Tag Archives: Timbaland

Fabolous – Ghetto Fabolous

Fabolous
Ghetto Fabolous
September 11, 2001
Desert Storm Records/ Elektra Records/ WMG
050/100
Fabolous - Ghetto Fabolous
1. Click & Spark // 2. Keepin’ It Gangsta // 3. Young’n (Holla Back) // 4. Get Right // 5. Ride For This (feat. Ja Rule) // 6. One Day // 7. Trade It All (feat. Jagged Edge) // 8. Right Now & Later On // 9. Take You Home (feat. Lil’ Mo) // 10. Get Smart // 11. Can’t Deny It (feat. Nate Dogg) // 12. Ma’ Be Easy // 13. We Don’t Give a Fuck // 14. Bad Guy (feat. Pain in Da Ass) // 15. Gotta Be a Thug // 16. If They Want It

Another rap album that dropped on that uneventful date (september 11, 2001) was Roc-a-Fella Records’ house DJ, DJ Clue?’s protégé Fabolous’ Ghetto Fabolous, although the fact that this shit actually came out may have done more damage than the 9/11 attacks. Fabolous’ debut is anything but fab, although I’ll be the first to admit that the man himself is almost entirely blameless.

Fab had been making a name for himself ever since he first appeared on a major label realease (DJ Clue?’s own major label debut the Professional) with his lackadasical, monotone flow (which got him compared to blingy cuddly-gangsta turned preacher Ma$e) and his funny/corny punchlines (which got him compared, a lot more flatteringly, to the likes of Big L)
The album had two songs that were moderately succesful on the U.S. charts back in 2001 (Can’t Deny It and Young’n (Holla Back)) but there’s really only one single sort of, kind of related to this album that people occasionally still listen to, which is the glossy Puff Diddy-featuring remix of Trade It All released on the soundtrack to the Ice Cube movie Barbershop.

Still this album could be considered a commercial success since it had moved over a million units by 2003, which was the time Fabby started having some real charts success with singles off his sophomore album, on which he emulated Ja Rule (who makes an appearance on Ghetto Fabolous), romantically dueting female R&B singers Lil’ Mo and Tamia over bootylicious beats.
Except unlike Jeffrey Fab brought his punchlines with him to these radio songs and knew better than to sing the refrains on his own material and in stead let the hired help do that. This is probably what saved him from the sort of riducule Ja would endure as soon as the hit songs stopped coming.
But I digress, suffice to say that this album earned its platinum plaque probably not because of its own merits, but rather because his 2003 album Street Dreams hit the jackpot and people in record stores (yes people bought actual physical copies of music they liked in stores, as late as 2003) picked this one up since they were there and expected Ghetto Fabolous to be another album of Into Yous and Can’t Let You Gos. I’m sure the people who bought Ghetto Fabolous for this reason women were pissed when they actually listened to it. (Street Dreams itself was hardly all acoustic guitars and Commodores-interpolations either, but we’ll get to that soon enough.)

Clue? and his cohort DURO, his colleague mixtape jackass DJ Envy, as well as relative unknowns Rush da Spyda, Omen, Armando Colon produce most of Ghetto Fabolous, and they don’t do a particularly good job, serving up overly glossy store brand imitations of what East Coast hip-hop tended to sound like at the time, that are too clean to be hard and too incomplete to be poppy (somewhat sketchy beats are what marred the first two installments of Clue?’s the Professional series. And it’s no different here.)
Surprisingly the Neptunes contribution and second single Youngn (Holla Back) is boring as hell too. I’m quite confident Pharrell and Chad don’t remember having ever made it. Maybe Clue? stole it out of their reject-bin while the guys were having an argument.
Get RightMa’ Be Easy and Right Now and Later On‘s beats were made on sleep walking strolls too, except this time by Rockwilder, Just Blaze and Timbaland respectively.
Can’t Deny It has Rick Rock selling Fab the exact same boring-ass beat he reused several times on most of his Dynasty contributions (I bet he charged full price too) while the usually reliable Nate Dogg jacks an old 2pac hook over it to meh results.

