Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Full Jay Z Project [Repost]

On September 25, 2013, I posted the first part of my Jay Z project. After going back and forth about it, mainly due to the issues I had editing it when I tried to create it a few months ago, I decided to go ahead and make this project another full one, with all 11 parts combined as one, with a few updates of course. Enjoy loyal readers!!



Yes indeed, I'm very excited to create and share this project with you all, on my #2 favorite MC of all time, the legendary Jay Z. Before I proceed with this project, I want to make one thing clear:

I'm ONLY covering Jay's solo albums, so respectively, the project with Linkin Park, the two "Best Of Both Worlds" albums with R. Kelly, "Watch The Throne", the "Streets Is Watching" soundtrack and "Unplugged" will not be covered. If any of you would like me to cover those at some point, that's cool, but otherwise, this project will be focused solely on his solo albums.


We all know that Jay got his start in hip hop, along with Jaz-O, in the late 1980s (heading into the 90s), with notable songs "The Originators" and "Hawaiian Sophie", which you can listen to now if you haven't heard them before".




It was clear that Jaz-O was an early influence on his career, and as the mid 1990s arrived, more material came [which will be posted below], such as "I Can't Get With That". This would surprise newer fans to hear Jay use a faster flow (I refuse to say he flowed like the Fu-Schnickens), and notable collaborations with Big Daddy Kane [another influence] on "Show & Prove", Big L [Da Graveyard], and Mic Geronimo [Time To Build]. 1995 saw the release of "In My Lifetime", a nice and smooth jam which would introduce the world to the style that would be utilized to the fullest on the first edition of "Dead Presidents", and of course his 1996 debut, "Reasonable Doubt".










Leading up to the release of "Reasonable Doubt", I remember seeing the "Dead Presidents" video for the first time on Rap City and really enjoying it. I kinda knew he was going to be a big deal, but not on the level of what he would later become, which is one of the biggest and most influential MCs of our time. I also remember anticipating this album very much, but in a summer where Nas' "It Was Written" [released the next Tuesday after Jay's debut] was the hottest album at the moment, it was a strong second. And looking back on it further, The Source magazine's July [or August] issue gave both albums a respectable 4 mic rating. I cosign on the rating for "It Was Written", but not the one for "Reasonable Doubt", but more on that later. I also want to mention two facts before I begin talking about this classic:

1) This album was released on June 25, 1996, my birthday!!!!!

2) I bought this album 3 times, the first on July 4, 1997. Please don't ask why it took me so long to cop it, smh+lol.



Featured Guests
Mary J. Blige
The Notorious B.I.G.
Mecca
Foxy Brown
Memphis Bleek
Sauce Money
Big Jaz


Behind The Boards
Knowbody
Sean Cane
Dahoud
Ski
Clark Kent
Dame Dash
DJ Premier
DJ Irv
Big Jaz
Peter Panic


1. Can't Knock The Hustle

"We get together like a choir, to acquire what we desire"



What better way to start this album than with this classic, definitely one of my favorite songs from Jay. In addition to the first "Dead Presidents", this song effectively served as an introduction to his world, already letting you know that no matter what the situation is, the "hustle" can't be knocked, and he told this story better than anyone at the time. I also can't forget Mary J. Blige's great performance on the hook.
*5 out of 5* 

2. Politics As Usual

"Y'all feel a nigga struggle/Y'all think a nigga love to, hustle behind the wheel, tryin to escape my trouble"

"I wear black a lot/In the AC, act a lot/Got matchin VCRs, a huge Magnavox, 10 inch/Green like spinach, pop wines that vintage/It's a lotta big money in my sentence"


It didn't occur to me till years later that no matter type of situation you're in, especially business, there's going to be some form of politics, hence the title "Politics As Usual". Revisiting this song today made me think that Jay was not only talking about hip hop, he was also talking about the streets, so you receive a dynamic double dose of realism in the same song. Outstanding.
*5 out of 5*

3. Brooklyn's Finest

"For 96, the only MC wit a flu, yeah I rhyme sick"-Jay-Z

"Me and Gutta had two spots/The two for $5.00 hits the blue tops/Gotta go, Coolio, means it's gettin too hot/If Faye (Faith) had twins she'll probably have two Pacs/Get it, TWO PACS" -Biggie 


Oh man, talk about an appropriately titled classic. Jay and Biggie had an undeniable chemistry together, and this was a fine example of it. You can hear it in Jay's voice that he was excited and inspired, while Biggie was more smoother than usual. I also lost my mind when I first heard this and it stands as one of the best collabos of all time.
*5 out of 5*

4. Dead Presidents II: New Lyrics

"I dabbled in crazy weight/Without rap, I was crazy straight/Partner I'm still spendin money from 88, what!"

"Naked without ya gun/We takin everything you brung/We cakin, you niggas is fakin, we gettin it done"


The sequel to the original "Dead Presidents" is simply excellent and I can't even begin to tell you which one is better. One thing I want to make clear is that this is NOT just another song about money. Jay cleverly talks about the highs and lows of "the paper chase" and the things that come with the territory. It's not unusual for me to put this song on repeat when I listen to this album. Great stuff.
*5 out of 5*
 
5. Feelin It



One of the most laid back songs Jay has ever made, he was definitely feelin everything on this one, which would be himself, the lyrics, the track, and the whole vibe. I also wonder what happened to Mecca, who did a fine job on the hook.
*5 out of 5*
 
6. D'Evils

"9 to 5 is how you survive/I ain't tryin to survive/I'm tryin to live it to the limit and love it alive"

"Throughout my junior high years it was all friendly/But now this Higher Learning got the Remy in me/Liquors invaded my kidneys......"


This is phenomenal. Jay is very descriptive on this song, and it's one of many songs by him that has to be heard to be appreciated. "It gets dangerous/Money and power is changin us/And now we lethal, infected wit d'evils". Right on.
*5 out of 5*

7. 22 Twos

"Too many ladies give these niggas too many chances/Too many brothas wanna be lovers, don't know what romance is"

"To all my brothas it ain't too late to come together/Cause too much black and too much love equal forever"

"I don't follow any guidelines/Cause too many niggas ride mine, so I change styles every 2 rhymes"


Right off the bat, the first verse is tight as hell, which is where the above quotes come from. I believe I can still recite it word for word today. Straight dopeness.
*5 out of 5*
 
8. Can I Live

"I'd rather die enormous than live dormant, that's how we on it"


With everything going on in his life and career, I guarantee you Jay asked this one question since the very beginning, "can I live?" He ponders this over a smooth DJ Irv produced, Issac Hayes "The Look Of Love" sampled track.
*5 out of 5*
 
9. Ain't No Nigga

"I been sinnin since you been playin with Barbie and Ken and/You can't change a playa's game in the 9th inning"



History has all but shown that this song is a classic, no doubt. Jay does his thing as usual, but man, whether it was penned by her or not, Foxy almost steals the show with her verse (one of her best ever) and it put her on the map in a major way. It certainly gives her "I Shot Ya" remix verse a run for its money. Of the Jay/Foxy collabos, this is the best one.
*5 out of 5*

10. Friend Or Foe

You can listen to this brief song and tell Jay was having a bit of fun during the making of it. He would later turn this into a video for the "Streets Is Watching" movie.
*4 out of 5*

11. Coming Of Age
 
I guarantee you Memphis Bleek continues to thank God for his verse here, which is also one of his best. "Coming Of Age" tells the familiar story of the experienced vet taking a young, hungry, ambitious new comer under his wing, and I wouldn't be surprised if that was based on actual events.To be continued.
 *5 out of 5*
 
12. Cashmere Thoughts
 
"18 karat gold pen, when it hits the sheets/Words worth a million like I'm rappin em through platinum teeth"

"The proper etiquette/When I drop the subject, verb and the predicate/Wit this rich nigga rhetoric"


This is what I would call "flossin gymnastics". Jay kept this brief, but strong.
*5 out of 5*
 
13. Bring It On

"Said we was garbage, so fuck college/Street knowledge amazes the scholars when we coin phrases for dollars" -Sauce Money

"You ain't ready, I find no trigga straight up/Shoot my guns horizontal, get ya weight up" -Jay-Z


"Do the knowledge, do the few dollars/I'm due to demolish crews, Brooklyn through Hollis to a hood near you, what the fuck!!" -Jay-Z

"Absence of malice in my palace/Call cousin Idalis, trigga finga wit da callous/Tip scales for mail to keep these niggas off balance" -Big Jaz


This is one of the more underrated, appropriately titled collabos right here. Jay, Sauce Money (another very underrated MC) and Big Jaz spit straight fire over this DJ Premier produced banger. "Bring it on if you think you can hang/And if not, then let me do my thang!" Nuff said.
*5 out of 5*

14. Regrets

"In order to survive gotta learn to live wit regrets"


I truly see what Jay was aiming for on this closer, and learning to live with regrets is something I, and others, can testify to. He does a great job detailing his past actions and dealing with those decisions years after the fact.
*5 out of 5*


Wow, not only is this STILL my #4 favorite album of all time, it has aged incredibly well and I found myself liking it a little more than I did when I first bought it. I recall hearing Jay say that he intended this to be his one and only album, and had that actually happened, this likely would've been the greatest "one album performance" in hip hop history. The production, ranging from smooth then rugged, then laid back, (rinse-repeat) perfectly matched Jay's top notch lyricism. He would get bigger (and in some ways better) from here, but make no mistake about it, this is THE crowning jewel of his discography. Classic material. 


