Category Archives: Jay-Z

Jay-Z – Chapter One: the Greatest Hits

Jay-Z
Chapter One: the Greatest Hits
March 11, 2002
Northwestside RecordsBMGSME
080/100
Jay-Z - Chapter One. the Greatest Hits
1. Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) [Radio Edit] // 2. Wishing On a Star [D’Influence Mix Radio Edit] (feat. Gwen Dickey) // 3. Sunshine [Radio Edit] (feat. Babyface & Foxy Brown) // 4. The City Is Mine (feat. Blackstreet) // 5. Can’t Knock the Hustle [Radio Edit] (feat. Mary J. Blige) // 6. Ain’t No Nigga [Original Radio Edit] (feat. Foxy Brown) // 7. Imaginary Playa // 8. Money Ain’t a Thang (Jermaine Dupri feat. Jay-Z) // 9. Can I Get a… (feat. Amil & Ja Rule) // 10. Streets Is Watching // 11. Money, Cash, Hoes (feat. DMX) // 12. I Know What Girls Like [Fly Girly Dub] (feat. Lil’ Kim & Diddy) // 13. Feelin’ I(feat. Mecca) // 14. Dead Presidents II //
bonus tracks
15. Wishing On a Star [D’Influence Mix Full Version] (feat. Gwen Dickey) 16. Can’t Knock the Hustle [Fool’s Paradise Remix] (feat. Melissa Morgan) // 17. Ain’t No Nigga [Rae & Christian Mix] (feat. Foxy Brown) // 18. Brooklyn’s Finest (feat. the Notorious B.I.G.)

Jay-Z’s first greatest hits album came to be completely without his involvement and quite possibly completely without his knowledge of it happening. Chapter One: the Greatest Hits, released in early 2002 in order to ride the success of his album the Blueprint compiles all the hits from Jigga’s first three albums Reasonable DoubtIn My Lifetime vol. 1 and vol. 2 and it wasn’t even released on Roc-a-Fella records, the label all of these songs appeared on.
I’m sure Jay was dazed and confused when he found the cheque from Sony subsidiary Northwestside Records on his doormat, a label he probably had never even heard of in his lifetime. (On a side note: I wonder if Kanye at one point held this album in his hands when he was working on launching that ‘new person’ thing with Kim Kardashian last year.)
It turns out that Def Jam, Roc-a-Fella records’ parent label was distributed by Sony Music Entertainment from 1984 to 1998, and it is probably for this reason that Sony had the rights necessary for compiling and releasing a compilation such as this one. This also helps explain the otherwise curious omission of hit singles from Vol. 3, the last album released before the Blueprint. By 1999, the year Vol. 3 was released Def Jam, and Roc-a-Fella with it had already jumped ship to the Universal Music Group.

Chapter One: the Greatest Hits  is therefore nothing but a byproduct of music industry technicalities. But it nevertheless is a nice trip through Jay-Z’s early catalog from a purely commercial point of view. These are after all Jay’s most successful singles from the 1996-’98 period, although even disregarding the bonus-tracks some curious choices have been made (I Know What Girls Like and The City Is Mine made the cut but Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originators ’99) and It’s Alright were left off? Never mind quality control, the latter respective two were higher-charting songs than the former respective two, besides being better songs by anyone’s standards except P. Daddy’s.) Keeping in mind that this amount of hits is the yield of only two years is pretty impressive in and by itself.

It is also worth noting that a lot of songs, Sunshine and Can’t Knock the Hustle in particular, sound much  better in their shortened radio edits and surrounded by their fellow hit singles than they do in their full-length incarnations on the albums on which they originally appeared. This is most likely because their instrumentals are perfectly enjoyable in measured doses but will grate on the ears when allowed to run on far beyond the three minute mark. It also helps that Can’t Knock the Hustle appears to have gotten a make over for it’s single release that has seriously tightened up the vocal production.

Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem), the song that opens the album, is probably today still Jay’s biggest singular stroke of genius. Having the streets- and the pop-audiences eating from the palm of his hand in one go. It is with this song that he truly took over Biggie’s crown, speaking of which.. 
The City Is Mine
is still too polished for a proclamation of dominance over the rap-game with its rubbery Teddy Riley instrumental and its vocodered BlackStreet hook, but in retrospect the man was absolutely right in crowning himself king of New York. Looking back today it is simply a matter of fact.
Ain’t No Nigga and Sunshine are fun, fluffy ‘males vs. females’ cuts, and even Foxy Brown’s inclusion sounds logical and tolerable in these abreviated edits (Although it still remains questionable whether they were worth her having a career with solo albums and shit.)
Can I Get a… finds Jay abandoning Fox for another conventionally good-looking but not-very-talented female rapper Amil (I guess that Jay made as much money as he did because he’s a business man as much as he is an artist, and keeps in mind what appeal music video will have to whom, when selecting the line-up for the songs on his albums that are poised to be singles) and has the first appearance on a charting single by a certain Ja Rule. That’s a whole lot of poorly recieved careers launched in one song. May it be a consolation price that it is a good song largely in thanks to Irv Gotti’s lightly treading instrumental.
Money Ain’t a Thang, originally taken from Jermaine Dupri’s solo debut Life in 1472, but for this occasion redistilled from Vol. 2 on which it appeared as a bonus-track, is hands down Jay’s most balltastic song from the shiny suit era. It is also a song that other rappers haven’t stopped quoting and paraphrasing since it was released, even if few will have realised that its hook quotes from Jigga’s own Can’t Knock the Hustle.
Money Cash Hoes work despite Jay-Z, invited guest DMX and producer Swizz Beatz each doing a horrible job with their respective contributions. Somehow they all cancel each other out and leave nothing but an entertaining singalong song for the clubs.
Streets Is Watching is quintessential early Jay-Z, but it was never a single nevermind a hit. So its inclusion is curious but not unwelcome. It makes one wonder what Chapter One could’ve been if it were a compilation of rareties, pre-Reasonable Doubt singles and guest appearances, and songs that appeared on compilations such as Streets Is Watching. One could make a fantastic compilation out of I Can’t Get With That, Dead Presidents (I)In My Lifetime and Hawaiian Sophie and such. But Chapter One is a not that album, so I better stop daydreaming and get back to the review…
Imaginary Playa may very well be the exact point where where Jay-Z invented swag. It’s beat that suggest a sort of cold disaffection combined with Jay having hella fun exposing unnamed competing rappers as busters makes an underrated classic. Again: not a single. Guess we can conclude that this Greatest Hits concept is out of the window by now. It makes one wonder whether someone at Northwestside records actually knew and liked Jigga’s catalog because this is positively starting so sound like a perfectly decent, if limited, ‘best of’. (Perhaps the person compiling Chapter One disliked Memphis Bleek as much as I do and this was why It’s Alright failed to make the cut, even if it’s a pretty decent song.)
Feelin’ It and Dead Presidents II weren’t exactly big hits but they are amongst Jay’s best songs, and they are an effective introduction to Reasonable Doubt for the uninitiated, so their inclusion is warranted. It is puzzling however that the original Dead Presidents isn’t on here since that actually was a hit single, with a gold certification even. Guess nobody at Northwestside records wanted to make the call to EMI, Jay himself or whoever owns the right to that song (not Sony or Def Jam though, because it didn’t appear on the Def Jam/ Sony re-release of Reasonable Doubt), lest they risk legal action preventing this compilation from even coming out.

My favourite inclusion is Wishing On a Star [D-Influence Mix] because a) It makes the original, rather boring Trackmasters produced version (which was a UK-only bonus on In My Lifetime, Vol. 1) completely obsolete, and b) because it grants the fantastic UK acid jazz band D-Influence (calling them underrated would be the understatement of the century, even though they have four albums under their belt I’d call them undiscovered) a paycheck that was probably the biggest they’ve ever gotten. (For this reason I’ll even condone Northwestside records including it two version that are only different in that one of them is two minutes longer than the other.) This song is almost worth the price of admission alone. (Or.. you know a trip to Amazon.com or iTunes if you already own everything else. Make sure to get the long version labeled as a bonus track.)

The album closes with four bonus-tracks, the first one of which is the previously mentioned long version of Wishing On a Star. The following two are a pretty cool Irv Gotti remix of Can’t Knock the Hustle and a completely unneccesary remix of Ain’t No Nigga that removes the most fun part of the original: the “No-one-can-fuck-you-bet-ter”-chorus. These tracks neither add nor subtrackt much to the equation, which is fine and all since bonus tracks are usually there only to fill up the remaining room on the compact disc. Although it would’ve been nice if these two cuts were so polite to make room for Originators ’99 and It’s Alright. But you can’t have everything I suppose. The last one however is Jigga’s awesome collabo with the Notorious B.I.G., rightfully called Brooklyn’s Finest off Reasonable Doubt. Why wasn’t this included in the proper track listing one must ask because it is definitely one of the best things on here. Oh well, at least it’s here right?

