Monday, September 21, 2009
It's The Return of Thee God, Peace God
"So, in summation I don't know who you racin' / I'm already at the finish line with the flag wavin'"
Jay-Z has A LOT of fans. I think that eleven number one albums (this album being the latest) makes that clear enough. Only the Beatles have done that...in any genre of music (they have nineteen - good luck catching that Jay!) He also has a lot of, well anti-fans. Of course, there are some that his music just doesn't appeal to for whatever reason. Some that don't understand how intricate his rhyme patterns and trains-of-thought really are whatever the subject matter, and why and how they are so much better than what most everyone else can offer. But, then there are some that, while still obviously falling into the latter category a vast majority of the time, just hate him because...well, just because.
They call him a sellout. They call him pop. They call him a has-been. They call him old. Meanwhile, for those paying attention, his albums are still full of relevant content and inspiration, not to mention some of the illest rhymes your favorite rapper could never think of. Who cares if the albums since The Black Album were also undeniable classics or not? Is he really expected to have nothing but classic material his entire career? How many non-classics existed between Reasonable Doubt and The Blueprint? That doesn't mean they didn't have their share of great, and even classic material. They DO. At some point you have to just get out there and do your thing, experiment, and see what happens. Why should he stop making music? That, I can't figure out. Most MCs can't even boast one classic album.
It's pretty clear to me that most of the people that talk shit about the biggest name in hip hop today, do so for just that reason. Shit, I would to if he weren't so freaking talented (that right there was a reference for me and probably me alone - don't worry about it). But, he is. He's not disrespecting the culture to appeal to pop audiences. It just happens naturally. Even his more poppy songs include dope rhymes. His other ventures only serve to enhance the image and reputation of hip hop, not to degrade it. And I, for one, am proud of him. His success inspires me. I don't get mad because the material shit he talks about in his rhymes is beyond my reach (for some it maybe also because these are riches they can't pretend to have like they often do with other material items). I don't say that the amount of money he makes is disgusting because when is he supposed to stop?? Also, if he puts a good portion of his wealth (as well as his time) towards helping to better the world (which he does by all accounts), what do I care if he flosses a bit with the rest of it? Isn't he entitled to enjoy the fruits of his labor? People say they're tired of his arrogance and hearing about his riches all the time. Yet, they don't seem to be tired of hearing that from so many other MCs/rappers that talk about it even more regularly, while possessing far less than Jay. And, isn't braggadocio a staple of hip hop when you think about it? Second only to giving a DJ his props, that is literally what the hip hop MC was built on. I guess since he really does "lead the league in every statistical category" it's now a problem.
And, while some may use the easy assumption that I'm just a Jay-Z 'stan' the fact is that I am far from believing that Jay-Z can do no wrong. I've heard him do it several times. It's just that it doesn't happen often and I'm not one to pretend.
Whatever the case, the release of The Blueprint 3 marks the completion of the second trilogy in Jay-Z's illustrious career. Point blank, this album is another great effort. Another feather in the God MC's hat. With this album Jay continues his reputation for several things including maturity with his sound, and leadership with his style. Several tracks showcase his ability to switch up his flow at will and offer a different approach when necessary. Jay also has a penchant for dissing his detractors with a single clever line that needs nothing added. This, I love and can't get enough of...especially with so many nobodies talking shit these days that don't deserve to be mentioned - being mentioned would actually be their dream, and Jigga rarely indulges them to that point. BP3 does have a couple of missteps, and it suffers a bit from beating a dead horse when it comes to some topics covered. These I will cover as well as it's successes track by track. I've decided not to give it a specific rating because I just can't. The reason being is mostly because the only comparisons or points of reference to make at this point are to Jay's own albums. And, that just doesn't seem right.
Suffice to say, I think this album is great. And, it grows on me more and more each time I listen to it. It grows on me because each listen I seem to hear more than I did previously. A lot of Jay-Z material takes some time to sink in, to make perfect sense, to understand what he is really saying and how he's putting the words together. Unfortunately, people always forget that, listening to a single track one time before saying that it's wack and Jay should quit now. I encourage anyone with that opinion to take a look at the lyrics sheet closely. Read and re-read it carefully to try and understand what is being said, and HOW it is being said. It's not something that just happens. It isn't accidental. The way Jay-Z structures his rhymes is very deliberate, and with each album he continues to prove that he is the best in hip hop with an uncanny ability to take command of the English language; making it bend to his will as he tears through verse after verse.
'What We Talkin' About' - Another great opening track, the kind which Jay-Z is famous for delivering. The first verse is the one he had been spitting Acapella over the summer at several shows (the one that mentioned NOT talking about Game, which Game's simple mind took as a signal to start trying to sell himself using Jay's name...again). He then proceeds to defend himself over Kanye West and No I.D.'s hypnotic backdrop basically telling others to grow up and pay attention to reality: "People keep talkin' about Hov take 'em back / I'm doing better than before why would I do that?...the conversation's changed let's yap about that / I don't run rap no more, I run the map."