5 stars 

1.5 million copies sold as of 2006



To begin, the hip hop world was in total shock and disbelief when we received the news that The Notorious B.I.G. was killed on March 9, 1997, 6 months after 2Pac met the same unfortunate fate (hip hop hasn't been the same since). This had a profound effect on Jay, especially from a personal and professional perspective. Not only did Jay lose a close friend and collaborator, but it also directly or indirectly, based on how you see it, placed the "King of N.Y." title up for grabs in a highly competitive genre. It goes without saying that Jay attempts to assume that title (and more) on his 2nd album, "In My Lifetime, Vol. 1", his first on Def Jam. Before I begin talking about the album, allow me to share a few things.


In addition to buying this album 3 times over the years, I remember my long time friend Shaun copped this before I did, in either late 97 or early 98. He knew I really couldn't wait to hear it, so the day he bought it, I was at his crib and he asked me did I want to listen it to it with him. I was like, "nah, I'll wait till I buy it" (which I did a few weeks later). He was like, "ight cool". In the other room, I could hear "A Million And One Questions" bangin, so I stepped in. He started laughing, "you wanna hear this joint don't you?!", he said. "I'll wait man", I replied, laughing a little bit also. Ah, the memories.



Release date- November 4, 1997 (Also released on this day was Rakim's first solo album, "The 18th Letter".)


Featured Guests
 Blackstreet
Puff Daddy
Lil Kim
Foxy Brown
Babyface
Sauce Money
Too Short


Behind The Boards
DJ Premier
Teddy Riley 
Puff Daddy & The Hitmen
Ski
Buckwild
Poke & Tone (Trackmasters)
Anthony Dent
Big Jaz


1. Intro/A Million And One Questions/Rhyme No More

After a "Carlito's Way" influenced intro by Pain In Da Ass, we immediately head into TWO STRAIGHT DJ Premier produced bangers. Jay does answer one question, and it would prove to be VERY true: "Is he gon ever fall off? No." Simple yet effective. He also did a remix to "A Million And One Questions" and it was almost as dope as this one.
*5 out of 5*
 
2. The City Is Mine

"I'm takin this rap shit serious, till my demise/Jay's shit like cake mix, watch me rise"

  

Jay starts this with a letter/verse to B.I.G., and the notable thing about it is that in this same verse, he essentially tells B.I.G. he's assuming the role, if you will, of the "King of N.Y" ("you held it down long enough, let me take those reigns"), rendering the "City Is Mine" title effective, considering where his career was heading.
*5 out of 5*

3. I Know What Girls Like

  
Wow, here we go, lol. I may be the only person I know who likes this song, which is interesting because at first I didn't, lol. 97 was also the year of Bad Boy, so a few major releases that year had some type of Bad Boy presence on them. Either way, this Boogie Boys sampled song (Fly Girl) is not as bad as you may have been led to believe.
*2.5 out of 5*

4. Imaginary Player

"And y'all wanna take my flow and run wit it/That's cool, I was the first one wit it"

Three things about this excellent song:

1) It almost comes across as an expanded version of "Cashmere Thoughts"

2) On one end you can see Jay, but then again, you can't, especially as far as money is concerned.

3) He makes it clear that he can do what you can do (and likely already done so), but he can do it better.

*5 out of 5*

5. Streets Is Watching

To this day, I have NO idea why this classic was edited, but that doesn't ruin it at all. This is one of my favorite Jay-Z songs, and I recall in an issue of Vibe magazine (late 97 or early 98), when discussing this album, he mentioned that he would put this song up against any rapper's best song, and I can see why. It's THAT good. Long analysis short, it's simple, all elements of the streets are watching, heed the alert, and Jay tells this story in the most charismatic form possible.
*5 out of 5*

6. Friend Or Foe 98

"Time to pay now, he try to rise, I wave the gun, lay down/This time you gonna really listen to Jay now"


This DJ Premier produced banger is the fitting sequel to the original "Friend Or Foe". Gone is the humor, replaced with a more serious tone.
*5 out of 5*

7. Lucky Me
Additional Vocals by: Karen Anderson 

"Hate the price of fame cause it cost too much/Can I live without y'all niggas sayin I floss too much"


I'll admit, I didn't care for this song at first, that was until I sat down and took my time with it. I see Jay's point here, that even after leaving a life where would've ended up either dead or in prison had he continued it in, he's made something of himself, but there are those who still aren't happy, and when you listen to his words, this is far beyond the usual "song about the haters". He once asked, "can I live", and that very question applies here.
*5 out of 5*

8. [Always Be My] Sunshine



Well, this was not one of Jay's best moments to be sure, plus this was one of his worst videos ever. It's not great, it's not wack, just MERELY ok. This was also considered by many to be a fairly blatant attempt at a more mainstream/commercial sound, even moreso than "I Know What Girls Like". More on this later.
*2.5 out of 5*

9. Who You Wit II

"Jay-Z rated AG, baby that's all good/I'll sink this ball in ya hole, I'm Tiger Woods"


My mom even likes this song to this day, which shows how dope it is. The original version was on the "Sprung" soundtrack (seen the movie once, don't ever want to see it again, lol), but the sequel was better of course.
*5 out of 5*
 
10. Face Off

More dopeness, and I really like how Jay and Sauce Money went back and forth on this one, tag team style throughout, however, I'm deducting some points. Why?? In an unnecessary bit, the constant whispering of "Trackmasters" in the background was present from beginning to end. I'm like, "damn, enough already, we know who made the beat". That should be minor, but still. 
*4.5 out of 5*

11. Real Niggaz

"On the road to riches and diamond rings, real niggaz do real things"


This is another song on the album that I didn't initially care for, but over time it grew on me. I really could've pictured Biggie on this one with Jay and Too Short. Rugged yet smooth.
*5 out of 5*

12. Rap Crack/Crack Game

This apply titled song finds Jay equating "the rap game to the crack game" in an effective, easy to understand form. It doesn't come off complicated at all, all you have to do is listen.
*5 out of 5*

13. Where I'm From

"I'm from where niggas pull ya card/And argue all day about who's the best MCs, Biggie, Jay-Z, and Nas"


Quite the legendary line right there for obvious reasons. This is another one of my favorite songs from Jay, one of his best, and arguably the best song on this album. The way he talks about where he's from is pretty brilliant.
*5 out of 5*

14. You Must Love Me
Additional Vocals by: Kelly Price

We close this album with one of the most personal songs from Jay. This is a dedication, a letter of apology of sorts to members of his family that he had wronged in the past, most notably the shooting of his brother. As Jay said, they must love him, because no matter what they're still there with him. Something to make you think as you listen to it.
*5 out of 5*


Wow, I have a good amount of commentary on this album. I have to break it down a bit.

Sound ---> Compared to "Reasonable Doubt" before it, the production on a good portion of the album is more commercial, having a "pop like" sound, but make no mistake about it, that doesn't hold this back from greatness in my opinion. It was said at the time of its release that Jay was "selling out" by adopting this new sound, and I respectively disagreed then and I do today, which brings me to the next point.

Lyrics/Subject Matter ---> If the death of Biggie had any effect on Jay (and I know it did), you wouldn't be able to tell by listening to this album. It seemed as if Jay was still inspired coming off of his debut, and this would've been the case even if Biggie was still alive I think. Lyrically he was still at the top of his game and most of the elements that were present on "Reasonable Doubt" were found on this album, even if it was presented in a more refined/polished form.