Chapter One: the Greatest Hits is about as good a job as one could do compiling a single Jay-Z disc using only his first three albums as a source to pick songs from, trying to please everyone. And if that doesn’t sound like an ideal purchase consider this: With a combination of radio edits of hit singles, fan favourites and and even a couple of rareties thrown in, it is in fact pretty representative of what the man was doing during those early career establishing years. That’s breaking down the creation of a rap album into a scientific equation (or a ‘blueprint’ if you will): Radio and club-songs plus street songs in equal measure equals platinum record sales and charts hits. Interestingly by the time Vol. 3 dropped he had perfected the art (word to Max from hhid) and he had gotten sick of it before creating The Blueprint. So this is very much a constructive phase of Jay’s mainstream career, not that you tell that from the individual songs which all sound professionally made and pretty good with Jay-Z’s conversative flow and icy playboy persona fully formed (except I Know What Girls Like off course, which sounds like shit no matter what you release it on). And it is interesting that this album’s creators have been able to capture that process that has on occasion led him to some pretty suspect collaborators such as Babyface, Teddy Riley, Foxy Brown, Lil’ Kim, P. Daddy and Ja Rule. It is telling that most of these people have little career left while Jay keeps the his coming to this day.
More importantly though: it makes for a mostly entertaining listen from start to finish, and if that’s not a good reason to pick this up I don’t know what is. Just watch out that you don’t get a whole lot of stuff you already have because it’s a rough economy, and considering the direction Jay’s career would go following these songs there is no need to make the man richer unless you absolutely have to.

Best tracks
Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)
Can’t Knock the Hustle [Radio Edit]
Imaginary Playa
Ain’t No Nigga [Original Radio Edit]
Money Ain’t a Thang
Can I Get a…
Streets Is Watching
Feelin’ It
Dead Presidents II
Wishing on a Star [D’Influence Mix Full Version]
Brooklyn’s Finest

Recommendations
If you’re unfamiliar with Jay-Z’s first three albums this is a pretty good place to start and you should pick this up.


Jay-Z – The Blueprint

Jay-Z
The Blueprint
September 11, 2001
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
085/100
Jay-Z - The Blueprint
1. The Ruler’s Back // 2. Takeover // 3. Izzo (H.O.V.A.) // 4. Girls, Girls, Girls (feat. Q-Tip, Slick Rick & Biz Markie) // 5. Jigga That Nigga // 6. U Don’t Know // 7. Hola’ Hovito (feat. Timbaland) // 8. Heart Of The City (Ain’t No Love) // 9. Never Change (feat. Kanye West) // 10. Song Cry // 11. All I Need // 12. Renegade (feat. Eminem) // 13a. Blueprint (Momma Loves Me) / 13b. Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise) / 13c. Girls, Girls, Girls [Part 2] (feat. Michael Jackson)

Released on the same date as the WTC attacks, september 11, 2001, Jay-Z’s fifth solo album of original material (sixth if you count The Dynasty: Roc la Familia as a Jay-Z solo album, which you definitely shouldn’t) sold tonnes of copies and recieved the kind of critical acclaim the Jiggaman  hadn’t seen since he dropped Reasonable Doubt. In the immortal words of the Notorious B.I.G., Jay “[blew] up like the world trade” simultaneously with the World Trade actually blowing up.

Where on Vol. 1, 23 the man had gained mass success by employing the electronic club banger-creators Timbaland and Swizz Beatz and got jiggy with glossmasters the Trackmasters, Irv Gotti and Puff Diddy, and The Dynasty had seen him do something similar with West-coast stalwart Rick Rock and up-and-comers the Neptunes.
On the Blueprint however he elected to primairily work with Roc-a-Fella in-house producers Bink, Just Blaze and Kanye West, all three of whom were test-driven on albums by Jigga’s interns Beanie Sigel and Memphis Bleek (both of whom aren’t anywhere to be found on this album).
These men brought to the studio a somewhat RZA/Pete Rock/DJ Premier-inspired soul-sampling sound that was a lot sunnier and more radio friendly than any track any of those three seminal producers tend to lay down, but still was a far cry from P. Daddy or Irv Gotti’s squeaky clean disco beats, which helped the medicine go down with hip-hop heads and critics, while veteran Jay-Z producers Timbaland and the Trackmasters got one track each, and Eminem, the only guest vocalist who gets to touch on anything beyond a hook, gets to produce the song on which he appears.

Content-wise Jay talks about his own majesty (The Ruler’s Back), how much more succesful he is both commercially and artistically than NaS and Prodigy of Mobb Deep (Takeover), his prowess in courting the ladies (Girls, Girls, Girls), general boasting (Jigga That NiggaIzzo (H.O.V.A.)Hova’ Hovito) and how despite all this success he is still deep down a street hustler (Never Change) and running the hip-hop game (U Don’t Know).
To balance out these rather emotionally vapid, yet entertaining-as-fuck gangsta’isms he throws in a song about how he regrets negatively impacting the lives of those he loves (Song Cry).
Jay-Z had the golden ratio of a commercially succesful gangsta rap album down to a tee pretty much when he dropped Vol. 1. Club bangers (for the ladies) plus just violence and drugs to appease the streets (men) equals platinum sales. And Vol. 2 and 3. as well as the Blueprint all abide to the #oldrules. But these new musical surroundings, as well as challenges to a battle for the throne by NaS and Mobb Deep, appear to have brought Shawn Cory Carter renewed lyrical vigor, as well as the need to mostly have the recording booth to himself while creating the Blueprint (sorry Bleek!).