The other guests don’t add much either, Ja Rule gives Ride For This a DMX-esque overly shouty hook.
Lil’ Mo does that early naughties thing where an R&B singer jacks an old hook of a soul song (In this case I Wonder If I Take You Home by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam and Full Force) and goes out of his/her way to gangsta it’s lyrics up (In this case by unnaturally jamming the word “thug” into it). Yuck.
Speaking of uninspired, unneccesary gangstaness; Bad Guy has Roc-a-Fella skit-personality getting his bullshit Scarface on between Fab’s verses. It wasn’t funny on Reasonable Doubt and it still wasn’t on Ghetto Fabolous.

The only exception to this is Jagged Edge who give Fabby’s ode to a special lady a sunny hook over an uncharacteristically nice Clue?/DURO beat. It’s not quite as groovy as the Barbershop version, but it comes close and it compensates by not having that wack P. Daddy verse. Regardless it’s Ghetto Fabolous best song, hands down, it’s also the most pop (coincidence?)

As for Fab’s rapping, he is obviously a more than competent punchline rapper, one not devoid of pop appeal either, which is something Canibus or Big L can’t say about themselves. That’s not to say he doesn’t make any beginners mistakes. For instance he all but reuses the same outdated (it wasn’t even fresh in ’01 when Ghetto Fabolous dropped) New Jack City punchline on the album’s first two songs. Also the guy uses the same “swallow my babies” line on two of this album’s songs. This kind of fuckery makes Clue? come across as a sloppy executive producer and Fab as an uninspired rapper. Keeping in line with the corny movies-references; Leathal Weapon gets namedropped on Keeping It Gangsta as well. Not that referencing old movies is a major offence in and by itself (Although rappers, including Fab on this album, definitely overdid it with the Scarface-enacting. And the next rapper who goes and pulls that shit on his album needs to get his recording contract torn-up. One could quote the entire movie verbatim without having ever seen it if one has heard enough rap albums from the ’95-’05 timespan.), but as a running theme it makes it seem as though Fabby hadn’t entered a cinema in the decade prior to relesing his debut album, in which case movie-references may not be a good idea at all.
While he stays on beat and doesn’t fuckup majorly that often besides the minor offences dropping the occasional cheesy clunker of a punchline and tired gangsta’ism, but over these shitty beats he sounds like a complete tool, even if he simultaneously does show his ability to write actual songs as opposed to srings of bad jokes while keeping his style consistent, which isn’t exactly a given with rappers, especially punchline rappers.

Despite Fab having considerable talents there is absolutely no reason to revisit Ghetto Fabolous, an album that gives off a promise of a pretty decent sequel on the condition that the guy cops some proficient production, but has absoloutely nothing else going for it.

Best track
Trade It All

Recommendations
Don’t bother.

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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.


Memphis Bleek – The Understanding

Memphis Bleek
The Understanding
December 5, 2000
Get Low Records/ Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam Recordings/UMG
050/100
Memphis Bleek - The Understanding
1. Intro – U Know Bleek // 2. Do My… (feat. Jay-Z) // 3. I Get High // 4. We Get Low // 5. Change Up (feat. Jay-Z & Beanie Sigel) // 6. My Mind Right [Remix] (feat. Jay-Z, H. Money Bags & Beanie Sigel) // 7. Hustler (feat. Beanie Sigel) // 8. All Types of Shit // 9. PYT (feat. Jay-Z & Amil) // 10. Bounce Bitch // 11. They’ll Never Play Me  // 12. Everyday (feat. Carl Thomas) // 13. Is That Your Chick [Remix] (Jay-Z feat. Twista, Missy Elliott & Memphis Bleek) // 14. In My Life

Niggas said I can’t do it
Funny I done it
The album is here, now who the fuck want it?

And so commences the second album by Brooklyn rapper Memphis Bleek, a guy best known at the time for his shitty hit song Memph Bleek Is… of his equally shitty debut album Coming of Age named after the first Jay-Z song our host of the night ever made sound less appealing back in ’96.

But in all fairness, when we first got to hear Bleek in ’96 on Reasonable Doubt‘s Coming of Age, he was sixteen years old (an industry story goes that the person who was actually supposed to appear on that song was Wu-Tang clan affiliated at-the-time child-rapper Shyheim, who declined allowing Bleek to step in, for whatever ridiculous reason he must regret the shit out of today, considering what standing both Reasonable Doubt and Jay-Z have in today’s hip-hop game) and so there was a lot of room for growth for young Bleek as far as far as rapping skills were concerned from when we first heard him rap on.