Overall, I still stand by my rating for this album, and even with songs like "Sunshine" and "I Know What Girls Like", they don't put a blemish on an excellent album. I've said this about other albums, in that if the material surrounding the "lesser songs" is strong all around (along with other factors), I have no problem awarding it the coveted 5 star rating. We get that on "In My Lifetime, Vol. 1" and Jay has/had nothing to be ashamed of. Lukewarm?? Absolutely not, and I would say it's his most underrated album.


5 stars  

Platinum




 To say that this was a highly anticipated album would be a true understatement. After the "shiny suit era" had all but died down, Jay-Z and the Roc-A-Fella Records dynasty were preparing to take the hip hop world by storm, and it all began with this album (I purchased it twice over the years). For this third part of the project, I'm going to utilize the album insert by including Jay's comments about each song (some verbatim, others summarized), followed by my usual thoughts and ratings.


Release date- September 29, 1998 (Also released on this day were Outkast's 3rd album "Aquemini" and A Tribe Called Quest's last album "The Love Movement".)


Featured Guests
Memphis Bleek
Da Ranjahz
Amil
Big Jaz
DMX
Too Short
Ja Rule
Foxy Brown
The Lox
Beanie Sigel
Sauce Money
Kid Capri
Jermaine Dupri


Behind The Boards
DJ Premier
Mark The 45 King
Swizz Beatz
Stevie J
Timbaland
J-Runnah
Irv Gotti & Lil Rob
Erick Sermon
Darold Trotter
Rockwilder
Kid Capri
Damon Dash
Mahogany Music
Jermaine Dupri


Jay's comments will be in red.


1. Intro- Hand It Down

  "The intro of the whole record is like the torch..... it's like the heir to the throne"


The consensus at the time, after hearing this intro, at least in my area, was that Memphis Bleek was going to be the aforementioned heir to the Roc-A-Fella throne, and Jay was stepping down. Neither of those things happened, but either way this was a dope intro.

2. Hard Knock Life (The Ghetto Anthem)

"Hard Knock Life, this one is for everybody. You can call it the Ghetto Anthem because this one is for the people. Everybody who ever has been through any type of shit in their life, any hard shit, that's what hard knock life is all about."



I wonder what Mark The 45 King is doing these days, because I guarantee you this one beat he gave to Damon Dash not only furthered his career, but I bet it has him set for life. As for this song, it exploded onto radio and TV at the time, definitely a classic and it's responsible for launching Jay into complete superstardom. And yes, Annie's "It's The Hard Knock Life" sample is worked beautifully here.
*5 out of 5*

3. If I Should Die

I gotta give this one verbatim, because Jay describes this song nicely.

"And If I Should Die it's basically saying that a nigga done a whole lot. A nigga ain't expect to be anywhere, especially where I'm at in my career. I never expected to be where I'm at now, so I feel I've accomplished everything, I'm happy. If I die don't cry my niggas, just keep doin it, keep gettin it on."


Jay, along with The Ranjahz, bring the dopeness over this banger from Swizz Beatz.
*4 out of 5*

4. Ride Or Die
 
"Ride or die. Don't fuck with me, bottom line."

"Always gotta be the weakest nigga out the crew/I probably make more money off your album than you/....Check your own videos, you always be #2/Niggas talkin real greasy on them R&B records/But I'm platinum a million times nigga check the credits"


Well, Jay's view of this good song sums it up pretty much. In addition, that line below it was a direct response to Mase's verse on 112's "Love Me", when he said "what we hear is platinum that, platinum this/Platinum whips, nobody got no platinum hits". Of course Mase didn't need to respond, because he didn't want it with Jay in ANY form.
*4 out of 5*
 
5. Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99)

"That nigga Jaz brought me into this whole business. The Originators was the first song I was on, people think Hawaiian Sophie was the first song I was on, I just filled in a couple of words on that joint (Hawaiian Sophie). We was using that fast style that everybody seems to be using now."

 "So what I do is rap and sex, imagine how I stroke/See how I was flowin on my last cassette/Rapid fire like I'm blastin a tech, no jam though, never get high, never run outta ammo"



Oh man, I couldn't picture anyone other than Timbaland making the beat to this classic. Jay and Jaz-O bring back the initial "originator flow", but with an updated sound, and it delivered in spades. I remember my friend Shaun going crazy when he first heard it, and so did I.
*5 out of 5*

6. Money, Cash, Hoes

"It's........ murrrder, that's what Money, Cash, Hoes is."

"It's like New York's been soft ever since Snoop came through and crushed the buildings"

Ooohh, that's that line right there, lol, and let me tell you, a few artists weren't too happy about it, specifically Prodigy of Mobb Deep, but that's another story that'll eventually be covered. This DMX assisted banger is another classic, also featuring Swizz' second best beat ever.
*5 out of 5*

7. A Week Ago

"This song was made because snitching became too cool. It felt like if you could participate in all the good times of hustlin, spending money, whatever you feel is the good life of hustlin and all. You already know the consequences of your act. You know you can eventually go to jail or anything can happen to you. Niggas always wanna take a nigga down when they go down. I mean stand up."


This is the first of two songs (the 2nd one is next) where you really get an introspective Jay-Z of sorts, and his assessment up top, again, sums up this song in a nutshell. Outstanding.

"Funny what seven days can change/A stand up nigga now you sit down to aim/Used to have a firm grip now you droppin names/It was all good just a week ago"

*5 out of 5*

8. Coming Of Age (Da Sequel)

"Y'all really have to take your time with this one. It's all about thought. Everything else in between is just what we were thinking, like he (Memphis Bleek) would think something then I would think something. It's a very mental record. You really have to take your time with this one."


For starters, this is arguably the best performance of Bleek's career, if not from a lyrical standpoint, then definitely for such an inspired performance. As Jay said, you really have to take your time with this one, and it truly is a very worthy sequel to the first one from "Reasonable Doubt". Bleek is no longer a rookie, as he has slowly but surely "risen through the ranks" and he's ready to step up ("I done came up, put my life on the line/Soaked the game up, now it's my time to shine/Time to change up, no more second in line"). Jay, on the other hand, is having to deal with the young man he mentored along the way, almost as if he sees a part of himself in Bleek and he's slightly resenting it. Whew, great stuff here.
*5 out of 5*

9. Can I Get A...

"This record is basically saying, if I wasn't doing this or if I wasn't doing such and such, would you roll with a nigga, would you be there for a nigga, and if not, then fuck you."



Lol, well said Jay. Looking back on it, this song can be considered a textbook example of "multi-promotion" in hip hop. Not only is the song tight, but let's take a look at what it did:

1) In addition to the first ever pairing of Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan for the first "Rush Hour" film, this song was also a selling point for the film and its soundtrack.

2) With "Hard Knock Life" still in heavy rotation on radio and TV at the time, plus "Money Ain't A Thang" and "It's Alright" not too far behind, "Can I Get A..." also sold this album.

3) Amil was along for the ride, however, this put a buzz on Ja Rule, leading to his 1999 debut.

*5 out of 5*

10. Paper Chase

"It's like the perfect New York route right there. It's like two people, we're not trying to take over the town, we just want everybody to get money."


Jay and Foxy on the all but familiar "paper chase" over a thumpin Timbaland track
*3.5 out of 5*

11. Reservoir Dogs

"That's what happens when you put a hot track in the studio with a bunch of niggas and lock the doors, a bunch of ill niggas. You never know what's gonna come out. Big things: the lyrics."


Oh man, revisiting this, I still can't begin to tell you who had the best verse in this song, because they're ALL DOPE. Now when I think about it, 1998 was the year of some truly dope collaborations featuring 5 or more MCs spittin over equally dope production, and this is one of them. Jay assembled an all star cast of lyrical talent, ranging from the up and coming (Beanie Sigel), the underrated (Sauce Money, in one of his final appearances on the Roc-A-Fella label), and the terrific trio of the Lox. Add Erick Sermon (and Darold Trotter) behind the boards, and what you got is another classic.
*5 out of 5*

12. It's Like That

With all due respect, I'm not sure why Kid Capri was on this one, because it's far from a "party anthem". In fact, this seemed like it should've been titled "Ride Or Die" rather than song #4 when you listen to the lyrics.
*4 out of 5*

*13. It's Alright



This is the first of two bonus tracks, and there's no way "It's Like That" was going to close this album. This was also on the "Streets Is Watching" soundtrack, highlighted by what I consider Bleek's second best verse after "Coming Of Age".
*3.5 out of 5*

*14. Money Ain't A Thang

"Y'all shit ain't for real til y'all ship a mill/And y'all hit a R&B chick and she fit the bill/Said she love my necklace, started relaxin/Now that's what the fuck I call a chain reaction"



This was also featured on JD's "Life In 1472" album, released in July of 1998. With or without JD present, this song still holds up today. I also remember Jay's first verse (which is damn good) was featured as a hip hop quotable in the July 1998 issue of The Source. This was met with a mixed reaction, but I thought it was a good choice.
*5 out of 5*


My friend Shaun copped this about a week or so after its release, and his version came with a bonus disc. I bought mine a few months later so I didn't get the bonus unfortunately. Remember "Things That Groupies Say", "Crew Love" with Jay, Sigel and Bleek, a tight Sigel freestyle? This and more was on that disc. Overall, this album has aged considerably well, and Jay was well on his way to complete superstardom afterwards. He linked up with some of the hottest MCs and producers at the time, something he would continue to do throughout his career, and we got an excellent album in the process. Great job.


