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Jay-Z Says Goodbye

Kenyatta Storin | Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Widely regarded as one of the best in rap ever, the self-proclaimed king of rap, Jay-Z, claimed that he is leaving the throne, despite being at the peak of his career. Love him or hate him, for years no one else in rap has garnered the affection of both the public and critics as well as Jay-Z. While it remains to be seen whether The Black Album is truly Jay-Z’s last record – and likely, it isn’t – it is clearly meant to be a goodbye album of sorts.Unlike previous records, The Black Album is an entirely Jay-Z affair. Gone are loads of guest rappers and female pop hooks, which will likely please hip-hop fans that generally find Jay-Z too pop for their tastes. The decision to go strictly solo works to Jay-Z’s advantage, allowing him to showcase his lyrical prowess. He clearly feels like he has nothing left to prove on “What More Can I Say,” sampling Russell Crowes’ audacious “Are you not entertained!?” speech from Gladiator and later following with the boast, “Pound for pound I’m the best to ever come around here.” Cleverly implementing the names of all his albums in the chorus of the Eminem-produced “A Moment of Clarity,” Jay-Z defends himself for changing his music for money and popularity: “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.” And even though he claims he is quitting rap, he maintains on his concluding track, “My 1st Song,” that his love for rap is still as strong as it ever was: “The song that I sing to you it’s my everything / Treat my first like my last, and my last like my first / And my thirst is the same as when I came.”But as good as his rhymes are, Jay-Z spends a little too much time focusing on himself. Rap has always been about self-promotion and boasting, but that is no excuse for the lack of variety in Jay-Z’s subject matter, which hurts the overall longevity of the album. Thankfully, the only true lyrical mishap is the corny, autobiographical “December 4th,” which is bogged down by mundane anecdotes from his mother, Gloria Carter. Nevertheless, missing are a few more varied tracks like the party jam “Dirt Off Your Shoulders” by Timbaland, or the vibrant Rick Rubin produced story rap “99 Problems,” where Jay-Z bitterly attacks the rap media, and contrives a clever anecdote about a run in with a racist police officer. As usual, Jay-Z is backed by an all-star cast of producers, and all of the aforementioned tracks have solid beats. However, other tracks are a bit more disappointing. The Neptunes (“Change Clothes,” “Allure”) in particular fall under their capabilities as their beats are oddly tame, and lack the spice and flavor they normally have. 9th Wonder’s “Threat” and DJ Quik’s “Justify My Thug” have its moments, but are also not up to par with the rest of the album’s production.On the whole, The Black Album is well done, but its narrow subject matter and occasionally inconsistent production keep it from joining the same league as Jay-Z’s classics, Reasonable Doubt and The Blueprint. But it is still a solid record, and there is no denying the skill of Jay-Z. After all, no other MC has had the staying power of Jay-Z. Since he debuted in 1996, Jay-Z has witnessed many rappers rise and fall from superstardom, while remaining at the top. And as much as it looks like it, this is not the end for Jay-Z. Undoubtedly, either idleness, his love for rap, or maybe even jabs from his nemesis, Nas, will provoke him to return.

Contact Kenyatta Storin at kstorin@nd.edu