Now Coming of Age didn’t show much signs of growth, and neither did the collaboration album The Dynasty: ROC la Familia with Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel but… but… *groan* let’s hope for the best shall we?

Basically Bleek has upped his game a bit. This album has actual highlights. Intro – U Know Bleek has a pretty decent celebratory Just Blaze instrumental and our host’s agressive, urgent flow works well enough. And clocking under two minutes neither overstays its welcome, even if Bleek asks the listener who the fuck wants his album, one people told him specifically he couldn’t make and condones his music inspiring school shootings.

I Get High is so fucking stupid (It’s a song about the merits of smoking pot while driving down the interstate, without a destination even being so much as considered) it makes a U-turn to hilarious, what with its straightfaced rap by Bleek and it’s tailor-made-to-get-baked-to instrumental. Try to take the train or the bus in stead of the car whenever so much as approaching the East-Coast of the United States though. Bleek never showed the ability to understand irony, so he probably literally likes to do this shit in real life.

And then there’s Is That Your Chick, an all-star posse song with Jay-Z, Twista and Missy Elliott on a banging-ass Timbaland beat. Good song but Bleek is a complete nonfactor. His two verses on the song (as opposed to his bos Jay-Zs’s three verses on the song) are the most skippable parts. For those caring, a slightly more explicit, Memphis Bleek-free version of the song titled Is That Your Bitch was released on the European version of Jay-Z’s Vol. 3 album that sounded both better and more concise than this. It was left off the USA version due to bootlegging, so Bleek got Timbo, Missy and Twista on his album due to a technicality. That doesn’t take away from that it is hands-down the best thing on here.

As for the rest of this album. Meh.

Do My and Bounce Bitch are generic, rude, unsexy club bangers. We Get Low sounds like Just Blaze miscarriaging Swizz Beatz musical child, while Bleek still fails to understand how to write a hook. And on Change UpPYT, My Mind Right and Hustlers he gets outclassed in turns by Beanie Sigel and/or Jay-Z with overall the results never really ending up on the right side of acceptable.

Also the closing track My Life samples I Wanna Know What Love Is by Foreigner, which bypasses the P. Daddy and heads straight for Pittbull levels of wrongful sampling.

Better luck next time, Bleek!

Best tracks
Intro – U Know Bleek
I Get High
Is That Your Chick?

Recommendations
Stay away from this shit. Get the Bleek-free version of Is That Your Chick off iTunes and, if you smoke pot and like to laugh, I Get High too.


DJ Clue? Presents: Backstage Mixtape: A Hard Knock Life (OST)

Various Artists
DJ Clue? Presents Backstage Mixtape: A Hard Knock Life (OST)
August 29, 2000
Roc-a-Fella RecordsDef Jam RecordingsUMG
050/100
DJ Clue Presets Backstage Mixtape
1. Intro [Skit] // 2. Best of Me (Part 2) (Mýa feat. Jay-Z) // 3. In The Club (Beanie Sigel) // 4. Keep It Thorough (Prodigy) // 5. My Mind Right (Memphis Bleek) // 6. Who Did You Expect (the LOX) // 7. Wanna Take Me Back (T-Boz) // 8. Just Leave Your Love (Christión) // 9. Darlin’ (Rell) // 10. Millionaire (Hot Boys & Big Tymers) // 11. Road Dawgs (Amil, Eve, Da Brat & Jay-Z) // 12. Funkanella (Outkast, Killer Mike & Slimm Calhoun) // 13. Come and Get It (Redman & Lady Luck) // 14. Hate Music (Cam’ron & Juelz Santana) // 15. Gotta Be a Thug (Fabolous) // 16. Don’t Want Beef (Capene-N-Noreaga) // 17. Crime Life (Memphis Bleek, Lil’ Cease & Ja Rule) // 18. Say What You Want (Da Ranjahs & Ja Rule) // 19. People’s Court (Jay-Z)

The word “mixtape” is shown prominently on this album’s cover. Mixed bag would be accurate. DJ Clue? doesn’t perform a set, and unlike on his debut album The Professional he produces but one song here, for the rest of this disc he is relegated to “Shouting his own name” duties. “Music inspired by the movie” follows the word mixtape. That’s a lie too.

