Artist: Jay-ZTitle: The Black AlbumRating: 4 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Quia Querisma
It's no secret that The Black Album was anticipated. The real secret is whether or not Jay-Z is really going to call it quits. Doubtful, but if he does, he's leaving the game the way you should, while hes on top.
Jay pulled no punches and dug out the best and the brilliant for his production team. Kanye West, Rick Rubin, DJ Quick, and Just Blaze are about half of The Black Album's dream team. Unfortunately, in what seems like an effort to create an over-elaborate entrance to his exit, the first four tracks of the album are choking on pseudo-grandeur production. The orchestrated sound lacks the same kind of appeal of the Blueprint's "All I Need" and just turns into a distraction from the tenacity of the lyrics.
After getting past another Neptunes/Jigga joint for the girls, "Change Clothes," a certifiable banger finds its place. The Timbaland-produced "Dirt off Your Shoulder" is full of BET-brand egotistical flow. Tim bounces the beat like a Spalding as Jigga tells us "I drop the Black Album then I back out / I'm the best rapper alive, nigga ask about me." It's this song that lights a fire to the production that doesn't go out until the close of the disc.
Eminem gave up a sinister-sounding track for "Moment of Clarity" where Jay rhymes about why he chose the road he has taken. Talking about everything from feeling awkward at his pops' funeral to critics complaining about his content, he spits, "I dumb down for my audience and double my dollars / they criticize me for it yet they all yell 'holla' / if skills sold, truth be told / I'd probably be lyrically Talib Kweli / truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense / (but I did 5 mil), I aint been rappin like Common since."
Jay spends a lot of time reminding nay-sayers that he's from the streets and he refuses to be punked. "Threat," "99 Problems," "Justify My Thug" are all odes to his street credo. "Allure" is his Neptunes-produced love song to the drug game. Gunshots ring out in the background amidst the violins and piano. It's a good song but it sounds out of place on the heels of what is arguably the best song on the album, "Lucifer." Kanye West unleashed all production Hell on the Reggae-inspired joint that brandishes a sample from "I Chase the Devil" like twin Desert Eagles. More gunshots in the background as Jigga confesses "Lord forgive him / he got them dark forces in him / but he also got a righteous cause for sinning' / dem' a murda me, so I gotta murda dem first / emergency doctors performing procedures, Jesus."
Jay closes out his solo career with the ironically-titled "My 1st Song." We hear a clip of Biggie saying that the key to staying on top of the game is to approach everything like it's your first project. A bluesy guitar shares this track with a southern-sounding rolled bassline. Jay reverts back to a faster-flow a la "In My Lifetime." Somehow, he managed to recapture the hunger of a fledgling artist because his inflection is full of passion.
Jigga has definitely bowed out gracefully with an album that can stay on repeat all day and not get old.