4.5 stars
 
*It moved 350,000 units in its first week, and from there it was certified 5X platinum as of 2013, remaining his best selling album
*The album won a Grammy in 1999 for Best Rap Album, Jay's first




With "Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life" continuing to move mad units, and the hit songs receiving a good amount of radio and TV play, the anticipation was strong for Jay's 4th album. In addition to DMX's 3rd album "And Then There Was X" (released on 12/21/1999) and a 2nd copy of Wu-Tang's "Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), I copped Jay's album on the day of it's release.


Release date- December 28, 1999


Featured Guests
Beanie Sigel
Amil
Mariah Carey
Juvenile
Memphis Bleek
Dr. Dre
UGK


Behind The Boards
K-Rob
DJ Premier
Rockwilder
DJ Clue & Duro
Darrell "Digga" Branch
Swizz Beatz
Timbaland
Russell "Russ" Howard
Sean "SAF" Francis
Chauncey Mahan
Irv Gotti & Lil Rob


1. Hova Song (Intro)
Brief, Gotti (the movie) influenced intro to set the tone for the album.

2. So Ghetto

Although this was and still is a dope song, it's more notable for the fact that this was the last time Jay and DJ Premier worked together. Hopefully it's not the last time. 
*5 out of 5*
  
3. Do It Again

    "Got bitches in the back bouncin to Jigga What/You got ya hands up and I ain't even stick y'all up!" -Beanie Sigel



This was a big hit going into the year 2000. Jay and Beanie Sigel are hype on this one, and surprisingly Amil does her thing towards the end. It still holds up today.
*5 out of 5*

4. Dopeman

This is pretty epic right here and my pick for the album's best song. Jay is seemingly "on trial" for the "dope" he's provided to the masses, and that "dope" is serving as a powerful metaphor for the music. This is similar to what Death Row Records did with "The Chronic", saying it was a "dope album", buy it. Outstanding.
*5 out of 5*

5. Things That U Do



Borderline 5 minutes long, this song stops the momentum dead in its tracks for a bit. This was not one of Swizz' best behind the boards and Jay provided the usual.
*2 out of 5*

6. It's Hot (Some Like It Hot)

"I'm about a dollar what the fuck is 50 cents!"


Remember 50 Cent's "How To Rob"? In it, he said "what Jigga just sold like 4 milli, got somethin to live for/Don't want a nigga puttin 4 through that Bentley coup door". Reportedly, backstage at a concert, late 99-early 2000, Jay not only said he loved the song, but straight up told him "you know I gotta get you right?" (And props to Angie Martinez for that info!) That's how the above line was born. As far as this Timbaland produced banger goes, it's slammin and Jay rides the beat nicely.
*5 out of 5*

7. Snoopy Track

I'm not a fan of Juvenile, and admitted bias towards Jay-Z aside, I could've done without his assistance on the hook. This song is ok, but nothing special.
*2.5 out of 5*
 
8. S. Carter

Jay is saying nothing new here, while Amil literally adds nothing to the song. This was one of the more weaker songs on the album.
*2 out of 5*   
 
9. Pop 4 Roc

The name of this may have been "Pop 4 Roc", but it sounded like they were doing anything but. As far as I'm concerned, Sigel had the best verse. Amil, again, added nothing, Bleek was Bleek, and Jay had a very rare lazy moment with his verse. Let's move on.
*2 out of 5*

10. Watch Me

"The watch too rocky, need shades"

"Ice don't melt I can ski through a heatwave/Nights won't help, you see Jay it'll be day"


I swear, Dr. Dre had to be in the studio with Irv Gotti and Lil Rob during this making of this beat, providing some form of oversight, because it sounds like something Dre would make. Also, you couldn't help but watch (and listen) to Jay with his brand of "lyrical flossin". 
*5 out of 5*

11. Big Pimpin



It's been a while since I've bumped this song, and I *almost* forgot how GOOD it is. Jay and the late Pimp C did their thing, but Bun-B owned this one and it was effective in putting UGK on the mainstream scene. Timbaland's beat served them well too.
*5 out of 5*

12. There's Been A Murder

"Back to Shawn Carter the hustler, Jay-Z is dead." Hmm, not quite in my view, but it does serve as a nice bit of storytelling.
*4 out of 5*

13. Come And Get Me

I didn't expect anyone to try anything with Jay at this point (did you hear "Ride Or Die", lol), no matter how much he taunted you in this song.
*3.5 out of 5*

14. NYMP

"Jigga was cold as fuck before ice/Not Before Christ, but a long fuckin time, get ya mind right niggas!"


Like all beats that knock, my ride has always loved this beat, no question. And don't laugh, but to this day I still don't know what "NYMP" stands for, smh+lol. Dope song.
*4.5 out of 5*

15. Hova Song (Outro)

"Get ya CDs out, let's go song for song/I'm the illest nigga doin it til y'all prove me wrong."

Nuff said.

*16. Jigga My Nigga



Although "Hova Song" would've ended this album on a great note, we get two bonus tracks a few minutes after the outro. This was also included on the Ruff Ryders' compilation "Ryde Or Die Vol. 1". It was dope as hell then and it still is today. 
*5 out of 5*

*17. Girl's Best Friend



Come on fellas, we all know what a girl's best friend is, at least in a materialistic sense, lol! That would be diamonds and lots of them, something Jay makes very clear here. This was also included on the "Blue Streak" soundtrack.
*4 out of 5*


This very good album is one in Jay's discography that's seemingly talked about the least. It does have its share of filler (S. Carter, Things That U Do, Snoopy Track and Pop 4 Roc), but the rest of the album flows well. And of course as we head into the year 2000, his popularity would continue to grow. I will not lose!!!!!


4 stars

*The album moved 462,000 units in its first week, shipping 2 million copies in the first month of its release
*It was certified 3X platinum on February 14, 2001




After the tremendous success of 1999's "Life And Times Of S. Carter", Jay returned in the year 2000 with another heavily anticipated album. It was said that it would be a "compilation album", mostly showcasing Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek and Amil, along with Jay. I'm not sure where that came from or who started it, but in my view, this was never intended to be a "compilation album" in any form. This was going to be Jay's 5th solo album, which did showcase the rest of the crew. And how many times did I purchase this you may ask? Twice, and the first time was the week after it was released.


Release date- October 31, 2000 (Also released on this date was Outkast's "Stankonia".)


Featured Guests
Beanie Sigel
Memphis Bleek
Amil
Scarface
Snoop Dogg
R. Kelly
Freeway


Behind The Boards
Just Blaze
Rick Rock
The Neptunes
Kanye West
Bink
Rockwilder
B-High
Memphis Bleek
T.T.