Not unlike what was the case with Streets Is Watching there’s not much of a movie to speak of that would “inspire” music. In fact Backstage is a documentary on the Hard Knock Life concert tour, which was headlined by Jay-Z, DMX, Method Man, Redman, Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek, Amil and DJ Clue? The documentary consisted mostly of interviews of rappers.

The most logical way of tying an album to a tour is by simply releasing a recording of one of the shows, unfortunately all live hip-hop albums suck balls. (I would say nearly all live hip-hop albums, but I have yet to hear an exception.)

Perhaps the most enjoyable way to go about this novelty release, which would’ve been inessential anyway would be to compile previously released hit-singles performed by the previously mentioned line-up of artists on the tour, such as Jay-Z’s Hard Knock Life, DMX’s Slippin’, Redman’s I’ll Bee Dat! and Ja Rule’s Holla Holla. At least that way one could somewhat rightfully claim that Backstage: a Hard Knock Life was the music that inspired the movie and the disc would’ve been a nice Def Jam, class of ’99 yearbook.

In stead we are served what appears to be scraps and studio leftovers by artists who indiscriminately do or do not have anything to do with the tour, and may or may not have had supporting roles in the documentary (supporting interviews? What the hell?)

It’s not all bad though. In the Club has Beanie Sigel finally recording the Timbaland-helmed club banger that was so prominently absent from the Truth, and regardless of whether it was what you thought you wanted to hear from the guy, he does pull it off well. Keep It Thorough is Mobb Deep’s Prodigy’s finest solo song ever (although it can also be found on his solo debut H.N.I.C., sans Clue? shouting) Funkanella is a decent Dungeon Family posse cut and Millionaire has most of the contemporary Cash Money records roster (Juvenile, B.G., Birdman and Lil Wayne and others) doing their thing, for those who enjoy that sort of stuff.

Memphis Bleek and the LOX, Redman, Cam’ron, Fabolous, Ja Rule and a recently reunited Capone-N-Noreaga as well as a female rap-posse cosisting of Eve, Da Brat and Amil all put in work, with or without the aid of their subordinates, to various degrees of success, which makes sense I suppose, since they were all popular at the time. The Mýa song even has a decent excuse for appearing since it has a Jay-Z guest appearance, even if it and most of the rest of this music doesn’t need to be ever heard, let alone revisited.

What the likes of Rell, Christión da Ranjahs, T-Boz and Lil’ Cease are doing here is mystifying though. Even though the first three acts were on the Roc-a-Fella payroll at some point, they hadn’t been allowed into the studio for the recordings of any of the label’s recent memory projects (The TruthVol. 3). And Lil’ Cease, a dude who was an Notorious B.I.G. affiliate who never got to contribute to a Biggie album until the man was dead and powerless to stop him, and TLC’s T-Boz weren’t even signed to Def Jam anywhere in history.

Perhaps the Jiggaman gave Clue? the command to clean-out the Roc-a-Fella/ Def Jam vaults, as well as those of other record labels, just throw something together, slap the movie’s cover-photo on it and just release it already. Nowhere does this become more apparent than on one of the highlights, the album closer and Jigga solo-shot People’s Court where the man namedrops In My Lifetime, Vol. 2, which is most likely the album on which it was slated to appear. It was released some two years before this disc came out.

To sum it up: DJ Clue? Presents: Backstage: A Hard Knock Life Mixtape (Music Inspired by the Movie) is not a mixtape, doesn’t feature music inspired by the movie, doesn’t have so-called “DJ” Clue? doing anything DJ-like or useful otherwise, doesn’t feature the Jay-Z song Hard Knock Life, and doesn’t feature any music by Method Man, even though his face is featured on the cover.

Besides the shitloads of false-advertising there’s also the matter of what the listener actually gets on his plate; Most of the featured material is simply generic and doesn’t warrant any time, money or attention.

Best tracks
In the Club
Keep It Thorough
Funkanella
Don’t Want Beef
People’s Court

Recommendations
Look up the Beanie Sigel and solo Jay-Z songs and the CNN and OutKast songs, and let the rest be the rest. If you want to hear the Prodigy joint, which you should do, pick up the H.N.I.C.

Also on a somewhat unrelated note; pick up Sauce Money’s Middle Finger U.


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.