I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Rappers don’t retire. Think about it, does a piano player wake up one day and decide that he is never going to touch a piano again? In the case of Jay-Z, we all knew his retirement was only temporary. Remember, this is the guy who doesn’t even write his rhymes down on paper. Would “retirement” mean he would stop thinking of new rhymes in his head? The guy has probably spit albums worth of material in shower alone. Did any of us honestly think that we’d never hear from him again?
Jay-Z’s short-lived retirement ends with Kingdom Come, the title of the album referring to the painted Alex Ross graphic novel of the same name, which tells the story of an aged Superman who comes out of retirement to save the world. One could argue that hip-hop needs Jay-Z like the DC Comics universe needs Superman, and this album definitely breathes some new life into a struggling and stale art form. But with so many classics under his belt (and you can argue amongst yourselves which albums are/aren’t), will Kingdom Come carry the torch or slowly burn out?
The Black Album alone is a hard act to follow, but Kingdom Come delivers satisfaction despite the fact that it misses the mark in a few places. “The Prelude” sets the album up, where Jay intricately deconstructs the state of hip-hop over a classic New York City basement beat: “The game’s fucked up / Niggas’ beats is banging / Nigga ya hooks did it / your lyrics didn’t / your gangsta look did it / so I would write it / if ya’ll could get it / being intricate would get you ‘wood’, critic / on the internet / they like ‘you should spit it’ / I’m like ‘you should buy it, that’s good business”. Jay begins spitting jaw dropping rhymes right from the first thirty seconds of the album, and doesn’t let up until closing.
After “The Prelude” slowly fades out, Just Blaze comes in, guns blazing with the ridiculous “Oh My God”, where the reinvigorated, back-from-vacation Jiggaman fires off in all directions. The able producer follows up with a pair of familiar joints on “Show Me What You Got” and “Kingdom Come”, neither of which disappoint. On one hand, it could be argued that the use of terribly obvious “sure shot” samples here was lazy. “Show Me What You Got” use the same sampled horns found on tried and true hits, such as N2Deep’s “Back To The Hotel”, Wreckz-N-Effect’s “Rump Shaker”, and of course the classic Public Enemy song of the same name. Meanwhile, “Kingdom Come” uses Rick James’ “Super Freak”, which hasn’t been sampled since MC Hammer’s monster hit, “U Can’t Touch This”. But Jay pulls it off. Justin Blaze manipulates both tracks into something new entirely, freaking both samples like you’ve never heard before. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Jay’s lyrical prowess is above and beyond any other that have chosen these samples to rock over (sorry, Flav).
Surprisingly, Dr. Dre handles much of the album’s production (which is a total slap in the face to Game), delivering some of the album’s strongest material. The only disappointment here is the G-Unit-esque “Trouble” (50 Cent “Outta Control Remix”, anyone?), but Dre’s other beats inspire Jigga’s most poignant lyrics. “30 Something” is a hilariously brilliant song, where Jay sons all of today’s young emcees that have helped run hip-hop music into the ground (“you respect the one who got shot / I respect the shooter”). “Minority Report” is a deep, depressing retrospective look at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, while “Lost Ones” finds Jay dedicating verses to Dame Dash, Beyonce, and his recently deceased nephew, for better or for worse.
Jay actually takes much time on this album to talk to his folks directly, as “Lost Ones” is not the only example of this. The Kanye West produced letdown, “Do You Want To Ride”, is dedication to a childhood friend, but sounds strange next John Legend’s romantically crooned hook. On “I Made It”, Jay takes time out to shout out his mother, but again, the production makes the song sound like a leftover from The Blueprint 2. And while the Swizz Beatz assisted “Dig A Hole” finds Jay tearing new assholes in new rappers and old aquaintences, we’ve heard much better beats from the producer over the last year.
The pair of back-to-back commercially viable songs, “Anything” (yes, it’s another Jay-Z song called “Anything”) and “Hollywood”, don’t really disappoint, but the
The crown jewel of the album, however, has got to be “Beach Chair”, which closes the record out. Here, Coldplay frontman, Chris Martin, tries his hand at hip-hop production, lending his trademark breezy vocals to a beautiful arrangement of hard hitting drums and melodic keyboards. Here, Jay examines his happiness and his place in the world. This flawless fusion of modern rock and hip-hop (which is the complete antithesis of “99 Problems”) is the direction that Jay should be taking his music for the future of his career.
Overall, Kingdom Come is a breath of fresh air. Jay-Z is ? hands-down ? the best lyricist in the game. His stylish rhymes are so intricately written that there is no way to pick up on every little detail on the first listen. Not to abuse the tired cliche of “grown folks music”, but this is it, defined. Jay makes fools of today’s ignorant rappers, without forgetting where he came from, or alienating his fanbase. Welcome back, Hov.
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