1. Intro 

We begin things with quite the brilliant opener. After introducing the crew, Jay wastes no time with the lines, and it's SO many quotables here that (again) listing a few quotes here and there wouldn't do it justice. I'd really have to post the entire verse. Great start. 
*5 out of 5*

2. Change The Game

"It's only one rule. I WILL NOT LOSE!" -Jay-Z



Quite the statement above, and it turned out to be accurate too. The ROC did change the game, and this sleeper hit, if you will, celebrates that.
*5 out of 5*
 
3. I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)

"It's about to go down!!!" -Jay-Z



Yes indeed! This Neptunes produced classic is one of Jay's most popular songs. In addition the Jay-Z and Roc-A-Fella names, respectively, this effectively sold the album and it still receives radio play to this day (along with most of his other hits).
*5 out of 5*

 4. Streets Is Talking

"The streets is not only watchin, but they talkin now?" -Beanie Sigel


That's the theme of this one, featuring an almost show stealing verse by Sigel, especially towards the end when the beat stops and he continues to flow.
*4 out of 5*

5. This Can't Be Life

Over a dope Kanye West track, we get the first "triple threat" with Jay, Scarface and Sigel. The personal/back in the day touch makes this one stand out a lot.
*5 out of 5*

6. Get Your Mind Right Mami    
Additional Vocals By: Rell

Whenever there's a smooth, pimped out track around, you'll find Snoop Dogg, and he blesses this apply titled song (lol) along with Jay and Memphis Bleek.
*4 out of 5*

7. Stick 2 The Script

I love the beat and it more than matches the dope verses provided by Jay and Sigel. "No ad-libbing, stick 2 the script."
*4 out of 5*

8. You, Me, Him And Her

The crew's all here for this banger produced by the underrated Bink. Jay, Sigel and Bleek, who almost steals the show, completely bring it. Amil, in her sole appearance on this album, brings nothing, which is no surprise. 
*4.5 out of 5*

9. Guilty Until Proven Innocent

"I get it down, anxiously the public can't wait/Niggas had to have it way before its release date"



Man, Jay goes in on the press, mainly for how he was portrayed in the stabbing incident in December 1999. What happened was he accused Untertainment head Lance "Un" Rivera of bootlegging the "Life And Times Of S. Carter" album, and at Q-Tip's "Amplified" album release party, a commotion followed, which resulted in the stabbing. Jay later admitted to the incident, receiving 3 years probation and regretting his actions that night. Bootlegging was a serious thing back then and I'm not saying I condone Jay's actions (I don't), but MOST artists were not happy with any of their material getting out/leaked before its actual release date, and as a result, things like this could've happened unfortunately.
*5 out of 5*

10. Parking Lot Pimpin
Additional Vocals By: Lil Mo

"I turn automobiles into hotels on wheels" -Jay-Z 

 
There you have it, lol. That line and the song title sums this up well.
*4 out of 5*

11. Holla

Yep, a Bleek solo on a Jay-Z album, something he produced along with B-High. Leading into the release of his sophomore album in 2000, "The Understanding", Bleek was the most inspired I've ever seen, as he had steadily improved since his "Coming Of Age" debut.
*3 out of 5*

12. 1-900 Hustler

"The strong move quiet, the weak start riots" -Memphis Bleek


Sigel assumes the role of operator for another Bink produced banger. Jay, Bleek and Freeway, as "hustler consultants" (I made that up, lol), drop dope verses. Speaking of Freeway, he kills this one, likely the reason he became such a mainstay with the ROC.
*5 out of 5*

13. The R.O.C.

"..... Like you shotty somethin, like you bodied somethin/Nigga you body duckin, it's nothin, ya bluffin" -Beanie Sigel


It's only Sigel and Bleek for this one and their chemistry is very good, biggin up the crew.
*4 out of 5*

14. Soon You'll Understand

This is the most personal, introspective song on the album. I feel Jay's skill at delivering deep, thought provoking songs like this is underrated, possibly not getting enough credit in that area. When talking about family issues, especially coming to terms with things from the past, he was very descriptive with it.
*5 out of 5*

15. Squeeze 1st

In a rare occurrence, was Jay lyrically sleepwalking on this one? The beat was ok, but this was clearly not one of the album's highlights.
2.5 out of 5

16. Where Have You Been

Jay and Sigel's verbal anger is on full display toward their fathers, and as you listen, both of their situations kinda parallel with each other, in that they were looking for someone to look up to, a role model, but their fathers weren't there, and if they were, negativity was present. They also come off as being better off without them in their lives. Emotional.
*5 out of 5*


My thoughts on this album remain the same. It's excellent and possibly Jay's most introspective album since "In My Lifetime, Vol. 1", a good lead in to 2001's "The Blueprint". The production was very good throughout, as Kanye West and Just Blaze, just to name two, became key contributors to the Roc-A-Fella sound going forward. As far as the rest of the crew, Sigel and Bleek held things down. I can't say the same about Amil and I can see why her presence was very limited to one song, plus she was dropped from the label shortly afterwards. Heading into 2001, Jay would continue to achieve more success, getting bigger in the process.


4.5 stars 

*It moved 557,789 units in it's first week, going on to sell 2.3 million copies to date
*It's the 20th best selling hip hop album of the 2000-2010 decade (credit to Billboard)




 Coming in second to Nas' "Stillmatic", in 2001, this was a heavily anticipated album for me. I mean, waiting for the next Jay Z album was an automatic thing in my case, but what pushed it over the top was his performance of "Izza (H.O.V.A.) at the BET Awards that year, and if my memory serves me correctly, this was the actual debut of the song. Either way, I was hyped for this album, couldn't wait for September 11, 2001. And speaking of that date, that brings me to my next fact. I bought this album on that very day, along with Redman's "Malpractice", from Circuit City. I remember watching the big screens in shock and horror, at the coverage of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Needless to say, I'll never forget that day and my thoughts and prayers continue to go out to all the families that were affected by that tragedy. Also released on this day was Fabolous' debut, "Ghetto Fabolous".


Featured Guest
Eminem

 
Behind The Boards
Bink
Kanye West
Just Blaze
Track Masters
Timbaland 
Eminem


1. The Ruler's Back

    "So off we go, let the trumpets blow/And hold on because the driver of that Bentley is a pro/The ruler's back!"

"Well in these times, well at least to me/There's a lot of rappers out there tryin to sound like Jay-Z/I'll help you out, here's what you do/You gonna need a wide lens cause that's a VERRR big shoe"


I LOVE this opener, one of the best ever. Slick Rick's song of the same title is the influence here, also paying homage to him at the same time. Nice all around.
*5 out of 5*

2. Takeover

I have A LOT to say about this, but just know that I feel it's one of the top 5 best diss songs of all time, no question.

"R.O.C., we runnin this rap shit!"

"The takeover, the break's over nigga/God MC, me, Jay Hova/Hey lil soldier you ain't ready for war/R.O.C. too strong for y'all/It's like bringin a knife to a gun fight, pen to a chest/Ya chest in the line of fire wit ya thin ass vest"

That first verse was mean, but he wasn't done, oh no.


"I don't care if you Mobb Deep, I hold triggas to crews/You little fuck I got money stacks bigger than you/When I was pushin weight, back in 88/You was a ballerina, I got the pictures I seen ya"

"Don't let em gas you like Jigga is ass and won't clap you/Trust me on this one, I'll detach you"

"No you not on my level get ya breaks tweaked/I sold what your whole album sold in my first week/You guys don't want it wit Hov/Ask Nas, he don't want it wit Hov, NO!!!"

Hot damn, that second verse remains a career altering verse to this day. Before I talk about its effects (again), first a little backstory. Remember that "New York's been soft ever since Snoop came through and crushed the buildings" line from "Money, Cash, Hoes"? As mentioned before, Prodigy of Mobb Deep was one who spoke mostly about it, but not on record. He attempted to call out Jay in interviews when asked about it, and of course, those words did not go unheard and what resulted was a scathing verse from Jay. The album that Jay was referring to had to have been Prodigy's debut solo album, 2000's "HNIC". I've said it many times before and I'll still say it today, this one verse forever altered Prodigy's career, especially on a lyrical level. Any doubters, look no further than Mobb Deep's 2001 album "Infamy", and his performance on that album speaks for itself. When he came at Jay, he did so in the most half hearted way possible on "Crawlin", sealing his (lyrical) fate. I've said this before too (bias aside, and I like Prodigy too), but when it comes to striking back at someone the caliber of Jay Z, you better come correct or don't come at all.


"Went from Nasty Nas to Esco's trash/Had a spark when you started but now you just garbage/Fell from top 10 to not mentioned at all/To your bodyguards Oochie Wally's verse better than yours/Matter of fact you had the worst flow in the whole fuckin song, but I know, the sun don't shine, the sun don't shine"


Yes, Nas is my #1 favorite MC of all time, so this was stunning at the time. Rather than give the same exact thoughts, check out this "Nas vs. Jay-Z: The Battle" post for further context. 



I will say that while Nas was never garbage, he did enter into one of the darkest periods of his career, starting with the "Nastradamus" album. And I'll admit, "fell from top 10 to not mentioned at all", this did happen and he was all but written off critics and fans alike (that would change). I do disagree with Jay on the "Oochie Wally" comment. Although it was the worst thing Nas had done lyrically, in no way were the Bravehearts verse better than his.


