
Can you elaborate on what's next as far as 4:44 visuals you're involved with?
WE CANNOT ELABORATE.
Bush|Renz consists of writer/director duo Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz. They describe their work as "grounded in mission." They seek to tell stories that elevate the disenfranchised. For more information, click here.