This album is necessary. Not so much for you, the listener – though you will it makes a strong case for that, as well – but, for Jay-Z. Rather, Shawn Carter. Here, yes, the distinction very much matters. While Jay-Z the businessman has long threatened to consume Jay-Z the artist, he long danced a tricky tightrope of finding honesty within his salesman's values. Even on the justly maligned Kingdom Come, he found time for worrying about his past sins’ potential weight on his future children.

Following the relative return to form that was 2007’s American Gangster, Mr. Carter seemed lost in the content monster that Jay-Z had become. Blueprint 3 was, and remains, perhaps his lowest moment; a bloated, over-produced mass of narcissism, and while his eventual return in Magna Carta Holy Grail sought to regain a sense of artistry, there was little humanity to be found within. The one-time gangster Jay-Z seemed at a loss to express his glamorous lifestyle, unsure of how to connect to his ideal audience, dooming the music to plaster across frat parties.

Not everything has necessarily changed on 4:44. For one thing, he's still talking about his art collection, but the mood couldn't be more different. He's more interested in explaining – and, above all, in being understood – than stunting. The most immediately apparent truth here is, even if the opening track hadn't been named ‘Kill Jay Z’, in a sense, Hova is over Jay-Z.

Throughout, he sees both the necessity and damage done by his larger-than-life persona, how an invented ego threatened to consume his daily life; how the stage begged to consume the homestead. For those who feared a “Lemonade response album,” be calmed: he is neither making excuses nor spending every moment justifying himself. Rather, on the title track, he nearly lays himself bare, coming as close to Jay-Z ever has to humble as he realizes his weaknesses and wrongs – and their impact on his loved ones. Whether he's recalling past crass actions when he was unable to truly express his feelings (“Said 'Don't embaress me' instead of 'Be mine'”), or more directly addressing his infidelity (“I apologize to all the women whom I toyed with… Because at your best you were love”), it feels painfully considered and honest.

While much of Jay-Z's recent material has felt like a rapper struggling with ageing (clumsy Drake shots included) he finally feels ready to kick back and enjoy his status. As Kendrick himself put it, “Master Teacher.” He still slips in barbs at faces new and old alike, but they're confident and smooth, absent of any desperation or posturing. Young Thug has even thanked him for calling out the hypocrisy of older artists (“Like 2pac ain't have a nose ring too”).

Also essential to mention, naturally, is the presence of No I.D.; Carter's decision to focus on a truly cohesive work with a single visionary producer was as bold and assured a move as a veteran rapper could make. Just compare this to the name often mentioned in the same breath: as Eminem persists awkwardly seeking out any recent producer, regardless of chemistry, Jay-Z is content to simply talk his game. He knew the people would come. Whether he's taking himself to task, tossing shots in every direction (see: ‘Bam’), or simply reminiscing as on the glorious glide of ‘Marcy Me’, he sounds perfectly at home.

So, while this album may be a conscious readjustment, it's hard to imagine it having been a more successful. For those who had counted off Jay-Z the rapper, thinking Beyonce's recent renaissance would constitute the artistic future of the Carter clan (this writer included), 4:44 presents a renewed Jay-Z. Whether he returns his gaze to Tidal, or decides to refocus on his own music, at this point in time, Shawn Carter is back to having nothing to prove.