The resulting album truly is the very best thing this guy has released since his classic debut, and depending on your tastes this one might even be better.
On Reasonable Doubt Jigga was so focused on his lyrical and flowing techniques and the mafioso image he was trying to convey that he came off as a bit statuesque, especially when paired with an playful Notorious B.I.G. who at that point was the undisputed king of New York and thus had little to prove. It never seemed that there was much self-expression on that album and Jigga came off as a cold-hearted technocrat/mafioso/rapping machine.
Over the course of his next string of albums Jay learnt to let loose and have fun a bit recording songs (something NaS has yet to learn after 20+ years in the game, and probably never will), but since none of them but the Blueprint could remotely fuck with Reasonable Doubt production-wise it was only here and now it truly showed.
Basically by 2001 Jay had already snatched up the crown that B.I.G. used to rock via his success (he had once literally attempted to do so on the 1997 Teddy Riley-produced song The City Is Mine, and I say attempted, because it had fallen flat on its face because of it’s cotton candy beat. But a year later Hard Knock Life pretty much actually accomplished Shawn’s coup d’état). And the Blueprint was the consolidation of Hova’s reign over New York, if not the whole of hip-hop.

Izzo (H.O.V.A) had the final bit of the summer of 2001 on smash when it dropped in late august of that year. And for good reason. The celebratory Kanye beat samples the Jackson 5’s I Want You Back in a reasonably creative manner while the Jiggaman celebrates having made the American dream his reality.
Takeover takes apart NaS and Prodigy so ruthlessly efficiently over Kanye’s Fame interpolation (the David Bowie song, not the musical film) that I’m confident that despite this rap war being over ten years ago and having long since resolved, it pisses both artists today still when it comes up on hip-hop radio .
Girls, Girls, Girls marries a confident playa attitude with affection rather than misogyny and goes for broke lyrically over what is the most soulful, and some would say best, beat of the entire album, courtesy of Just Blaze, with light support of three old school legends on the hook (speaking of old school legends, Girls, Girls, Girls [Part 2] which appears as a hidden bonus track on the tail end of the album has an uncredited backing vocal by the late Michael Jackson, returning the favour after Jay appeared on the Trackmasters Remix of You Rock My World)
U Don’t Know has Hova refuting the claim (made by a sped-up vocal sample) that he doesn’t have a master plan in this rap game (as if anyone ever doubted it) and it’s a hustler anthem for the ages.
Song Cry manages to humanise this rap god by having him openly discuss his regrets and insecurities, which helps make it easier for people to root for the guy.

Unsurprisingly the album’s low points are those produced by Timbaland, Trackmasters and Eminem, unsurprising because, as expected, they don’t fit the sped-up ’60s/’70s soul theme and because they rely on gimmicks (though arguably Kanye’s chipmunk soul was a bit of a gimmick too) Jigga That Nigga incorporates bolywood sounds and Hola’ Hovito as Timbaland Having the balls to jump on the latin bandwagon that was a thing around the turn of the millenium. And the freedom-of-speech plea Renegade was better off as the Em-Royce collabo it originally was since Bad Meets Evil unlike Jigga actually racked up controversy with their lyrical content.
But even these songs are pretty entertaining by their own right. It’s not as though they are sucky or anything, it is just that they have the musfortune of sharing an album with a bunch of undisputed classics.

the Blueprint is spotless, and with a lot of derivative albums coming out following its release (not least its very own sequels created by Jay himself) it does its name justice. It is also the argument that convinced this reviewer that Jay-Z, not NaS was the best rapper on the East-Coast in 2001.

Best tracks
Takeover
Izzo (H.O.V.A.)
Girls, Girls, Girls
U Don’t Know
Song Cry
Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise)
Girls, Girls, Girls [Part 2]

Recommendations
Pick this one up, a.s.a.p.


Jay-Z – The Dynasty: ROC la Familia

Jay-Z
ROC la Familia: The Dynasty
October 30, 2000
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
060/100
Jay-Z - Roc la Familia The Dynasty

1. Intro // 2. Change the Game (feat. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Static Major) // 3. I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me) (feat. Pharrell & Omillio Sparks) // 4. Streets Is Talking (feat. Beanie Sigel) // 5. This Can’t Be Life (feat. Beanie Sigel & Scarface) // 6. Get Your Mind Right Mami (feat. Memphis Bleek, Snoop Dogg & Rell) // 7. Stick 2 the Script (feat. Beanie Sigel & DJ Clue?) // 8. You, Me, Him, Her (feat. Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel & Amil) // 9. Guilty Until Proven Innocent (feat. R. Kelly) // 10. Parking Lot Pimpin’ (feat. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Lil’ Mo) // 11. Holla (performed by Memphis Bleek) // 12. 1-900-Hustler (feat. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Freeway) // 13. The R.O.C. (performed by Beanie Sigel & Memphis Bleek) // 14. Soon You’ll Understand // 15. Squeeze First // 16. Where Have You Been (feat. Beanie Sigel)

Because Bleek, Sigel and Jigga each had gold to platinum albums under their belts (one shouldn’t put Sigel and Bleek in the same league as Hova outside of this context) and because they were all signed to the same record label a group album made sense. That way Beans and Memph could ride Hova’s coattails towards a higher status of celebrity and hopefully even higher album sales, and Hova could play the record label executive he always fancied himself as being, while at the same time helping his boys out.

