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Tag Archives: Jay-Z

Why’d The Neptunes keep all the good beats for the Clipse album?

“Oh, that Jay-Z character doesn’t really need good beats; he only sells more records than any rapper out. The Clipse on the other hand? They’re critical darlings loved throughout…Virginia…and…the iTunes and iPods of people who like intelligent coke rap. Obviously, since Clipse will be getting all the airplay, we should give them our good shit and let Hov have ‘So Ambitious.'”

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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.]

Holy Shit! Swizz Beatz didn’t fuck up a track!!!!

The whole truth and nothing but the truth–stop me if you’ve heard this one before. 1 Sucka MCs check tha footnotes, ya’ll.2

Since I’m clearly working chronologically, let’s start at the beginning: Umbilical cord’s wrapped around my neck. I’m seein’ my death and I ain’t even took my first step. I made it out, I’m bringin’ mad joy, the doctor looked and said, “He’s gonna be a Bad Boy.”3

Now that that’s out of the way, I submit my incentive is romance…you make me wanna pick up a guitar.4 Need a woman that’s gonna hold my hand, tell me no lies, make me a happy man.5 She got the goods and she got that ass? I got to look—sorry.6 Just about every time I meet a girl I think, “I wonder if I could date her.” But, realistically, I know I’m not that into every girl I know and, also, I just don’t trust myself with lovin’ you. 7 I mean, I know we just met, but are you afraid of being alone? Because I am.8 Jesus Christ, that’s a pretty face. 9 I’ll never let your head hit the bed without my hand behind it.10 When your eyes are closed I hope I’m the man you see, ’cause if not—I want you to know—tonight I plan to be.11 It’s alright to tell me what you think about me. I won’t try to argue or hold it against you.12 I don’t want to do what I’m supposed to–I just want someone to be close to.13 If you’d call me now, baby, I’d come a-runnin’.14 I thought I was a fool for no one, but oooh baby, I’m a fool for you.15 I feel for you. You doin’ things that you don’t have to. He doesn’t love ya; I can tell by his charms, you should just lay in my arms.16 I’d have to walk a thousand miles, just to find the ground deserving of your feet. You could throw me down and walk on me.17

Of course it never helps that I’m always the last to know: One boy calls while the other texts; she’s got boys on board and boys on deck. Second dates and lipstick tissues. New York gets pretty heavy, girl I hope it doesn’t crush you.18 It’s girls like you that make me think I’m better off home on a Saturday night with all my doors locked up tight. I won’t be thinking about you, baby. 19 I just wanted to hold you in my arms. 20

Which brings us to the real issue at hand: New York’s the greatest if you can get someone to pay the rent.21 I’ve only lived here a couple months but it already feels like every time I close my lids I can still see the borough, I can still see the Bridge.22 It’s a hell of a town. The Bronx is up and I’m Brooklyn down…I quit my job, I cut my hair–I cut my boss ’cause I don’t care [more on my employment to come in this post]…I ride around town because my ride is fly. I shot a man in Brooklyn (just to watch him die).23 I represent BK to tha fullest.24 I’m in the lab all day–I scrabble all night. I got a bedazzler so my outfit’s tight. When it comes to panache, I can’t be beat; I got the most style from below 14th street.25

Thoughts of the lab bring me to my recording career: I’m strictly rhythm. I don’t want to make [my guitar] cry or sing.26 Also, let me tell you one lesson I’ve learned; If you wanna reach something in life, you ain’t gonna get it unless you give a little bit of sacrifice. Ooooh, sometimes you’ve got to cry before ya smile. You need a heart that’s filled with music; If you use it you can fly.27 Well, I hope we’re not too messianic or a trifle too satanic. We love to play the blues.28. And I don’t believe in filler, baby. If I could I’d sit this out. This is a lesson in procrastination; I kill myself because I’m so frustrated and every single second that I put it off means another lonely night I’ve got to race the clock. What say we go and crash your car? Every time I leave, you go and lock the door. So I walk myself back picking at the chip on my shoulder. I’m another day late and another year older: I’m out of everything. But no one sleeps ’til we get this shit on the shelves.29 No sleep, that is, ’till Brooklyn.30 Violence in all hands–embrace it if need be. Livin’ been warfare, I press it to CD.31 Off in the night while you live it up, I’m off to sleep. Wagin’ wars to shake the poet and the beat. I hope it’s going to make you notice, I hope it’s going to make you notice… someone like me.32 At any rate, raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer–I think he might have been our only decent teacher.33