"So yeah I sampled ya voice, you was using it wrong/You made it a hot line, I made it a hot song/And you ain't coin nigga, you was gettin fucked then/I know who I paid God, Serchlite Publishing"


"..... 4 albums in 10 years nigga, I can divide/(That's one every) let's say two, two of them shits was doo/One was nah, the other was Illmatic/That's a one hot album every 10 year average"


Man, had this been anyone else, their career would've been over, BUT, this would light a fire under Nas, the likes of which we have never seen before. And trust me, I'll get to that!


"A wise man told me don't argue wit fools/Cause people from a distance can tell who is who/So stop wit that childish shit nigga I'm grown/Please leave it alone don't throw rocks at the throne"


"Twinkle toes you breakin my heart, can't fuck wit me/Go play somewhere I'm busy/And all you other cats throwin shots at Jigga/You only get half a bar, fuck y'all niggas!"


Wow, like you need to ask what this gets.
*5 out of 5*

3. Izzo (H.O.V.A.)

"That's the anthem, get ya damn hands up!"



This is another song I love and it brings back so many memories from 2001. To me, this song was nothing but a celebration of his continued success.
*5 out of 5*

4. Girls, Girls, Girls


 

Jay's love of the girls is on full display, appropriately titled indeed. I need to revisit this video too, lol.
*5 out of 5*

5. Jigga That Nigga

Track Masters' beat was decent, but something was missing here and I'm trying to refrain from saying Jay was lyrically sleepwalking on this one. This is the ONLY low point on this album.
*2 out of 5*

6. U Don't Know

 
"I'll sell ice in the winter, I'll sell fire in hell/I am a hustler baby I'll sell water to a well"


This fast paced song is dope, probably one of Just Blaze's most famous beats.
*5 out of 5*

7. Hola Hovito

A little Spanish influence, made all the more dope with Jay on the mic and Timbaland behind the boards.
*4 out of 5*

8. Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)

 
"What's all the fuckin fussing for, because I'm grubbin more/And I pack heat like I'm the oven door/Niggas pray and pray on my downfall, but every time I hit the ground I bounce up like round ball"


I REALLY like the soulful vibe provided by Kanye West here, thanks in part to well placed sample courtesy of Bobby Blue Bland. Even after songs like "Can I Live", "Lucky Me", etc, Jay still can't got a moment's rest or pleasure due to all of his success, leading him to ask "where's the love?" Also, this song (the instrumental) was included on a commercial a few years back (can't recall which one), showing its impact.
*5 out of 5*

9. Never Change

"From the womb to the tomb, from now until my doom/Drink Army from one cup, pass it around the room, that's the ritual"

 

I don't think anyone has mentioned this until now, but you can tell Jay was listening to Nas' verse from "Verbal Intercourse" prior to creating this song, and that's no accident (nor was it a coincidence), even if he and Nas were bitter rivals at this point. Either way, it's debatable at best regarding whether he had/has changed or not, but this is a very good song.
*5 out of 5*

10. Song Cry


 "They say you can't turn a bad girl good/But once a good girl gone bad, she gone forever" 



Speaking from experience, dealing with a breakup, or in my case a separation that led to a divorce, is a hard pill to swallow, and I can tell Jay was felling that way here. And when infidelity and neglect plays a role, you're bound to lose what you once had. Nice song.
*5 out of 5*

11. All I Need

This apply titled song is another very good one, nothing more or less.
*4 out of 5*

12. Renegade


  "Muthafuckas say that I'm foolish, I only talk about jewels/Do you fools listen to music or do you just skim through it"


That second line is a damn good question Jay asked, and I certainly would ask the same thing today. Nevertheless, Eminem shows up for the album's sole guest appearance, coming through with a great performance on the mic and behind the boards. Bias aside, let me speak on something, and this will likely spark a debate. As mentioned, Em's verses were great, there's no denying that, but did he "murder" Jay on his own song, something that's been said for years now? In my opinion, no, because Jay more than held his own with Em throughout the song. Go back and revisit this in a recommendation from me. Coincidence or not, I don't think they've been on the same song since, and some would argue that's because Jay didn't want the same thing to happen again. That's debatable at best too. Other than that, great stuff here.
*5 out of 5*

13. Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)

Jay thanks his mother for giving him life, that's the Blueprint.
*5 out of 5*

*14. Lyrical Exercise (Breathe Easy)


  "I'm far from being God, but I work goddamn hard"


Song 13 would've been an awesome closer, but in what had become a trend on albums 3 and 4, Jay includes two bonus tracks. This "lyrical exercise" is just what the title suggests, and speaking of titles, he also claims the following, leading the league in 6 statistical catagories:

*Best flow
*Most consistent
*Realest stories
*Most Charisma
*Sets the most trends
*Hottest interviews

Who can argue with that??
*5 out of 5*

*15. Girls, Girls, Girls Pt. II

Not only is this part 2, but it comes with new (at that time) lyrics as well. It's good and it runs neck and neck with the original.
*5 out of 5*
 


Wow, THIS has aged well too. It's been said that Jay recorded this in 3 weeks. Whether he did or not, it's irrelevant, as this is an outstanding album, the 2nd best album of 2001. Saying he was still lyrically sharp is an understatement. The production was truly on point (and of course everyone jumped on board afterwards, coming with more soulful production), and of the producers, specifically Just Blaze and Kanye West, they became big names due to their contributions, especially Kanye. Jay has always said that "The Blueprint" gives "Reasonable Doubt" a run for its money and I agree 100 percent. It's my 2nd favorite Jay-Z album after "Reasonable Doubt" and it'll remain timeless.
 

5 stars
 
*The album moved over 420,000 units in its first week, also becoming his 4th consecutive album to reach #1 on the Billboard 200 chart

*Certified double platinum
 



 After 2001's classic "The Blueprint", most probably would've thought Jay would've took a hiatus after that, but that wasn't the case. Moreso than anything, one of the main reasons I anticipated this one more than others I know was due to the fact it was his first double album. I'm usually a sucker for double albums, and getting one from a long time favorite MC of mine was good news.

Release date- November 12, 2002


Disc 1 [The Gift]
 
Featured Guests
Faith Evans
Rakim
Truth Hurts
Beyonce
Sean Paul
LaToiya Williams
Big Boi
Killer Mike 
Twista

 
Behind The Boards
Just Blaze 
Dr. Dre
Kanye West
The Neptunes
Timbaland
No I.D.
Jimmy Kendrik
Big Chuck


1. A Dream

Jay's first verse on this opener is probably one of the more underrated verses he's ever done. He talks about a dream he had, having a conversation with Biggie and what he was told in the process. Whether it was real or not, I liked Jay's lines and delivery. Add in Faith Evans on the hook and Biggie's memorable first verse from "Juicy", you get a nice opener. 
*5 out of 5*

2. Hovi Baby

"I'm so far ahead of my time, I'm bout to start another life/Look behind you I'm bout to pass you twice/Back to the future, gotta slow up for the present/I'm fast, niggas can't get pass my past/How they propose to deal with perfect present"

 

Don't get me wrong, I've always liked this song, but it grew on me a little bit more once I revisited it. Jay's 2nd verse is simply great. Very good song.
*4 out of 5*

3. The Watcher 2

First off, mad props to the talented Truth Hurts for the hook. Now, the first "Watcher" from Dr. Dre's "2001" is dope, but it obviously doesn't hold a candle to this, THE best song on this entire album in my view. All of the makings of a classic are here: my #2 and #3 (Rakim) favorite MCs of all time on the a TIGHT track produced by my #1 favorite producer of all time (Dr. Dre). The only thing missing was Nas, lol!!
*5 out of 5*

4. 03 Bonnie & Clyde



Hov and B begins right here. Some people took issue with Jay using 2Pac's "Me & My Girlfriend" (on Pac's version, his girlfriend was his "gun"). I didn't see what the issue was, as it's a good song.
*3.5 out of 5*

5. Excuse Me Miss

"Either she the one or I'm caught in the matrix/Well fuck it let the fish burn (Fishburne)"



Only for the grown and sexy indeed. I guess it was only fitting that this smooth cut came right after song 4. 
 *4 out of 5*

6. What They Gonna Do

This song is good, however, I wasn't feeling Jay's chemistry with Sean Paul.
*2.5 out of 5*

7. All Around The World

We all know Jay has been all around the world, and likely is still doing it. Ms. LaToiya Williams provides a soulful, feel good vibe on a song where Jay is talking about his activities in and out of the country, lol. It's all good though.
*4 out of 5*

8. Poppin Tags

This apply titled song is very good, featuring good performances by all involved. Jay vibed well with Big Boi, Twista and Killer Mike.
*3.5 out of 5*

9. Fuck All Nite

I know this one wasn't meant for comedy, but I found myself laughing a few times throughout. Apply titled or not, this was not one of the better Jay-Z/Neptunes collaborations, could've been left on the cutting room floor too.
*2 out of 5*

10. The Bounce

I like this one right here. Timbaland's beat does make you bounce.
*4 out of 5*

11. I Did It My Way

It definitely goes without saying that with everything Jay has accomplished in his career, he did it his way. That's expertly expressed in this closer of disc 1.
*4.5 out of 5*


Disc 2 [The Curse]

Featured Guests 
Lenny Kravitz
M.O.P.
Scarface
Beanie Sigel
Young Chris
Memphis Bleek
Freeway
Young Guns
Peedi Crakk
Sparks 
Rell


Behind The Boards
Ron Feemster
Big Chuck
Heavy D
Just Blaze
Kanye West
Charlamane
The Neptunes
Timbaland
Digga


1. Diamond Is Forever

"Throw them diamonds up!"