'Thank You' - If you're one of the ones who gets bothered by Hov's arrogance, you may want to skip this track. This song (another great Kanye/No I.D. collabo on the boards) finds Jay at his most cocky, possibly ever. While thanking people for worshipping his greatness, he also takes time to poke fun at all of those trying to diss him and then flopping when it comes to their own records. What's different and interesting about it this time is his drawn out metaphor of September 11th: "...not only did they brick, they put a building up as well / Then ran a plane into that building, and what that building fell / ran to the crash site with no masks and inhaled / toxins deep inside there lungs until both of them was filled / blew a cloud out like an L / into a jar then took a smell / cuz they heard that second hand smoke kills / niggas thought they was ill, found out they was...ILL / and it's like you knew exactly how I wanted you to feel."
'D.O.A.' - For all of the other tracks on this album which Kanye and No I.D. co-produce, Kanye's name is listed first. I'm not exactly sure why. But, this track is listed with No I.D. first, and I happen to actually know that he did this beat. Plus, Jay reinforces it by shouting him out in the song. From the verses attacking those that simply follow trends instead of creating something of their own, to the rugged sound using heavy drums and bass, a bluesy sax, and a rock guitar riff, it's hard not to like this song. And, for fuck's sake he's helping No I.D. to get up where he belongs after all of these years, namely among the most sought after producers in hip hop (watch, and see). Now, if you can't respect that your whole perspective is wack. You must not ever have heard of the name No I.D., a little something of perfection called The Resurrection, or his own very own Black Album, Accept Your Own and Be Yourself.
'Run This Town' - The successful usage of the rock guitar continues with Kanye and No I.D.'s second late-Summer anthem from BP3. This is another great song rounded out nicely with two of the other biggest stars from Jay's camp, Rihanna and Kanye West. Here, Jay sticks to the topic with a solid flow, though nothing too spectacular. There's a reference to the disappointing summer movie Public Enemies: "...and our girls are Blackbirds, riding with their Dillingers / I'll get more in Depp (Depth) if you boys really real enough..."; and mention of the infamous coin toss which left him paying $5 Mill to Def Jam for the rights to his last contracted album: "...I gave Doug a grip, I lost a flip for five stacks / Yeah, I'm talking 5 comma, six zeroes, dot zeroes, here Doug / back to runnin' circles round niggas now we squared up, hold up". All of this was somewhat justifiably ignored though with Kanye's impressive guest verse. No doubt, this song shows Kanye at his strongest lyrically, and while Jay didn't drop the ball, he sure handed it off for a touchdown by his protege.
'Empire State of Mind' - Produced by Shux (can't say I've ever heard of them/him) and assisted by the great Alicia Keys, not enough can be said about this song. Needless to say it's a big record in every way. Jay's at his best here, cleverly weaving through tales of his city highlighting its affect on inhabitants. A truly great record and a hometown anthem for New Yorkers (stay off the stage though). A lot of quotables here, but fuck it. Just listen.
'As Real As It Gets' - It is with this song that the album has its first real misstep. The instrumental itself is nothing special. Provided by The Inkredibles, it is boring and highly forgettable. I can't figure out why it was picked for an album with so many fresh sounds. Additionally, Young Jeezy, as usual, adds absolutely nothing of value. Jeezy's really not as bad on this track as he usually is. But, he is miscast. Someone like, say, Scarface would have been a much better choice. Here, he all but begs listeners to keep giving him a chance with the laughable line, "...and if you listen hard enough, I say some things". Do you, Jeezy? Do you, really? Something tells me if you have to actually come out and say that, it isn't true. Next, Jay steps to the mic with a verse that reiterates the topic he already covered on "Do You Wanna Ride" from Kingdom Come, how he plans to treat his friend when he gets released from prison. The second verse is far better than the first with some clever lines: "...I used to duck shots, but now I eat quail, I'll probably never see jail / each tale contains more of the truth 'cause the statute allows me to go into detail...". This isn't a track that I skip past, but it could be left off the album and wouldn't be missed.
'On To The Next One' - Finally, half-assed, overrated producer Swizz Beatz comes with something worthwhile again. I guess it takes a Jay-Z album to make that happen. This one definitely has a club sound, and Jay is once again making it known that he's way ahead of everybody else when it comes to rap and business. While telling his own story of moving forward: "I use to rock a throwback, ballin on the corner / now I rock a tailored suit looking like an owner", he showcases his pride in it without back stepping: "Yeah I got on flip-flops, white Louis boat shoes / ya'll should grow the fuck up, come here let me coach you". He also stresses the importance of abandoning trends once they become gimmicks "...it's all about progression, loiterers should be arrested" and brags of his one-of-a-kind connections: "...meanwhile I had Oprah chillin' in the projects / had her out in Bedstuy chillin' on the steps / drinking quarter waters I gotta be the best / MJ at Summer Jam, Obama on the text / Ya'll should be afraid of what I'm gonna do next".