Which, of course, brings me to my social life: Me and all my friends are like, “Double Whiskey Coke, no ice.”34 You can be mean…and I…I’ll drink all the time.35 Here’s to the kids out there smokin’ in the streets–they’re way too young but I’m way too old to preach.36 Talk to me now that I’m older. Your friend told you ’cause I told her. Friday nights have been lonely, change your plans and then phone me. We could go and get 40s—fuck goin’ to that party.37 Tell me your name, tell me your story; ’cause I’m into it. [I’ve been] running through life like a misfit.38 My stupid mouth has got me in trouble; I said too much again…Oh, another social casualty–score one more for me. How could I forget? Mama said, “Think before speaking.” No filter in my head, oh, what’s a boy to do? I just wanna be liked, I just wanna be funny.39 I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints; the Sinners are much more fun.40 (I got the devil in me, babe)41 Anything for a lover, anything for a friend. I only wanna see you happy—baby, can we pretend? I’d give anything to see you dance, I’d give anything to see you smile.42 And when we go to the dance floor, you know we move, yes we move, yes we like our dancing.43 Ah, come on! Take a chance! You’re old enough to dance the night away.44 I’m the one that won that dance contest ’cause you know I dance the best.45 But all this didn’t come without practice: I’ve been beat up. I’ve been thrown out. But I’m not down–No!–I ‘m not down.46 In fact, this weekend you can meet me out in front of the Rainbow Foods. I got a brown paper bag and black buckle shoes. If anything seems weird, just cruise.47 I’m happy–things are lookin’ good now. I feel so alive, I’m on overdrive. I’m killing it, I’m killing it.48

It wasn’t always this way–back in the days, our parents used to take care of us, look at ‘em now, they even fuckin’ scared of us. Callin’ the city for help because they can’t maintain; Damn, shit done changed.49 It’s like the game ain’t the same–got younger [expletive] pullin’ the triggers bringing fame to they name…I got so many rhymes I don’t think I’m too sane; life is parallel to Hell but I must maintain…I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death.50 Now things have changed (it ain’t so simple)–now life is a musical.51 And sometimes I think my life’s a movie. Play it all back.52 And you know on movie nights I brought butter for the popcorn, dips for the chips.53 See, people they don’t understand. No, girlfriends, they can’t understand. Your grandsons, they won’t understand. On top of this, I ain’t ever gonna understand…54 However, what I can tell you is this: restless soul, enjoy your youth. Like Muhammad, it’s the truth. Can’t escape from the common rule: If you hate something, don’t you do it too.55

Sigh…the burden of contradicting myself constantly; that is to say, the burden of thought and thinking is a terrible weight that sometimes I truly hate. And this is my mind; it goes over and over the same old lines. And this is my brain; its torturous analytical thoughts make me go insane…And I’m singin’ “Uh oh” on a Friday night. And I hope that everything’s gonna be alright.56 I don’t wanna think, I wanna feel.57 I’m like a trash can, holding all the information.58 Spaceships don’t come equipped with rearview mirrors—they dip.59 So I’m going to live in this moment and not live in the past–it’s the best I can do.

