28 December, 1999@12:00 am
It’s amazing how there are some heads out there that still front on Jay-Z. Sure, taking a look at videos like “Money Ain’t A Thing” could easily make you believe that Jigga-man is a one-dimensional, flossy, fake-ass rapper. But heads who checked for last year’s Vol. 2: The Hard Knock Life or his previous LP’s, prove that there is more to the man than meets the eye. While 5 million records sold of his last album makes him a commercial success, Jigga sums it up best on this album, “I didn’t cross over, I brought the suburbs to the hood.” This is educated thug music.
That statement couldn’t be closer to the truth. This isn’t an underground album, but it’s definitely some street shit, yet it doesn’t alienate the backpackers with unintelligible lyrics and played out samples. Secondly, while Jigga enlisted producers like DJ Premier , Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, and Dr. Dre to handle production, none of them held out, giving him some of their best and most original beats yet.
Timbaland, who is looked at as the anti-christ to underground listeners, has cooked up some of his best beats yet, almost making it hard to believe that this is the same guy who did the commercial-as-fuck tracks “Pony” and “Love To Love Ya”. Jigga kicks on laid back freestyle rhymes on Timbo’s “It’s Hot (Some Like It Hot)”, an amazingly original composition with off count hand clap that lingers throughout, while the bassline hits the track like raindrops, and wisps of air zero in on the beat. “Snoopy Track” pays homage to the south, as Juvenile lends a hook, but sounds nothing like the usual Hot Boys noise, as Timbo once again outdoes himself, with heavy backward bass that rebuilds itself as the song progresses. “Big Pimpin’” is a little bit closer to the Timbaland style we are used to, but still remains raw. Drums from “Computer Love”, with an addictive Indian flute and a relentless squawking bird, make this another amazing concoction, along with bouncy rhymes from Jay and the underrated UGK. Strangest of all from Timbaland is the experimental “Come & Get Me”. The song starts out a typical freestyle beat, but a minute into the song, the beat drops out turning into a strange jungle excursion, transforming itself into some sticky 5-dimensional funk. Jay-hova then takes time to call out anyone who ever wanted to rob him, inviting, “It’s only fair that I warn you / rap’s my new hustle / I’m treatin’ it like the corner / fuck with me if you wanna”.
On the more underground tip, Premier lends himself to “So Ghetto”, while Jiggaman runs through it with amazing skill: “Niggas be schemin’ on me, probably ya’ll / Think Jigga’s a joke, nigga? Har-de-har”. Also noteworthy is “Dope Man”, and while it recycles the tired rap game/crack game connection, Jigga takes it to the next level by writing this song as a trial, rhyming from the perspective of the prosecuting attorney, and then as himself on the stand. “They call me dope man dope man, I try to tell them I’m a hope floats man, ghetto spokesman”. Another favorite is the Dr. Dre featured “Watch Me” sounds a bit like a follow up to “Streets is Watching”, with edgy Irv Gotti production.
The guaranteed commercial hit is “Things That U Do”. Nevertheless, while this will blaze up radio charts, it will with good reason, as the quality is 100% on point. With Swizz on production, lending perhaps his best beat ever, with bouncy drums, and heavy Asian influence. Mariah Carey sings along to the Swizz’s flute, creating a beautiful melody. Sounds disgustingly commercial right? Check Jigga’s rhymes - straight dope: “Don’t matter to me / Whether you big or bossy / jig or flossy / dusty or musty / sober or saucey / broker than Todd Bridges / Richer than Bill Cosby / Forgave for my arrogance or you’re still saucy / passed on to the next life or you still haunt me.”
The album is not without it’s fast forward tracks. “Pop 4 Roc” is pretty boring, with the ever annoying Amil, and Memphis Bleek kicking the same whiney flow, but nevertheless, Beanie Sigel and Jay-Z make it redeemable. A similar fate strikes the single “Do It Again (Put Ya Hands Up)”, a poorly constructed track that doesn’t hold up next to the rest of the album. The post-bootleg addition “There’s Been A Murder” is another ugly duckling, with it’s off key production, and mismatched hook.
Jay-Z is carving a new definition of what a commercial record is, and this album hands down the crown to him as the new king of New York. It’s his best yet, with original, commercially accessible, yet underground credible beats, and the most quotable lyrics in a long time. Everyone should pick this album up, as Jay-Z is at the top of his game, and has already taken the spot for best album of 2000, thus far.
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