It would be hypocritical for me to diss Jay-Z, as I my first website was "Brooklyns Finest," a fan site for Shawn Carter circa mid 1997. As time has gone on he's dropped from being to my favorite MC to a guy that makes shit I like, but incredibly inconsistently. For example, in the space of a few weeks we got the horrible 'Girls Best Friend' and the incredible 'This Life Forever.' Its only fair to say that the quality of a Jay-Z album is based more on what Jigga wants to do than what he can do.
And so we come to his fourth album in as many years. He's gone from a horribly bad deal with Payday Records to what will probably be the first record to be at the top of the Billboard charts in a year beginning with the number 2. You generally either love to hate him or hate to love him (I'm stuck in the latter I'm afraid). 'Vol 3' (no, I won't type the full title every time) is a predictable Jay-Z record. He raps about flossing. He's incredibly cocky. The beats will be as good as you want them to be (I like them, there will be people who don't). It's a Jay-Z album, and it has the pros and cons of every Jay-Z album.
Yes, it has the con of every Jay-Z album - sub par Roc-A-Fella guests. Note to Jay - three Amil appearances would be too much on an Amil album. The girl could teach tropical skin diseases a thing or two about being irritating*. And, as every album since 'Reasonable Doubt' has had, there is the unbearable radio friendly song. 'Things That You Do' somehow manages to be both similar and worse than 'Gotta Man,' which is at least an impressive achievement considering 'Gotta Man's pedigree. The combination of Amil and painful hooks comes together on 'S. Carter,' a song which shows why rappers don't use their given names.
So after all that, how does 'Vol 3' get a 7? Just like every Jay-Z album, the saving grace is Jayhova. Check all three (they're separated) of the verses of 'Do You Believe,' where a vocal sample and some nice drums let Jay drop his def rhymes. "Before we get into this shit lets get a few things clear / Rappers with no relation, there's seven degrees of separation / And I'm Kevin Bacon / This is the murderous version / Jigga the shit, even when he rhyme in third person." The career retrospective of 'Dope Man' is also felt by Evil Pun, as is Primo's token contribution 'So Ghetto.'
When it comes down to it Jay is quite simply the best MC at making hugely popular records. For a five time platinum rapper especially, 'Vol 3' is quite astounding. Sure, he's abandoned the introspection of 'Regrets' or 'You Must Love Me,' but to be honest he's replaced it with a formula that works just as well. Maybe we could do without the sampled singing of 'Id Do Anything For You,' but the lyrics are nice and focused, some of the album's best.
If Jay-Z proves one thing, its that he's mastered what great MCs from Nas to Ras Kass struggle with: making an album that is both commercial and good to listen to. No, its not nearly as good as either of his first two. No, he won't give you incredible battle raps, or thrilling conceptual rides through the furthest reaches of human consciousness. Just a great flow, phat lyrics and solid beats. If you listen to it looking for that, you'll be severely disappointed. Know what to expect, and you'll love it. Phew, I got through the whole thing without mentioning the Un incident. Not bad.
* Yes, I took it from Red Dwarf. The point is still made.