Amil’s album had gone halfway copper, and therefore she gets but a bunch of namechecks (but not paycheques) as though she were still around (it is entirely possible that she used to actually be on most of these songs but was removed last minute, though not the references to her existence, since that would require a whole lot of re-recording), as well as no more than one verse on this project by a group she was supposed to be an integral part of, which is less than the work she got to put in on the last two Jay-Z solo-albums. Oh well, it’s not like she had anything substantial to offer to the proceedings (although one could argue that neither did Bleek.) Question is: Why not replace her with a more talented rapper, such as for instance Sauce Money?

Anyway, that was the bit about how the actual musical content came into existence. Then someone at Def Jam thought it unlikely that people would give a fuck about a hip-hop supergroup (a group made-up of members who already had careers prior to the group’s existence) mostly because of how well The Firm: the Album did four years prior (I’m just guessing here…) and decided to release the album anyway, but with Jay-Z’s name stamped in an obscenely large font onto the album cover to lure people into believing that this was a Jigga solo-release so that Hova’s fans could find it, in record stores near them. Not only does this album almost exclusively consist of ROC posse cuts (Not counting the intro there are but three songs on here that don’t feature Bleek or Sigel) but two tracks don’t feature the Jiggaman at all, making this the worst case of false advertising since DJ Clue? Presents Backstage Mixtape: A Hard Knock Life. Especially since two out of the three singles released off this project didn’t feature Sigel or Bleek but just Jay-Z and some supporting R&B vocals.

Since this wasn’t actually a Jay-Z solo-album even though it was explicitly marketed as such, Jay decided to not call up Timbaland and Swizz Beatz to produce this album so he could save money on beats fuck around with some new sounds to push the hip-hop genre forward. Fortunately for Hov, Bleek and Mac (and Amil, but not really) the up-and-comers that were hired in stead were the Neptunes, Kanye West and Just Blaze, who would become the genre’s production superstars before long. San Francisco Bay based production veteran Rick Rock also got some play. Hova called in favors from the likes of R. Kelly, Snoop Dogg, Static Major, Lil’ Mo. Sigel snuck two of his State Property boys into the studio and the resulting album would be the worst Jay-Z solo album so-far, if it counted that is.

It’s not all bad though, as usual Jay is good for a couple of catchy singles, most notably the blingy Neptunes helmed come on-number Give It to Me (I Just Wanna Love Ya) featuring Pharrell in an amateur Curtis Mayfield capacity and State Property-member Omillio Sparks in the most useless cameo appearance in recent memory…
Um… But the beat is an okay example of the archetypical Neptunes sound and Jay sleepwalks over it in a pleasant-enough manner, which is all you can expect from radio fodder such as this.

Things get a little more substantial on Guilty Until Proven Innocent on which Hov talk about his (then) recent legal troubles (Hova had allegedly stabbed record executive Lance Rivera for leaking songs ment for Vol. 3)  over a boisterous Rockwilder beat. It is sort of amusing to hear Robert rant about being not guilty on the hook, with his upcoming legal troubles in mind.

Change the Game, the only released single that actually had the rest of the “Dynasty” on it, sucks balls what with its repetetive, bland Rick Rock beat, everybody rapping just coasting along and Static Major’s hook which makes it apparent that the man was bored out of his mind when he recorded it. The same goes for all of Rock’s contributions from the needlessly sparkly Snoop Dogg-assisted Get Your Mind Right to the Lil’ Mo-featuring Parking Lot Pimpin’ to the Hova solo-shot Squeeze 1st.

Just Blaze and Kanye West fare a lot better with their soul-sampling beats that layed the Blueprint for what rap was going to sound like for the years to come (pun intended). Especially Kanye’s sole contribution, the Scarface-featuring This Can’t Be Life is dope, easily the best track on here. Streets Is Talking the sequel of sorts to 1997’s Streets Is Watching isn’t quite as good as its prequel, but it comes close nevertheless. And the Shawn Carter-solo Soon You’ll Understand is a precursor to what greatness was to come on the Blueprint.