'Off That' - The first of three Timbaland tracks, this is one of my favorite tracks on the album. It features Drake on the hook, and Jigga at his finest. That is, lyrically. Unfortunately, concept wise, he's already covered it. Again, on Kingdom Come with the Dr. Dre produced "30 Something". So, that makes this pretty redundant. That being said, he still has no problem ripping the beat to shreds with more clever lines like the opener: "I'm so tomorrow, the Audemars are yesterday, which means you on time delay / so, even if I slow it dooowwwwnnn, my sound is fast-forward". A funny thing to note is how ahead Jay-Z is that people can't seem to even get this lyric right. I've seen several attempts, and some are pretty ridiculous in that if they are right then the line doesn't make any sense at all. But, the line is 'Audemars', as in Audemars Piguet, a brand of watch - if they are now yesterday's watch, then people just getting one now are on "time delay". Get it? Anyway, Jay continues with the second verse which may be my favorite on the album. Here he starts discussing being past racism, and then turns that black/white discussion into a play on colors for the rest of the verse: "...yeah we come so far, so I drive around town hard top, and it's off/ Ah/ in my Tribeca loft, with my high-brow art and my high yellow broad/ Ah/ and my dark skin sis and my best white mate, say what's up to Chris / Ah/ how's that for a mix? Gotta black president, got green presidents/ Blueprint's in my white ipod, black diamonds in my Jesus piece, my God/ Ah/ we ain't trippin' off that, this a Benetton ad, nigga been up off that". Classic.
"A Star is Born" - Here, Jay stops patting himself on the back long enough to give credit to some of hip hop's finest during the years he's been in the game (well, not really. Actually, he successfully gives others props while still managing to highlight himself the most - 'look at how successful I've been in the midst of all of these other stars' basically. But, that's ok. Jay gives credit where it's due, with the notable mention of Eminem; "...What Em did was silly / the white boy blossomed, after Dre endorsed 'em / his flow on "Renegade", fuckin awesome, applaud 'em". He even makes room for his next protege, J. Cole to drop a solid verse to showcase the next generation of 'stars'. Through and through, a great song.
'Venus VS. Mars' - Clever song here with a lot of good wordplay around the subject of similarities and differences between him and a woman. Very nicely done.
"Already Home" - Over another great Kanye/No I.D. track laced with uptempo strings and a soothing horn in the background, Jay defends himself yet again while Kid Cudi (the poor man's mixture of Kanye and John Legend, if you ask me) handles the hook. This song comes together nicely with all elements in place including a perfectly logical and lyrically dope rebuttal from Jay to his naysayers and copycats;
"I taught 'em bout fishscale, they want me to fish for them / They want me to catch, clean, and cook up the dish for them / All of this just for them / Or, they got a diss for him / They want me to disappear / Like it's gonna shift for them / They say that I'm in the way / They want me to sit for them / But, what they admittin' is they ain't got shit for him / ...Now, these niggas is mad, Oh, they call me a camel / But, I mastered the drought / What the fuck, I'm an animal..."
'Hate' - Possibly a throwaway track from 808's & Heartbreak, kanye team up with Jay on the vocals for an ode to being better than all of their "haters". I'm liking the structure of this song a lot. With their unorthodox flow spitting a line, and then just saying a single name as a reference point, and the stressing of the "AAAATER" in their rhyme, the two of them really made this song interesting, where it could very easily have been a dud. The song is kept at a short 2 minutes 31 seconds, and then it's on to the net one (no pun intended).
'Reminder' - "...My track record speaks for itself / I'm so instrumental...". This song is a decent one. The third verse is killer. Although this is another example of the redundancy on parts of this album.
'So Ambitious' - The lone Neptunes track on BP3 is also one of the best. While it's no "Allure", the beat knocks and Jay seems comfortable in telling of his life full of doubters with dreams of revenge through ambition. The goal is to inspire and they hit the mark with this one. Though mentioning the possibility of hitting two sisters is a little silly and immature...ambitious though.
'Young Forever' - This is a nice closer, kind of similar in tone to "Beach Chair" from Kingdom Come. Basically, this serves as a chance for Jay to reflect and talk about the life he lives and loves. Kanye's new signee, Mr. Hudson handles the chorus nicely.
The Blueprint 3 flows really nicely together as one unit. Before the release when I'd hear leaked tracks one at a time, I wasn't too sure. But, you can't get a real feel for it that way. Listening to it all the way through and allowing it to stand on its own, I feel that this is another great Jay-Z album that will stand the test of time. He's still on top of his game and he's still leading the way whether people want to admit it or not. I don't need every album to be a "classic". I just expect good music, and this delivers, as usual.