Say what you say, feel how you feel, but don’t front. Listen to his entire catalog and try and say he is one dimensional; try and say every song is about jewelry and money; try and say his flow isn’t mind blowing; try and say that he doesn’t flip some incredibly clever lines; try and say he isn’t say he one of the greatest emcees of all-time. The bottom line is, if you front, you’re wrong. It isn’t a matter of opinion. Skill is skill, and when it comes down to it, few have more than Shawn Carter. Ever.
His list of accomplishments, his trends set, his sales, and his quotables are too numerous and poured over to be tread up again. Y’all should know the deal by now. According to Hov, the most cherished part of his resume ends here with The Black Album. If this is indeed it, he has done something virtually no emcee, or any artist for that matter, has been able to do; go out just as strong as they came in.
Everyone has been talking production, but this is Jigga’s album not his producers. While his beats and hooks have sold his albums, the true heads listen for the rhymes. I don’t know if Jay has ever sounded better. His flow, his cadence, his wordplay and the baffling mic presence he displays is something to behold. I don’t know that any other emcee has ever spit with the sheer ease that Jay seems to. From the outset on December 4th when he details his childhood more naturally than most people speak, his delivery changes each song thereafter…flawlessly. What More Can I Say really should’ve finished the album the album, particularly because the last line; “I’m supposed to be number one of everybody’s list/we’ll see what y’all think of me when I no longer exist.” Either way, the song structure is just brilliant and Jay puts on a clinic over the fittingly triumphant horns. P.S.A. is another example of great song structure (and production for that matter), but Jay is at his best again kicking clever shit sure to go over 95% of listeners heads (“flyer than the piece of paper bearing my name“). And just check the flow on My First Song as Jay treats his last song like it was his first…on the advice of his Notorious friend.
The production cannot be ignored though, cause there is some shit that is just too good not to mention. Kanye solidifies his position as one of the games best as he brings Jay some major heat in Encore and the insanely dope Lucifer. It is underground sensation 9th Wonder that really steals the show though with his silky smooth Pete Rock-inspired, R. Kelly sampled joint The Threat. Even Rick Rubin takes it back to ’86 with some Run-DMC shit on 99 Problems which features Jay at his storytelling best. Timbaland gives up some goods with the quirky Dirt Off Your Shoulder, but again, Jay just flips this beat way too easily. Moment of Clarity is Eminem‘s production at its most sinister and Jay-Z at his most honest. From touching on his father to his position in hip-hop, he is pure brilliance; “I dumb down for my audience to double my dollars/they criticize me for it but 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 ain’t been rhymin’ like Common since/when ya sense got that much in common/and you been hustlin’ since your inception/fuck perception you go with what make sense.”
What more can I say? More importantly, what more can he say? As much as I love to hear the man spit, there is nothing more he can do. If this is indeed his swan song, he couldn’t have gone out much better. Sure, Change Clothes and Go could have just gone and I would have loved to see a Primo joint on there. But like I said, this is Jay‘s album and he couldn’t have delivered much better. The classic debate will rage, underrated or overrated, everyone will have their take. Some will still foolishly hate and some will proclaim he solidified his best of all-time status. I’ll just say this, after 10 listens to this album I desperately want more. Since I may never get more, I am just going to appreciate this. I’m not gonna throw around labels like ‘classic’ and make comparisons to his other albums or anyone else’s. You are one of the illest I’ve ever heard Jay, beyond a reasonable doubt. Hov!!!