The Bink!-produced 1-900 Hustler has all of the Dynasty (well, except Amil off course) plus Freeway, answer called-in questions about gangsta life on a fictitious radio show of the titular name. In spite of, or maybe because of its corny concept and its hilariously graphic execution it works and it is one of the few moments on this album where Roc La Familia shines as a group, as opposed Bleek getting out-rapped by Sigel and Sigel getting out-rapped by Hov. Another point where this supergroup thing actually works is the album closer Where Have You Been on which Jigga and Mac diss the shit out of their absentee father both sounding legitimately emotional, never moreso than the moment where Sigel almost throws up.

Besides these instances of brilliance, as well as the previously mentioned This Can’t Be Life there isn’t much in the form of chemistry to be found amongst the group members. Which is not to say that the Memphis Bleek solo-song is actually good (It is telling that most of what does work doesn’t actually feature Bleek), but yeah this is a serious problem for the success rate which lies comfortably beneath 50%. It is a testamant to how good the good songs are that this got the rating it did get.

Best tracks
I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)
Streets Is Talking
This Can’t Be Life
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
1-900-Hustler
Soon You’ll Understand
Where Have You Been

Recommendations
would tell you to pick up the above songs individually off iTunes, Amazon or Spotify if I weren’t convinced that this would cost you more money than to simply buy the album. And the above tracks are certainly worth owning. So I’m going to say: Buy it but just don’t spend over five bucks on it and don’t put it on top of your to do list.


Jay-Z – Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter

Jay-Z
Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter
December 28, 1999
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam Recordings/UMG
073/100
Jay-Z - Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter

1. Hova Song [Intro] // 2. So Ghetto // 3. Do It Again (Put Your Hands Up) (feat. Beanie Sigel & Amil) // 4. Dope Man // 5. Things That U Do  (feat. Mariah Carey) // 6. It’s Hot (Some Like It Hot) // 7. Snoopy Track (feat. Juvenile) // 8.  S. Carter (feat. Amil) // 9. Pop 4 Roc (feat. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek & Amil) // 10. Watch Me (feat. Dr. Dre) // 11. Big Pimpin’ (feat. UGK) // 12. There’s Been a Murder // 13. Come and Get Me // 14. NYMP // 15. Hova Song [Outro]

Vol. 3 closes out Jay-Z’s In My Lifetime trilogy by repeating what made Vol. 2 such a monster hit. With icy playboy anthems such as Do It Again and Big Pimpin’ and, with some street tracks like So Ghetto, There’s Been a Murder and Watch Me thrown in for good measure (so that his Reasonable Doubt fanbase won’t walk away). And he does ’em as well as ever.

Some progress has been made, Swizz Beatz gets to produce only one song on the main version of this album in stead of Vol. 2‘s three while Timbaland does four as compared to Hard Knock Life‘s one. These figures are in and by themselves worth the higher grade. (I apologise to Swizz and his fans but respectively himself and their musical tastes aren’t very good.)

Jigga’s weed carriers do exactly as expected. Bleek and Amil can’t rap for shit and Sigel makes one look forward to listening to his album on Do It Again and Pop 4 Roc.

As for outside help, bringing in Juvenile to do the hook of Snoopy Track wasn’t such a good idea whereas calling over UGK for the Timbaland-produced club smash Big Pimpin’ most definitely was. Back in ’99 producing a club banger that sounds as though the backing track were recorded in the Middle East was actually innovative, and this song is oft imitated but never duplicated. Ignoring the quality of both tracks; the inclusion of either guest shows that Jay was aware of the up and coming dirty south rap-scene, which is one of the showcases of his business sense, which would lead him to Def Jam presidency, Vol. 3, like its two predecessors is built to sell to several hip-hop demographies.

Then there’s the Dr. Dre feature Watch Me, which has the man redoing Jay’s guest verse on the Notorious B.I.G.’s I Love the Dough in lieu of a hook. It’s not entirely clear why since the Doctor doesn’t produce anything here, in stead the Murder Inc.  head honcho Irv Gotti does the instrumental, which is some interesting trivia, because within a couple of years Dre and Irv would be the godfathers of two feuding rap dynasties. The inclusion of Dre is most likely packback for Jay ghostwriting Still D.R.E. The song itself is pretty decent by the way.

There’s Been a Murder has Shawn Corey Carter killing off his rapping alter-ego in order to go back to selling drugs in the streets, which is confusing because, as far as I know, his rap alter-ego is all about selling drugs in the streets, but whatever.

All in all Vol. 3… Life and Times of Shawn Carter is just another Jay-Z album, an expertly made expensive-ass shiny disc with some rough edges in the name of street cred.
It’s better than Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life even though it doesn’t have quite such a highlight as Hard Knock Life (although Big Pimpin‘ comes close) because the album flows better due to better non-singles, especially on the second half, but it’s still nowhere near Reasonable Doubt  quality or even  Vol. 1 quality for that matter.

It may appear that I am bored by this album, but that is not true. It’s better than most of the albums I wrote about lately. It’s just that since this sounds so much like Vol. 2 it’s not much fun to write about.

