It’s 1997 and the reigning king of NY has been shot down in LA. A young emcee out of the Marcy housing projects that made a name for himself off the strength of an Illmatic like debut returned to the scene to carry the torch for his fallen brethren.
Where Reasonable Doubt was a raw and unabridged look at the streets Shawn Carter had sprung from, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 is like the sprawling step child filled with the same great lyrical voice but missing the sense of reality. In place are glossy beats and R&B hooks courtesy of Puffy and his Hitmen production team – a pairing much more fruitful a decade later with Jigga’s 2007 release (I can't wait to talk about that joint!).
While Jay has commented that he believes he may have gone a little too far with the “pop” styling’s Puffy was so famous for – listen to “I Know What Girls Like” with the trademark Puff jacking on the hook. It’s pretty bad, but thanks to an amazing Lil Kim guest verse I’ll over look it. Speaking of Kim, anyone bump Hardcore lately?
While Puffy’s hand is felt heavy here, the album is deep with cuts that are some of Jay’s best of his career and prove the album is far more than just an attempt to go commercial – that comes next year!
Opening with Pain in da Ass once again before falling into a classic Prem piano chop for “A Million and One Questions” with a beautiful transition and just as wonderful second beat for “Rhyme No More.”
Motherfuckers can’t rhyme no moreWhile the beats aren’t as consistent – Prem only makes one more contribution – Jay remains just as relevant as he showed us he could be in ’96. On “Lucky Me,” complete with it’s soft drums and cowbells, Jigga takes time out to speak on something far from the norm:
About crime no more
Time No more
Cause I’m so raw
My flow expose holes
That they find in yours
Wasn’t for me niggas still be dying for whores
Y’all don’t even knowThe hustler spirit isn’t leaving Jay-Z anytime soon.
Everyday I’m livin with stress
Got up out the streets
You think a nigga can rest
Can’t even enjoy myself at a party
Unless I’m on the dance floor
Hot ass vest
You think I’m freaking these chicks right
Tryin not to brush against they chest
You get a law suit shit like that
And it is that spirit that makes him and Too Short such a perfect combination on “Real Niggaz.” I’m clueless as to who the beatmaker is, but Anthony Dent lays down a smooth groove that suits both Jigga’s need for that NY boom bap while rooted with a laid back loop that gives it that chilled out Cali feel Short can own. Where is another record from these two?
Vol. 1 is a follow up that shows us a lot. Once it became clear to Jay that he wasn’t going to get away with one record he had to focus on making it worth his while. The fan base was looking for something more in line with the debut, but the pop hooks worked and by the time Jay-Z was ready to deliver his third record that mainstream appeal hinted at here would be fully formed and ready to blow with a tale of the “Hard Knock Life.”