Jay-Z has done it all. While Biggie may have told the ultimate rags to riches story (what up Pomz?) , Shawn Corey Carter has lived it.
From record sales, to sold out concerts…As the Dynasty began to crumble leave it to the man who built it to come through with one final (we all knew it was a joke) farewell. It was a great idea, and he gave us a great album that would have served him well in the annals of rap if it had in fact been the last. But it wasn’t and those most recent two are up next, right now it’s time to ask where does The Black Album stand next to the rest?
As with any Jay-Z album this has it’s flaws, but they are minimal. DJ Quik contributes a weak track that should have been scrapped when the sample they had intended to use was denied (Why Madonna, why?) and the still unknown Buchannans lace a ridiculous track in “What More Can I Say” but even in all it’s glory it doesn’t do the rhymes Hov delivers justice, and that is a crime.
There's never been a nigga this good for this longBut that is the level we are at with this Jay album, nitpicking about little things. Regardless of these slight indescrepinces, we are treated to a brilliant 14 tracks of intimate wordplay – the Black Book, Jay’s rumored autobiograhpy, may have been shelved, but with this album we are taken inside the man we have been learning to love for over a decade with countless perosonal moments laid to wax.
This hood, or this pop, this hot, or this strong
With so many different flows there's one for this song
The next one I switch up, this one will get bit up
These fucks, too lazy to make up shit, they crazy
They don't, paint pictures, they just, trace me
You know what? Soon they forget where they plucked
they whole style from, they try to reverse the outcome
I'm like - TOUGH!
I'm not a biter I'm a writer for myself and others
I say a B.I.G. verse, I'm only biggin up my brother
Biggin up my borough, I'm big enough to do it
I'm that thorough, plus I know my own flow is foolish
So them rings and things you sing about, bring 'em out
It's hard to yell when the bar-rell's in your mouth
I'm in - new sneakers, dual-seaters
Few divas, what more can I tell you?
Let me spell it for you
Double-U I, double-L, I-E
Nobody truer than, H-O-V
And I'm back for more, New York's ambassador
Prime Minister, back to finish my business up
He brings his mother into the lab for one of Just Blaze’s greatest achievements in “December 4th” sampling the Chi-Lites to beautiful results. The track gives Jigga an oppurtunity to reflect on his child hood while having his mom give her own account of the good, and bad, times. Eminem slides another beat to Jay, this time for him to handle on his own. “Moment of Clarity” onces again sees Em producing a forumlaic track, but the eductaion from Dre still proves to make his beats listenable. Lyrically Jay speaks on his father, airing out their differences and confessing his appriciation for being able to settle them before his passing. The second verse, of course, speaks to all of us who thought he sold out:
Music business hate me cause the industry ain't make me9th Wonder proved his underground accalim could translate into big dollar beat making sessions laying down the beat for “Threat” in the lab using a Jay selected R. Kelly sample. Jay shows off his story telling skills with great class. “99 Problems” is another oppurtunity for Jigga to tell a story, this time adding some social relevence to the discussion addressing police harrasment over the monsterous Rick Rubin banger – if ever Jay was to do an album with one producer, here is my vote for Rick to helm it. But maybe Just can come through and assist?
Hustlers and boosters embrace me and the music I be makin
I dumbed down for my audience to double my dollars
They criticized me for it yet they all yell "HOLLA!"
If skills sold, truth be told, I'd probably be
lyrically, Talib Kweli
Truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense
But I did five mill' - I ain't been rhymin like Common since
When your cents got that much in common
And you been hustlin since, your inception
Fuck perception go with what makes sense
Since I know what I'm up against
We as rappers must decide what's most impor-tant
And I can't help the poor if I'm one of them
So I got rich and gave back, to me that's the win/win
So next time you see the homey and his rims spin
Just know my mind is workin just like them...
... rims, that is
Fellow Americans, it is with the utmost pride and sincerity that I present this recording as a living testament and recollection history in the making during our generation.Of course The Black Album is home to the scathing “Public Service Announcement” – this is the truest demonstration of pure emceeing skill. Nothing is wrong with the track from the Little Boy Blues sample to Justs hard hitting drums, this is why Jay is the greatest.
And it’s more of these perfectly crafted beats that Kanye and the Neptunes contribute that keep this album alive through the final song. “Lucifer” sees a classic reggae groove chopped up – showing an impressive move by Kanye breaking away from the sounds so constantly turned to by too many Hip Hop produers. The Max Romeo vocal loop provides the perfect backdrop for Jay to tell us about where he’s from, “the murder capital of the world where we murder for capital.”
The Neptunes recover from their disappointing commerical go round on “Change Clothes” with “Allure.” A beautiful track that isn’t ruined by Pharrells vocals, Jigga gets honest with us about his dreams and the path he’s rode over the years getting to where he is before hitting us with his “1st Song.” The stutering beat bothered me for far too long, but hearing Jay flow to it today sounds pristine and shows the technical skill this man posses.
The Black Album lives and dies around the beats. When they are on, they are some of the best Hip Hop has seen. Unfortunatly this makes the not so great great ones sound like less than they are. But still, you are getting this album for Jay-Z and Jay-Z is in full effect spitting some of the best lines of his career – this may not be his greatest project as a whole, but this stands next to anything lyrical the man has ever done.