Now when it comes to my employment, if it don’t make dollars then it don’t make sense.60 Cut the check. Give it here. Don’t say nothin’.61 So git down wit UGK, Pimp C, B-U-N-B. Easy as A-B-C, simple as 1-2-3. ‘Cause what’s a ho with no pimp and what’s a pimp with no ho? Don’t be a lame, you know the game and how it goes; we tryin’ to get yours.62

Looking back from my old age, I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision for another five years of life.63 But I’m getting so tired of people cutting my wires. Life’s just far too short for miscommunication.64 When I grow up, it might be cool to be like my sister; don’t give a fuck.65 In the mean time, shit, goddamn. I’m a man, I’m a man.66 Swear to God, don’t get it fucked up.67

Back to this G shit, now that’s how you let the beat build…biiiitch.68

1. “Miami” by Taking Back Sunday
2. “Oh Word?” by The Beastie Boys
3. “Respect” by Notorious B.I.G.
4. “Slowhands” by Interpol
5. “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin
6. “Good Life (Feat. some giant asshole named T-Pain)” by Kanye West
7. “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)” by John Mayer
8. “I’m Lost Without You” by Blink 182
9. “Jesus” by Brand New
10. “Your Body is a Wonderland” by John Mayer
11. “The Way She Dance” by N.E.R.D.
12. “Dammit” by Blink 182
13. “(I Used to Couldn’t Dance) Tight Pants” by The Eagles of Death Metal
14. “On Call” by Kings of Leon
15. “Supermassive Black Hole” by Muse
16. “Senorita” by Justin Timberlake
17. “Nightingale” by Saves the Day
18. “Magazines” by The Hold Steady
19. “Last Chance to Lose Your Keys” by Brand New
20. “Starlight” by Muse
21. “North American Scum” by LCD Soundsystem
22. “Hero” by Nas
23. “Hello Brooklyn” by The Beastie Boys
24. “Unbelievable” by Notorious B.I.G.
25. “Shazam!” by The Beastie Boys
26. “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straights
27. “Sacrifice” by The Roots
28. “Monkey Man” by The Rolling Stones
29. “Failure by Design” by Brand New
30. “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” by The Beastie Boys
31. “New Millennium Homes” by Rage Against the Machine
32. “Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon
33. “Constructive Summer” by The Hold Steady
34. “Constructive Summer” by The Hold Steady
35. “Heroes” by David Bowie
36. “Ragoo” by Kings of Leon
37. “12:51” by The Strokes
38. “Misfit” by Elefant
39. “My Stupid Mouth” by John Mayer
40. “Only the Good Die Young” by Billy Joel
41. “John the Baptist” by The Afghan Whigs
42. “John the Baptist” by The Afghan Whigs
43. “I like to Move in the Night” by The Eagles of Death Metal
44. “Dance the Night Away” by Van Halen
45. “All Lifestyles” by The Beastie Boys
46. “I’m Not Down” by The Clash
47. “Southtown Girls” by the Hold Steady
48. “Happy” by N.E.R.D.
49. “Things Done Changed” by Notorious B.I.G.
50. “N.Y. State of Mind” by Nas
51. “Life is like a Musical” by Outkast
52. “Life is a Movie” by GZA
53. “Alphabets” by GZA
54. “Last Nite” by The Strokes
55. “Not for You” by Pearl Jam
56. “Mouthwash” by Kate Nash
57. “Hail, Hail” by Pearl Jam
58. “Salute Your Solution” by The Raconteurs
59. “Int’l Player’s Anthem (I Choose You)” by UGK
60. “Mouths to Feed” by Ludacris
61. “Don’t Say Nothin” by The Roots
62. “Int’l Player’s Anthem (I Choose You)” by UGK
63. “All My Friends” by LCD Soundsystem
64. “Down to the Market” by The Kooks
65. “Barely Legal,” The Strokes
66. “Whorehoppin’ (Shit, Goddamn)” by The Eagles of Death Metal
67. “Can’t Knock the Hustle” by Jay-Z
68. “Let the Beat Build” by Lil’ Wayne