Delivering his fifth annual release, Jay-Z somewhat deceptively uses this year’s album to spotlight the Roc-A-Fella family, as the title suggests. Nevertheless, while marketed as the latest Jay-Z “solo” project, but more accurately the “posse” album, Jigga is still in the driver’s seat, despite the numerous guest appearances from Beanie Sigel and Memphis Bleek.
It can be argued that this is still a Jay-Z album, and not the typical, boring camp projects we’ve seen from the Flipmode, Def, and Terror Squads over the past few years. While taking an oath to rip on every verse he spits on, virtually every track is worth its weight in platinum, as Jay continuously proves he’s one of the greatest lyricists in rap today. His sarcasm, wit, attitude, confidence, and subtle use of ingenious punchlines are untypical of the everyday gangsta rapper, (or even rapper in general), rightfully crowning him the new King of New York. Vicious freestyle rhymes with threatening street savvy are delivered flawlessly on tracks like “Squeeze 1st”, but on this release, Jigga’s subject matter takes a more serious approach than ever. Both “Streets is Talking” and “Guilty Until Proven Innocent” sum up every rumor, lie, or court case Jay’s been slapped with over the past year, and he does his best to set things straight, forever keeping his cool. Shawn Carter opens up even deeper on several of the other tracks, such as “Soon You’ll Understand”, thoughtfully addressing three women in his life. If the wonderful Jay-Z/Beanie/Scarface collabo, “This Can’t Be Life” doesn’t make it hard enough to choose who had the most introspective and meaningful verse, then the album’s closer, “Where Have You Been” will. This duet between Jay-Z and a crying Beanie Sigel (for real), has to be one of rap’s most powerful songs of the year, as the two call out their neglectful fathers with nothing held back.
Jay-Z definitely makes his presence known on each of the tracks, but also keeping the chemistry alive when collaborating with Beans and Bleek, on songs like “Change The Game”, “1-900-Hustler”, and “Parking Lot Pimpin’”. Nevertheless, there are a few missteps on the album - “Get Your Mind Right Mami”, “Stick To The Script”, and “You, Me, Him and Her” seem like filler to help get this album out as quickly as possible, and even more so, “The R.O.C.” and “Holla”, two aimless tracks that don’t even feature the motherfuckin’ Jiggaman.
Yet with an uncommon percentage of filler material, there’s still no fronting allowed, because when it’s good, it’s damn good - and better than most anything put out by major labels these days. Production-wise, Jay has sadly abandoned the Timbaland and DJ Premier formula, but gives newcomers Ric Rock, Just Blaze, and Bink their time to shine, and shine they do. While this album doesn’t top the near classic Vol. 3 - The Life and Times Of S. Carter, delivered less than a year later, it shows the growth an artist, and uncanny consistency
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