Tuesday, September 01, 2009


I've never been a huge fan of Jay-Z's. I love "Big Pimpin'", but that's more about UGK and the beat; if Jay-Z wasn't on the track at all, I'd still like it. He has a couple of other songs that I like, but in general I see him as a manifestation of rap's aesthetic downfall, and his new album, The Blueprint 3 (out in two weeks, but already leaked) confirms that verdict. It's full of old-man songs - "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)," "Reminder," "Already Home," "Off That"...all past tense, all reflections on past glories, all of which are benchmarks of commercial success. A significant chunk of "Reminder" is literally a recitation of how many albums he's sold. I've never heard Kingdom Come, but I understand much of that album is in the same vein - a king on his throne, yelling "Don't you know who I am?"

This is boring. I hate to get all old-man myself, but rap songs used to be all "I'm the greatest rapper in the world, and here's why." Now they're all "I'm really rich, and here's a list of all the stuff I own." Which is bullshit, in the sense that it's boring and in the sense that it's probably not even true. Do you really think Rick Ross (who Jay-Z reminds me of now, except I like Ross better because he's at least got the virtue of being funny; Jay-Z seems all "heavy is the head that wears the crown," a theme that only DMX has ever successfully pulled off) owns a racehorse? And if he did, why would that be an admirable thing?

Hip-hop suffers the farther it gets from underclass status. This is a purely aesthetic judgment. Rap is the sound of some young black guy out in the street, yelling to be heard. Once he's a millionaire, once he's a corporate head, he's clearly been heard, been acknowledged. He's inside. So what's he got to yell about? It's time for him to start using his inside voice.

Hip-hop wants to be the music of the underclass and the music of the new black overclass, which is why it was necessary to infiltrate and destroy soul and R&B, a process that began in the 1980s and is now complete. But this is aesthetically untenable. So what's to become the life soundtrack for the black overclass? Jazz? The overproduced, denatured post-soul of John Legend and Alicia Keys (who appears on The Blueprint 3, overemoting to little effect)?

There are about four good songs on The Blueprint 3, and they come in pairs: "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)" and "Run This Town," both of which are built around gritty, almost noisy backing tracks (the music to "Run This Town" reminds me of Muddy Waters' Electric Mud or Howlin' Wolf's This Is Howlin' Wolf's New Album), and then a little later, "On To the Next One" and "Off That," the latter the album's high point by a long stretch, mostly because Timbaland produced it and it sounds like Nelly Furtado's "Say It Right," one of the best songs/beats of the last decade (with a little bit of Prince's "Hot Thing" thrown in). The rest of its tracks are negligible, tedious and/or embarrassing.

I remember fat gold chains; I know material success and attaining "winner" social status has always been an important signifier. But nobody likes to listen to the boss bragging. Jay-Z should walk away.


Amos said...

Eh. I don't think many people were expecting a great album from the aging Hova. Luckily he's far from important to the vitality of hip-hop. If anything, this is an article about how boring corporate rap has gotten. At this point, hip-hop is a global youth culture that includes tons of practitioners of graffiti, dance, theater, poetry, journalism, literature, design and art that doesn't get much talk from the press. Even within the narrow confines of US commercial rap, Jay-Z is far from the dominant voice. That would be Gucci Mane.

Lainad said...

I feel you, brother.

I did like his last album (with the single "Encore" Jesus, I'm going to have to look for the CD)but I did feel - even though we are the same age - that he should have kept to his "retirement" thing and just left it alone. I agree, unfortunately - Hip-Hop is dead.