Let’s hope that with the end of this trilogy there’s some space for something new on Jay’s next album (Short answer; yes, his next album is the Blueprint, unless you count the Roc-a-Fella posse album the Dynasty as a proper Jigga solo-album, which I most certainly do not even if it was indeed marketed as such to boost sales.)

Best tracks
So Ghetto
Watch Me
Big Pimpin’
There’s Been a Murder
Come and Get Me
NYMP

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


Jay-Z – Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life

Jay-Z
Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life
September 29, 1998
Roc-a-Fella Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ BMGSME
070/100
Jay-Z - Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life

1. Intro (Hand It Down) (feat. Memphis Bleek) // 2. Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) // 3. If I Should Die (feat. Da Ranjahs) // 4. Ride or Die // 5. Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originators 99) (feat. Big Jaz & Amil) // 6. Money, Cash, Hoes (feat. DMX) // 7. A Week Ago (feat. Too $hort) // 8. Coming of Age (Da Sequel) (feat. Memphis Bleek) //9. Can I Get a…(feat. Amil & Ja Rule) // 10. Paper Chase (feat. Foxy Brown) // 11. Resevoir Dogs (feat. the LOX, Beanie Sigel & Sauce Money) // 12. It’s Like That (feat. Kid Kapri) // 13. It’s Alright (feat. Memphis Bleek)

The first person you actually get to hear rhyme on The Life and Times of Shawn Carter, volume 2, after the mandatory Scarface-themed Pain in da Ass intro is Memphis Bleek. Said intro is all about how Jay-Z is going to leave the rap game for good after releasing this album, and leave Bleek as his successor. Not unlike what happened on the intro to Vol. 1, except that back then it was clearly an empty threat or a hollow promise, depending on your point of view, because he named his album vol. 1, which all but promises a sequel.

Everyone knows none of this actually happened. It’s a good thing, both because Bleek usually can’t rap for shit and because even though vol. 2 is critically acclaimed and sold shitloads of copies it’s far from a flawless goodbye party.

Part of the problem is the appearance of guests such as said Bleek, Da Ranjahs, Amil, Ja Rule and Foxy Brown, most of whom don’t have much of a career left today for a good reason. Part of the problem is that Swizz Beatz gets to produce three tracks, which is never a good thing. There’s one beat on here that’s produced by DJ Premier, a guy who should’ve been all over this. It’s a pretty good beat but it has nobody but (wait for it…) Memphis Bleek rhyming over it, and although he doesn’t quite put it to waste as he’s prone to do, it isn’t remotely what anyone wanted to hear on what was at one time suposed to be Jay-Z’s very last album. Que de la fucque!?

When Jigga has some guests that can keep up with him on the posse cut Resevoir Dogs Eric Sermon of all people fucks shit up by producing a boring-ass instrumental. Listen Jigga, if you gon’ have sucky rappers on your album and sucky beats at least put them together so you can keep the good stuff for yourself and those in your posse with actual talent. What do you mean, you released this album fourteen years ago and can’t change shit about it? You’re rich, buy a time machine.

That said there’s still a wealth of good music to be found here. Everybody and their grandmother knows the Annie-sampling title track and there’s not much to be said about it but that it’s an all-time hip-hop classic. Nigga What, Nigga Who has Shawn Carter starting a succesful partnership with Timbaland and ending a succesful partnership with Big Jaz over a stuttering futuristic instrumental and Amil doesn’t have to do anything but the hook, which helps. A Week Ago is a pretty good narrative about friendship going sour and snitching, and although Too $hort could’ve been put to better use than to rap only on the hook it’s still a highlight. Can I Get a… works because of its light footed instrumental and in spite of its guests list, and Money, Cash, Hoes is just some fun singalong club-shit, although the Swizz Beat is barely passable and the DMX cameo seems phoned-in and sticked on last-minute.

Jay himself is in fine form throughout even though he doesn’t get past his usual I-am-richer-than-thou and I-rap-now-but-I-used-to-sell-drugs shtick. His excellent conversational flow ties all of this shit together.

He can’t work miracles though. This album is fucking mediocre by his admittedly high standards. I hope Vol. 3 has less guests and better beats.

Best tracks
Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)
Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originators 99)
Can I Get a…
A Week Ago
Money, Cash, Hoes

Recommendations
You can buy this, it’s not entirely worthless and even pretty good in parts. But do go listen to Reasonable Doubt first.