Disc 2 opens with this excellent song. Jay is showing love to the ROC and declaring their name to last forever at the same time.
*4 out of 5*

2. Guns & Roses

"Flowers need water to grow, it gotta rain/In order to experience joy you need pain/Every time a baby is born somebody's slain/You know the saying, somebody's loss is another's gain"


Jay and Mr. Kravitz brought it nicely over Heavy D's rock styled production, a true highlight.
*5 out of 5*

3. U Don't Know (Remix)

This is a dope remix. At the time I was very happy for M.O.P., one of the most underrated duos in hip hop. Being with the ROC, I thought they would finally get the recognition they deserved. That unfortunately didn't happen and to this day I'm not sure what happened, and who knows, maybe M.O.P. were too aggressive for the label. Overall it definitely is a glimpse at what could've been.
*5 out of 5*

4. Meet The Parents

Jay flexes his strong storytelling muscles, referencing the unfortunate, tragic ending of the life of a young boy. Must be heard to be appreciated.
*5 out of 5*

5. Some How Some Way

Realistically speaking, at this point, it was late for Jay, Scarface and Beanie Sigel to be rapping about "making it out the hood", but I get the thought process behind it. 
*3.5 out of 5*

6. Some People Hate

To all my haters and detractors, this song's for you. Thanks for continuing to make me grow bigger and stronger due to your actions. -Sincerely, Jay-Z.
*4 out of 5*

7. Blueprint 2

Ennio Morricone's "The Ecstacy Of Gold" is used NICELY by Charlamane for Jay to call out his critics, and even Nas.


"I put real dollars on mine, ask Columbine/When the twin towers dropped I was the first in line (that's real)"

"Donating proceeds off every ticket sold/When I was out on the road, that's how you judge Hov, no?!/Ain't I'm supposed to absorbed with myself/Every time there's a tragedy I'm the first one to help/They call me this misogynist/But they don't call me the dude that take his dollars and give gifts to the projects/These dudes is all politics, depositin checks to put in they pocket/All you get in return is a lotta lip"


So even when he does something positive, it's not good enough. I can almost hear the frustration in Jay's voice, and if I was in a similar position, I would feel the same way.


"And y'all buy the shit, caught up in the hype/Cause a nigga wear a coofie it don't mean that he bright/Cause you don't understand him it don't mean that he nice/Just mean you don't understand all the bullshit that he writes/Is it Oochie Wally Wally or is it One Mic/Is it Black Girl Lost or shorty owe you for ice"

"I gave you life when niggas was forgettin you emcee(d)"


Yes, he did call out Nas for some of the contradictions that had followed him throughout his career. I also agree that Jay did light a fire under Nas after "Takeover", and I'm sure Nas would agree too. Jay mentioning those 4 songs also showed that even in battle, he did listen to Nas behind the scenes, and/or "did his research", as he called it.
*5 out of 5*

8. Nigga Please

Quit trying to what those on the ROC were doing, lol, it won't work. Just listen, lol.
*3 out of 5*

9. 2 Many Hoes

Usually a Jay-Z/Timbaland collabo brings damn good results, however, this is not one of them and it easily could've been left on the cutting room floor along with "Fuck All Nite".
*1.5 out of 5*

10. As One

On paper, this may have looked good, because you went into it thinking it would showcase the rest of the ROC's roster at their best. That wasn't the case here, and it's probably one of the least inspired "posse cuts" I've ever heard. Sadly, the beat and the hook didn't help either.
*2.5 out of 5*

11. A Ballad For The Fallen Soldier

"The one thing a hustler and a soldier have in common is a mother's pain"


Jay dedicates this one to the hustlers and soldiers, all while drawing an interesting comparison between the two, who have fallen over the years, domestic and international.
*5 out of 5*

*12. Show You How

The first of three bonus tracks, this was decent, nothing more.
*3 out of 5*

*13. Bitches And Sisters

Jay hilariously and accurately describes the obvious differences between "a bitch" and "a sister". 
*5 out of 5*

*14. What They Gonna Do Part II

This was better than the Sean Paul assisted one. Same lyrics and a better beat.
*4 out of 5*


A few months afterwards, Jay released "Blueprint 2.1", which was comprised of one disc of this album's best material, along with a few bonus tracks. Some may have felt "Blueprint 2" was too bloated and it would've easily been better by being a single disc album. I respect that, but I was satisfied at the end of the day. Don't get me wrong, I could've done without a couple of songs on both discs, but Jay still came with it on most of the album. It has aged good in certain spots (not all of them) and by no means is it a "bad or wack album". And I had to bump "The Watcher 2" when I finished this, lol!


3.5 stars

*This album debuted at #1 and moved 545,000 units in its first week
*It has sold 2,117,000 units (as of February 2012), confirming it's double platinum status




After a stellar run since 1996's "Reasonable Doubt", Jay decided it was time to call it a career. After previous "retirements" in hip hop, some were skeptical, but either way, this was huge in 2003, so you know my anticipation for this album was high. I also bought it on the day of its release.


Release date- November 14, 2003 (Also released on this day was G-Unit's "Beg For Mercy".)


Featured Guests
None

 Behind The Boards
Just Blaze
The Buchannans
Kanye West
The Neptunes
Timbaland
9th Wonder
Eminem
Luis Resto
Rick Rubin
DJ Quik
Aqua
Joe "3H" Weinberger


1.Interlude 

This brief interlude really does give the impression that this is the end of Jay's career.

2. December 4th

 "If you can't respect that your whole perspective is wack/Maybe you'll love me when I fade to black"

That's a true statement, in a sense, that a true artist is not going to be missed until they're retired, deceased or both. Other than that, this is classic stuff right here, with Jay taking a familiar introspective approach (past, present, and future style, even naming the song after his birth date), and his mother, Gloria Carter, adding her vocals was the icing on the cake.
*5 out of 5*

3. What More Can I Say

"I'm not a biter, I'm a writer for myself and others/I say a BIG verse, I'm only biggin up my brotha/Biggin up my borough, I'm big enough to do it/I'm that thorough, plus I know my own flow is foolish"

"And I'm back for more, New York's ambassador/Prime Minister, back to finish my business up"


After multiple albums, Jay asks, "what more can I say"? He's seen it all, done it all, what more can he possibly do? Well, I think he basically answered his own question with the remainder of this album and his career. Dope song overall.
*5 out of 5*

4. Encore

"As fate would have it, Jay status appears to be at an all time high/Perfect time to say goodbye/When I come back like Jordan, wearin the 45 it ain't to play games wit you"


This one line sums up the entire song, and trust me this was no slip of the lip either. I said then (and now), Jay was coming back at some point, it was completely inevitable. "Can I get an encore, do you want more?!" Yes indeed.
*5 out of 5*

5. Change Clothes



Most people I know were not crazy about this song, and whatever their reasons were, I can respect it though. It's only for the grown and sexy, which was Jay's purpose for this song.
*4 out of 5*

6. Dirt Off Your Shoulder



I recall watching the "Fade To Black" documentary, and during the making of this song, Jay, Timbaland and others were in the studio. Timbaland was playing some tracks, and one of them would later by used by Ludacris for his song "The Potion". As for this one, I like it a lot. Do you and do what you do best, and in the process, bypass the naysayers and "get that dirt off ya shoulder". 
*5 out of 5*

7. Threat

"Now what's duet, and you at/When you check out the technique/From the two tecs, and I don't need two lips/To blow this like a trumpet you dumb shit"


Even with the somewhat hilarious vocals by Cedric The Entertainer, Jay still comes off as a lyrical threat over this 9th Wonder produced cut.
*5 out of 5*

8. Moment Of Clarity

"I dumbed down for audience to double my dollars/They criticized me for it, yet 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"


I also thank God for giving Jay this moment of clarity, to be clear with all the listeners. The above lines highlight this excellent song. Even Jay was looked at as someone who was "too intelligent, too clever, an artist who would say things that went over the listeners head", dumbing down his lyrics (which he did, but he's STILL nice), and more success came as a result. And when there's more success, often there's critics, kind of a double edged sword. You got one section who preferred "Reasonable Doubt" Jay-Z, then another section just wanting material like "I Just Wanna Love U". So you can see where the confusion comes in. That was also a respectable nod to Talib and Common, and they were more than appreciative to Jay, especially due to the honesty.
*5 out of 5*

9. 99 Problems

"If you havin girl problems I feel bad for you son/I got 99 problems and a bitch ain't one!"

