Friday, October 24, 2008

Jay-Z "Vol. 3: The Life & Times of S. Carter"

For those that know me they might not believe this, but there was a time that I wasn’t a Jay-Z fan. It was the same time that this album came out, and no this album didn’t change my opinion – that would take a couple more years. I picked this album up almost entirely on Jay’s name alone, and while I wasn’t disappointed you can bet I was banging …And Then There Was X far more often.

X never did release another solid record and as I listened to Jigga more I found him to be the far superior rapper that he is. Unfortunately Vol. 3: The Life and Times of S. Carter isn’t the best demonstration of said skill. Sure it has its moments – I’ve been quoting Skyzoo’s recent line about “So Ghetto” for a reason, but after listening to this album all week I’m still just as confused and disappointed as I was on Monday.

As I’ve gone back over these albums from Mr. Carter it’s becoming more and more clear that Jay is at least as motivated by the money as he is by the art and here I think the money got the best of him. Not that I blame him, if I could find a way to make a living with my writing I would leap at it!

The commercial tracks are here in abundance with Timbaland and Swizz Beatz holding down several beats along with some unknowns and a few legends, including Primo on the monster track “So Ghetto.” Jay also links with Prem’s west coast equivalent getting a beat from the good doctor who also holds down the hook. “Watch Me” isn’t a bad track but the beat is an obvious throw away from Dre’s 2001 sessions.

From here it’s not too positive. It’s a Jay-Z album so you don’t need to worry about him dropping the hot lines you expect, although much of the content within his stanzas is more oriented towards the dope game than the game of life and for the first time we see Jay taking the easy route telling us stories about his past without giving us the real life connection that brought Reasonable Doubt to life.

But beyond his substantially dumbed downed rhymes the beat selection is very interesting with few tracks feeling at all like a typical Jay beat and many teetering between trying to be for the street and for the club.

Swizz does impress with the flutes on “Things that U Do” but it’s destroyed by a lame Mariah Carey hook and comes across as a too blatant attempt at pop appeal. Timbaland pulls of a similar trick on the monster hit “Big Pimpin” sampling an old Indian record, however with no singer on the hook and the Underground Kings themselves holding their own next to Hov you can’t be mad at it being one of the biggest tracks of the last decade.

Elsewhere Timbaland isn’t quite as lucky. Responsible for three other tracks here, they all have his similar keyboard heavy sound that may have worked for the clubs in 1999 but today sound dated and ill advised.

Luckily the other two beats from Swizz are hidden at the end of the outro, but I would suggest just listening to the pair of “Hova Song’s” as they are laced by K-Rob with the perfect haunting sample courtesy of the Rotary Connection allowing Jay to do what he does best – speak to the people open and honestly leaving this pair of open and closing tracks as the best the album has to offer.

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