Anyone who hasn’t been living under the proverbial ‘rock’ since 1996 knows who Jay-Z is and what he represents. Jay has easily the most complete catalogue of anyone in hip-hop, let alone the entire music industry. The Black Album, allegedly Jay’s swan song, as he is planning retirement from solo albums following the release, is supposed to be his crowning achievement, the means necessary for him to exit at the top of his game. Early Black Album news had Jay foregoing sales and radio-friendly tracks in favour of taking it back to the early days of his career, when he created the classic, ‘Reasonable Doubt’. Jay was rumoured to have reached out to only a dozen producers, who were each going to contribute one track apiece, and with no guest appearances, this truly was Jay’s going away party.
After a quick listen through the Black Album, it is easy to see how Jay has remained on top of his game for so long. His beat selection is flawless; every beat is nicely crafted. I wonder if that had anything to do with these producers realizing that their beats were going to appear on the biggest major label release of 2003. Producers like DJ Quik and Timberland have obviously elevated their games to an even higher level, if that’s possible, for the Black Album. However, notable by his absence is DJ Premier, with whom Jay has created arguably the best handful of tracks during his illustrious career. Word on the street is that both Dr. Dre and Primo submitted tracks to Jay for inclusion on the Black Album and Jay rejected them… I guess when your name is Jay-Z you can do those types of things. Jay has also employed Eminem behind the boards, for the heavy hitting, ‘Moment of Clarity’, lending steam to the idea that Em is now on the A-list of producers in hip-hop. Little known underground producer 9th Wonder enjoys his major label debut, and he is responsible for my favourite track on the Black Album, ‘Threat’, where Jay eases smoothly over the hypnotic, eerie and meticulously crafted 9th beat. Other standout tracks include, ‘Lucifer’, a Kanye West-produced gem which will likely be released as a single in the near future. Expect this track to get heavy rotation both on the radio and at the club. On the song ‘December 4’, Jay’s mother makes a guest appearance, talking about various instances in Jay’s childhood, and Jay uses the track to wax nostalgic as well, so needless to say, it’s another solid track.
Is the Black Album ‘perfect?’ I wouldn’t say so. It is a great album, with a great selection of tracks, but Jay is missing a few things. Where is the concept track? After the incredible ‘Meet the Parents’, from Blueprint 2, many were hoping for Jay to record something similar, but unfortunately Jay keeps the lyrics fairly standard, which for the average MC, could be a disaster, but for someone with Jay’s skills, its not that big a drawback. Bottom line, the Black Album lives up to all its hype. It’s a defining moment in a career filled with them, it’s the crowning achievement in a career of notable achievements, it’s Jordan’s fade away jumper against Utah in the NBA finals, get the picture? Two things, first off, Jay, stay retired and go out on this high unless you believe you can build on the Black Album, anything less will tarnish your reputation, ala MJ, and, secondly, Jay, one important question: Where the hell is Primo?