Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday Morning Vol. III

"And no, I didn't get shot up a whole bunch of times/ or make up shit in a whole bunch of lines/ and I ain't animated like, say, a Busta Rhymes/ But the real shit you get when you bust down my lines/ add that to the fact I went platinum a buncha times/ times that by my influence on pop culture/ i suppose to be number one on everybody's list/ let's see what happens when i no longer exist. . . fuck this"

Art should not be made for monetary gains. Art is not a competition to be held or a race to be won. Artists are not competitors whose financial status equals either victory or defeat. But if they were. . . Jay-Z is totally swiggin' some Crystal in the winners circle after this one. The Black Album, S. Carter's 6th and final record (at least during its release), is a swan song unlike any that have come before it.

He openly boasts "pound for pound I'm the best to ever come around here" and indeed, rhyme for rhyme this is one of the most complex and entertaining hip hop albums to come out of the last 30 years. Hova's public persona is so much a part of his music that discussion of the man is integral to the discussion of this album. For those unfamiliar with his tales of rags to riches, this album lays out the artists history from his formative years with "December 4th" to the climactic closer "My 1st Song" which paints Jay at the height of his professional career.

Aside from an all-star cast of producers that include Just Blaze, Rick Rubin, Eminem, Kanye West and the Neptunes, this album boasts a lyrical backbone that can stand on it's own regardless of the muscle and tissue that surround it. In fact, the "good folks at Roc-a-fella Records" thought just that. The a cappella version was marketed as a blank slate for curious djs to work with some of the best rhymes of Jay's career. Two of the most famous of these collaborations include The Grey Album (Danger Mouse's fusion with the Beatles White Album) and Collision Course (Mike Shinoda's Linkin Park remix).

The lyrics are typical for Jay-Z: money, hustling, being the greatest and money (lots of it). Coincidentally, the only thing lacking here is a sense of braggadocio. He tells his tales in past tense as the album itself looks back on his life. You don't get the feeling that he's trying to impress anyone with false tales of drug running and music videos filled with rented Bentley's, because, you know, when you have as much money and clout as Jay-Z it's sort of hard to exaggerate. With that being said, it's also refreshing to feel the absence of male sexist posturing, but then again what does HOV have to prove? He already states he's got "the hottest chick in the game wearin' my chain". The beats (or music for those not familiar with Sucka Free Sundays) are some of the best in the biz but if you're looking for dance hits about "fuckin' bitches" and "smackin' niggas" (or is it the other way around?) then please look elsewhere. At its heart, the Black Album is a lyricists record.

I was thinking of categorizing the Black Album as the "hip-hop equivalent of Highway 61", but was afraid that hip-hop purists would start throwing out names like Common, Mos Def or Public Enemy, so instead I'll call it the "hip-hop equivalent of Blood on the Tracks", because both showcase an artist at the peak of his creative powers with no near equals to speak of. For years to come, MC's will walk in the shadow that the Black Album casts and stumble in the footsteps of a giant.

". . . I might even have me a cappuccino. . . fuck it, I'm going somewhere nice with no mosquitoes. . ."

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