Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint, The Black Album, and now, Kingdom Come. Aside from those albums, you rarely ever hear mention of anything else in Hova’s rather large catalogue. That is partially the reason why the expectations for Jay tend to be as high as they are (the other reason being that “the god emcee” is so good promoting himself it’s hard to expect less than the best from him). I guess you can take that in two ways; his legacy looks better because people are overlooking his lesser works, or people are forgetting about just how much incredible “other” shit he’s done.
You may be wondering why Kingdom Come was mentioned above, when it never got the acclaim and classic label the other albums did. Well, it got mentioned because being his last album it still gets talked about a lot these days. Also, it is kind of the inspiration for this editorial. As usual, people took polar opposite stances on the album. Haters, well…they hate, and Kingdom Come was much easier to rag on than Reasonable Doubt. So the loyal Jay fans just couldn’t have that, so they called it an unappreciated classic til they were blue in the face. Even though, we all know it wasn’t. Thing is, can’t Jay just make a good album? Why does it have to be a classic every time out? I realize he has raised the bar very high for himself, but he has shown for a long time that he will make some shitty fucking songs. Really, what artist hasn’t? Of course, most of those shitty songs didn’t appear on the golden albums so they are forgotten about. So when Kingdom Come came out and folks heard a song that was wack (like say, the first single), it was like the world came crashing down. Don’t y’all remember Sunshine, I Know What Girls Like, Money Ain’t A Thang etc? So let’s take a little trip down the less travelled memory land.
In My Lifetime Vol.1 was pretty much doomed from the jump, doomed in a very big way. Not only did it follow an impossible to follow debut, but his relatively modest early fan base had to deal with “their” artist blowing up (or at least trying to). We all know that some fans don’t like to share with the masses. Oh, and of course that little stigma that Jay was trying to fill Big’s very recently emptied shoes. To make matters worse, the first two singles (The City Is Mine and Sunshine), were hot garbage and a very far stretch from the music he had been making to that point. This caused a lot of people, then and now, to overlook the rest of the album. Unfortunately, that would be to overlook some of the very best songs of his remarkable career; Streets Is Watching, A Million & One Questions, Real Niggas, Lucky Me, You Must Love Me and Where I’m From, etc. The latter of which, may just be the best song Jigga has made, particularly from a lyrical standpoint.
“I’m from the place where the church is the flakiest/
And niggas is praying to god so long that they Atheist/
Where you can’t put your vest away and say you’ll wear it tomorrow/
Cause the day after we’ll be saying, damn I was just with him yesterday/…
And Government, fuck Government, niggas politic themselves/
Where we call the cops the A-Team/
cause they hop out of vans and spray things/
And life expectancy so low we making out wills at eighteen/
Where how you get rid of guys who step out of line, your rep solidifies/
So tell me when I rap you think I give a fuck who criticize?”
Jay may have made a serious bid at the pop market with Sunshine and the like, but it didn’t really work. His sales jumped up from Reasonable Doubt, but it was just a natural growth really (it didn’t actually go platinum until after Hard Knock Life had gone triple platinum). It was the sampling of a fictional little girl named Annie that took Jay to superstardom. Oh, and that insipid Money Ain’t A Thang track that I like to pretend doesn’t exist (save the chain reaction line of course).
Vol.2, Hard Knock Life to this day is Jay’s biggest selling album with over 5 million sold. It is also, in my estimation, his worst solo album. There are only four or five songs on that album I’ll still play, and a Memph Bleek track? Uggh. The funny thing is, his subsequent album is the one that is usually pegged as his worst. While I was really into it at the time (and I was very skeptical fan after Vol.2), Vol.3, Life & Times of S. Carter was and is shit on by a lot of folks. Looking back at it now, I don’t think anyone can dispute that a lot of folks fronted cause they didn’t get it…it was way ahead of its time. Don’t get me wrong, the shit still went triple plat, but a lot of the real heads wouldn’t give it a pass (except for the ridiculous and final Jay/Primo collabo So Ghetto). “I spit that murder, murder, murderous, every time a verbalist/iller than Verbal Kint is, or O-Dog in Menace/I’m ill start to finish, I rip apart contenders/I’m hot…” Yeah, dude had a right to laugh at the rest of’em.
People weren’t all that happy when what they thought was Jay’s second solo LP of 2000 ended up being a crew effort from the “Dynasty.” As much as the album was peppered with a fair amount of trash on wax and it featured way too much Bleek for any sane man to bare, it ended up being a pretty significant piece of work. While they had put their name on the map with Noreaga’s Superthug and Dirty’s Nigga Please LP, it was Jay’s Give It To Me that blew The Neptunes up in a major way. Not to mention, Hov used a couple unknown producer’s named Kanye West and Just Blaze for a few standout songs. Who really knew at the time huh? Dynasty also marked Jay’s return to making personal, introspective music, which he had made very little of since Vol. 1. Soon You’ll Understand, This Can’t Be Life and Where Have You Been silenced a lot of critics and helped set the stage for the vibe that carried The Blueprint.
That LP certainly needs to further dissection, but it’s sequel does deserve some mention here. If only to say that shit clearly should have been one CD. Sure, we all know Jay had to do what Big and Pac did (and Nas later had to do), but there is no debating there was plenty of fat to be trimmed (which all of above’s double albums needed as well). Of course, Jay tried to hornswoggle everyone out of some more money and released said trimmed version with The Blueprint 2.1. For what it’s worth, half the material on that album is the stuff I would have cut from the double LP, go figure. ’03 Bonnie & Clyde, Hovi Baby, and Excuse Me Miss are probably the worst beats of Ye, Just and The Neptunes respective careers. Still, not only did Jay release a 25 song double disc in 2002 but that was the year he teamed up with the serial pisser for their soon to be plaintiff-defendant collab album (also sparked via the Dynasty no less).
The crazy shit is, he’s got all these other albums in between. Not necessarily solo albums or “new” releases, but all runaway successes adding luster to the legend for one reason or another. The mini-movie/soundtrack in Streets Is Watching, the crew album Dynasty: Roc La Familia, the live album Jay-Z: Unplugged, the R&B/rap collab Best of Both Worlds & Unfinished Business, the rock/rap collab Collision Course. Everyone of these “side projects” have gone at least platinum, another tribute to Jay’s consistency and longevity. Sales don’t really mean much to me in most cases, because the a lot of my favorite artists have never sniffed at a platinum plaque. But it’s hard not to be impressed by Jay’s sales. Generally there are 3 ways to lose your fan base; you start making wack music, you rarely ever release anything and people forget about you, or you over saturate the market with music and people get sick of you. The vast majority of artists would have fallen victim to the latter if they tried to do what Jay has done. With the impending release of American Gangster, Jay will have released 15 albums in 11 years…with everyone selling at least a million copies (as American Gangster surely will). By comparison, LL Cool J – the king of longevity – has stayed relevant to the masses over a 23 years span…but has “only” released 12 albums with 6 going platinum. Though I guess the comparison is really a moot point when Cool James hasn’t made a great album since 1990’s Mama Said Knock You Out, but I digress.
One thing is for certain, the man has had an absolutely remarkable career; one that few, if any, can claim to even parallel. At the same time, that remarkable career has had its share of candy ass beats, wack songs and questionable choices. Why can’t people just see it for what it is rather than being so extreme. Jay-Hova isn’t infallible, he is just really, really fucking good.