Jay-Z – In My Lifetime, vol. 1

Jay-Z
In My Lifetime, vol. 1
Roc-a-Fella Records/ Def Jam Recordings/ BMGSME
November 4, 1997

080/100

1. A Million and One Questions/ Rhyme No More [Intro] // 2. The City Is Mine (feat. Blackstreet)// 3. I Know What Girls Like (feat. Lil’ Kim & Diddy) // 4. Imaginary Player // 5. Streets is Watching // 6. Friend or Foe ’98 // 7. Lucky Me // 8. (Always Be My) Sunshine (feat. Foxy Brown & Babyface) // 9. Who You With II // 10. Face Off (feat. Sauce Money) // 11. Real Niggaz (feat. Too $hort) // 12. Rap Game/ Crack Game // 13. Where I’m From // 14. You Must Love Me (feat. Kelly Price)

After Reasonable Doubt made Shawn Corey Carter b.k.a. Jay-Z a hood star, he wanted to be a pop star too. If not to be on the radio, then in order to pay the rent. Priority Records, the parent label to Jay-Z’s Roc-a-Fella records had dropped him and his boys because Reasonable Doubt didn’t sell that well initially. (After several of Shawn’s follow-up albums had gone platinum people finally became interested in his debut and in 2002, six years after it was originally released, Reasonable Doubt was certified platinum.) The most effective way to sell millions of records is to strike a deal with the devil. In ’97 the devil was Puff Diddy, who oversaw the creation of In My Lifetime, vol. 1 from his ‘executive producer’ chair. He hired, among others, R&B cats Teddy Riley and Babyface who didn’t know jack shit about gangster rap, to produce this fucker and jacks a bunch of ‘80s songs for their hooks and beats, along the way in making jigga his bitch, like had Ma$e.

The results are notorious (no pun intended). The City is Mine finds Jiggaman proclaiming his dominance over the New York rap scene, which isn’t all that strange a claim considering his debut album is hailed as one of the crowning achievements of the hiphop genre as a whole. But it sounds all sorts of ridiculous with Teddy Riley’s R&B outfit interpreting Glenn Frey on the hook alongside him, even if Jay himself comes more than correct lyrically. I Know What Girls Like is almost magnificent in showing what was wrong with mainstream hiphop in ’97. Suffice to say it has P. Daddy ‘interpolating’ (meaning poorly re-singing) the hook to the Waitresses´ I Know What Boys Like to an obviously flattered Lil’ Kimberly who then proceeds to sing it back to him, with Jay sounding like awkward, bored and slightly annoyed, not unlike a single person hanging around an overly gropy  couple. (Always Be My) Sunshine is the glittered-up sequel to Reasonable Doubt’s Foxy Brown duet Ain’t No Nigga. The beat isn’t good like the one that’s on the previously mentioned song, and Foxy Brown isn’t tacked on to the rear end of the song like the last time, but actually trading verses with Jay, so there’s no easy way around her via the skip button.

Considering that these songs were the most visible representation of this album at the time of its release In My Lifetime’s poor reputation as the point where Jay-Z sold out, is understandable, but incorrect. In fact, having listened to it, most of the rest of these tracks are nearly Reasonable Doubt-good. A Million and One Questions/ Rhyme No More rolls up two hot DJ Premier instrumentals in one track, with Jay-hova rhyming over it in his typical manner. Streets Is Watching has Ski sampling Labi Siffre’s  I Got the for an exceptionally hot three verses about paranoia. (Unfortunately Siffre wouldn’t sign off on the sample clearance unless the track was censored. The exact same thing happened to Eminem’s 1999 major label debut single My Name Is, which samples the same source material) Face Off and Real Niggaz find the Jiggaman do some lyrical sparring with respectively Sauce Money and Too $hort, two rappers who can actually keep up with Shawn both in terms of charisma and rhyme skillz, so that’s nice.

Imaginary Player is a perfect example of the art of braggadocio and the lyrical highlight of the album.

I got bail money, XXL money
You got flash now, one time we’ll reveal money
I spit the hottest shit, you need it I got it shit
That down South Master P, Bout It Bout It shit
I got blood money, straight up thug money
That brown paper bag under your mattress drug money
You got show dough, little to no dough
Sell a bunch of records and you still owe dough
I got 900 and 96 plus 4 more dough
You crazy, you full gazy, and loco with dough papo

There’s even more highlights, the NaS sampling Rap Game/ Crack Game that started that long-ass beef, which is the only song I know of that makes some good use of the ‘Rap is really just like selling dope’ metaphor. The ‘I come from a low income neighbourhood where life is not very comfortable’ tale of Where I’m From and the contemplative somber numbers Lucky Me and You Must Love Me are also stellar.

In the end one must conclude that if one subtracts the three worst tracks one is left with an album that is in fact almost as good as Reasonable Doubt and hella better than the average rap disc from this era. Jay-Z never fell off or made a commercial album (well he did at a certain point, but In My Lifetime, vol. 1 is not that album). He just added a couple of club bangers to an otherwise pretty hardcore set. And although there’s nothing against club bangers per se, all of those three included here happen to suck big floppy donky dick. But let that not discourage you from giving this a spin. As a whole it is quite good actually.

Best tracks:
Imaginary Player, Streets Is Watching, Lucky Me, Rap Game/ Crack Game, Where I’m From, You Must Love Me

Recommendations:
Buy this album.