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Tag Archives: Grandfather of Modern Rap

As I type this very sentence, I’m in the middle of my fifth full listen to of the Blueprint 3. Let me tell you why I think this thing is good.

For all his talk about “the Sinatra of my day/ Old Blue Eyes my nigga/ I did it my way,” I think Jay-Z may have finally delivered on his promises. Well, I don’t think it’s a perfect album but it definitely comes close; it’s a throw back to when albums were vinyl and when Side A could be a different experience from Side B.

Songs one through eight have a completely different feel from the last seven songs (which, coincidentally, is about as evenly you can split a 15 song album two ways). The production on the first eight songs, although done by mostly the same crew as the latter half, feels more modern and kind of like what every rapper is trying to do these days. The guests on the first half are all well established performers (Drake is a newcomer but he’s kind of a big deal already with two singles everywhere while Luke Steele is kind of a big deal in a different country). On the other hand, all the new kids (J. Cole, Kid Cudi, Mr. Hudson) are on the second half and the production feels like it’s more in the background—the lyrics carry all the weight on Side B.

And that’s actually where the separation becomes most clear: the first half deals with Why It’s Awesome to be Jay-Z and the second half is about Why Everyone Else Can’t be Jay-Z. The second song on the album (“Thank You”) is pretty much diametrically opposed to the second to last song on the album (“So Ambitious”—and if it’s not “So Ambitious,” then it’s probably “Hate”). Where he’s willing to thank the fans for support, he’s also willing to rub his success in his greatest detractors’ noses. The first song (“What We Talkin’ About”) is kind of a summary of Young Hova’s life while the last song (“Young Forever”) is an envisioning of what “Young” Hova wants to be remembered “Forever” for. That is, the first song is an explanation of why he’s on top, why it’s good to be Hova, while the final song is an example of an amalgamation of his best days that all these other crab-ass rappers can’t even dream of having. Death to y’all!!!

But I digress. I’ve touched on the production but I really need to flesh out my thoughts a little here. When you have an artist as prolific as Jay-Z, you tend to expect a little bit of taste, perhaps class, in the music supporting his rhymes. He is not a musician, but rather a lyricist; however, as one of the best—if not the best—living rappers, and with his obvious love of music, it’s pretty clear that he can choose a good beat and, as such, a good producer. Let me give you my favorite case in point from this album: Timbaland, quite possibly a top five rap producer member for…all time, has two tracks on this album and each is on different sides. “We Off That” is typical Timbaland in top form, a club banger and plain old solid song reminiscent of his earlier work on “Dirt Off Your Shoulder.” Yet, his other song “Venus vs. Mars” oddly does not feature his voice in the background, generally seen as his trademark (N.B. his voice in the intro of “We Off That” when he hilariously responds to Jay-Hova with a solid “I gotcha Hov”). As noted in the previous post, Jay-Z even coaxes a thoroughly enjoyable performance out of Swizz Beatz on “On to the Next One” and, for the first time, The Neptunes are not in top form Side B’s “So Ambitious.” It truly pains me to say it—since I’ve been enamored with Neptune production for at least seven years now—, but I just don’t like this song. What I mean is, even in his ability to choose immaculate beats, he can bring both spectrums out of a producer—their best or their worst. Let me ramble further: “Hate” is produced by Kanye West (who not only produced the majority of the album but provided two guest spots and even Executive Produced the entire fucking album) and is the least enjoyable song on the album for me. I have to say, two of the least enjoyable songs united in their relegation to Side B is no subtle hint to me—Side A=Jay-Z dwelling on his grandeur, Side B=Hov wallowing in his angry place.

Yet, you should not misinterpret this statement: I respect both sides of this album and aspire to such greatness and quality of thought. The unity comes from the overall theme: Jay-Z has developed from the misguided and sloppy “Returning Hov” into a “Grandpa Hov.”

Again, don’t get too excited—let me explain myself. Everything pre-Black Album was mostly coke- and word-hustling. He had crafted a niche for himself no one could argue about: he was “Rags-to-Riches Jay-Z,” “Crime-Do-Pay Hov,” “Walking-Rhyme-Dictionary, One-Take Shawn Carter.” Then he hit The Black Album, a monumental album where he was faced with a simple question: What happens when there’s no competition, you’ve franchised and, as far as money goes, you probably could have retired like four albums ago? This is, quite frankly, an amazing question to ask oneself when all your stories are about illegal life and you’ve been clean for probably ten years (I have no information to back that statement up). So he sat down and gave a listen to his own song and realized that “Gangsters don’t die; they get chubby and move to Miami.” Sure, he didn’t say it on that song and Scarface said it first, but the point is that he decided to retire.

When he realized that he loved music too much to retire, he came back with Kingdom Come. And then everyone hated him; he went from an awesome album to a collection of songs about why he was back to reclaim his place in rap…because he was old. Fairly reductionist, but his message was that he didn’t have to sink to anyone’s level because he was above them because he was older. And that’s the problem with this album—he had to come back because he’s above them. No one cares about how old the man is, or how he lives like a trust-fund septuagenarian in his chauffeur-driven Maybach. We just want an angry, directed Shawn Carter who 1) knows how to rap and 2) knows more about rap than us.

So then he came back with American Gangster and everyone was thoroughly shocked: After that last piece of crap, he did this? He did an amazing set of songs that were thematic, cinematic and on point. The only thing that was missing was that he hadn’t really crafted a new persona—this was the resurfacing of “Crime-Do-Pay Hov” while he collected himself and gathered his minions.

And then there was Auto-Tune, Barack Obama and beef in general. Hov realized he had to address, even if minimally, the things that just plain old piss him off. Not that Obama pissed him off, just that he inspired him, gave him what appears to be a reason to just slay all you kids and your goddamned Auto-Tune. You kids and your sub par rapping skills. You kids and your doubting. You kids and your social-ladder climbing.

And thus, on Blueprint 3, Jay-Z debuted his curmudgeonly “Grandfather of Modern Rap” persona. And then slayed all you stupid fucking kids with a real fucking album. Enjoy the singles, shitheads.

[Edit: As I finish this, I also finish my sixth full listen to the Blueprint 3. Dedication.]