"If you grew up wit holes in ya Zapatos/You'd be celebratin the minute you was havin dough/I'm like fuck critics, you can kiss my whole asshole/If you don't like my lyrics you can press fast forward/Got beef wit radio if I don't play they show/They don't play my hits, I don't give a shit, SO!"


"You crazy for this one Rick!" I cosign Jay, and the beat was perfect for Jay here. He calls out the critics, once again, in the opening verse, and I also cosign with the lyrics above. The second verse is pretty brilliant, not only calmly handling the racial profiling from a police officer, but showing he's not ignorant of the law in terms of his car being searched. Great song.
*5 out of 5*

10. Public Service Announcement (Interlude)

"Fresh out the frying pan into the fire/I be the music biz' #1 supplier"

"I check cheddar like a food inspector/My homie Strick told me dude finish ya breakfast"

"Let me tell you dudes what I do to protect this/Shoot at you actors like movie directors (this ain't a movie dog!)"


The only thing I have to say about this is, it's pretty damn dope for an interlude.
 
11. Justify My Thug

This apply titled, DJ Quik produced song may appear to be more of the same from Jay, but he ends up turning it into something rather interesting.
*4 out of 5*

12. Lucifer

The devil (and anyone else like him) can get the lyrical heat, and I also feel Jay was already attempting to put the "Illuminati" claims to rest. Tight right here.
*5 out of 5*

13. Allure
 
This Neptunes produced cut is my favorite song on the album, and I even had to play it twice while doing this project. When I watched "Fade To Black", the beat is SO nice that even Jay couldn't turn it down. At the end of the day, it probably can't be explained why the allure of most things in life keeps people coming back, and even when you think you're out, you're pulled back in. Was that a small hint of things to come from Jay? I think so.
*5 out of 5*

14. My 1st Song

"Treat everything like it's your first project...... stay hungry" -The Notorious B.I.G.

"Treat my first like my last and my last like my first"


The two lines above, especially Jay's, sum this great closer up very well. Nuff said.
*5 out of 5*



I'm going to speak on the "retirement" first. It was clear to me immediately after listening to this album the first time (in addition to rating it) that this was not going to be a full fledged retirement by any means. This was more or less a much needed hiatus for Jay, and like I said earlier, he says he's coming back in the second verse of "Encore". I also feel Jay knew what he was doing, because not only would some people believe the retirement talk, but when he announced his return (which will be covered in the next part of the project), the anticipation and success would be huge. As for this album, it still holds up very well today and if it was his true swan song, this would've been a FINE way to call it a career. My rating has been the same since I first played it and that won't change. Great job.


5 stars
 
*The album moved 463,000 units in its first week
*As of July 2013, it has sold 3,516,000 copies in the United States



"Can't leave rap alone the game needs me"
Izzo (H.O.V.A.), 2001


Think back to the "Blueprint" project when I said remember that line above, because it definitely applies in this case. Although Jay claimed he was retiring after 2003's "The Black Album", with hindsight being 20/20, it was basically a (deserved) hiatus. It was not a matter of if he was going to return with a new album, but when. "Kingdom Come" was one of the most anticipated albums of 2006, so not only was this big at the time, he also managed to have a short, history making stint as CEO of Def Jam Records. So how does this album hold up today? Let's jump right into it!


Release date- November 21, 2006


Featured Guests
Chrisette Michele
John Legend
Usher
Pharrell Williams
Beyonce
Sterling Sims
Ne-Yo
Chris Martin


Behind The Boards
B-Money
Just Blaze
Dr. Dre
Mark Batson
Kanye West
DJ Khalil
The Neptunes
Syience
Swizz Beatz
Chris Martin
Rick Simpson



1. The Prelude

 "The real is back"

This is a very good opener, love the beat.
*4 out of 5*

2. Oh My God

I really like Just Blaze's beat and especially the nicely worked "Whipping Post" sample courtesy of Genya Ravan. Jay could've come better lyrically on this one, but it's still good.
*4 out of 5*

3. Kingdom Come


  "You breath it, we need it, bring it back for the hustlers/Had to dust off the hammer, dance, can't touch this"


"Flash Gordon when recording, spark a light in the dark/Peter Parks, Spider Man, all I do is climb the charts"


This is another dope song produced by Just Blaze. I'll tell you one thing, looking back at this time in hip hop, Jay was one of its saviors considering where the game was heading.
*4 out of 5*
 


4. Show Me What You Got

"This is state of emergency, bitches. What you want me to do I'm sorry, I'm back!" (Laughs)



As a "comeback hit", I recall a lot of people weren't too impressed with this one compared to some, if not all, of his previous hits. In my view, Jay seemed a little inspired over another dope Just Blaze production. I'll also say of all his hits that still receive radio play, this one doesn't, at least in my area. Still very good though.
*4 out of 5*

5. Lost One



Over a nice, piano laced track by Dr. Dre and Mark Batson, Jay returns to his introspective side with Ms. Chrisette Michele on the hook. 
*4 out of 5*

6. Do U Wanna Ride

"You know why they call a project a project/Because it's a project/An experiment, we're in it, only as objects"


After listening to this one again, I like it a little more than I did previously. The second verse along raises the rating a bit. Take this ride.
*4 out of 5*


7. 30 Something

"A nigga been focused since he said hi to 30". Yep, Jay said that at one point, and here he embraces himself as he evolves, during the "30" stages.
*3.5 out of 5*

8. I Made It

I'm sure Jay had to know his mom already knew he made it, but you can never knock a song an artist dedicates to his mom. I also liked how he thanked her for helping him repair his relationship with his dad before he passed in a very nice touch.
*4.5 out of 5*

9. Anything

Oh man, where did this come from? Jay is doing this for the women (hence the Usher feature), and it's something about Neptunes' beat that hit me more than it did before.
*3.5 out of 5*

10. Hollywood



I respect what they were going for here, but a song like this would've been better suited for a Beyonce album instead.
*2.5 out of 5*

11. Trouble

"Fuck that exclamation, comma, quotation/I love drama, period"

I like this one right here, and lyrically Jay is trouble on this thumpin Dr. Dre production.
*4 out of 5*

12. Dig A Hole   
 
    "Dig a hole, bury yaself!"

 "You sellin little tools, only time you went plat/My chain was on your neck, that's an actual fact/So I’m prayin’ that it spills outside of the booth/That’s when y’all niggas outside of your truth/Outside of your league, that’s not what you do/Niggas throwin Roc signs outside of your Coupe/Don’t look at Hov like he done somethin wrong to ’em/Cause he’s on to 'em, he just took what belonged to him” 


 Jay goes in on Cam'ron (and in a sense Jim Jones) throughout this one, largely stemming from Cam's short "run" with the ROC as an alleged promotion by Dame Dash of Cam to VP while Jay was on vacation. Not a good move Dame.
*4 out of 5*

13. Minority Report

"Sure I ponied up a mil but I didn't give my time/So in reality I didn't give a dime or damn/I just put my monies in the hands of the same people that left my people stranded/Nothing but a bandit, left them folks abandoned"


I could've said the above line sum up this song in a nutshell, but I have to speak more on this. 

I almost cried towards the end of the song. You know, prior to this project, I watched Spike Lee's incredible documentary on Hurricane Katrina ("When The Leeves Broke") and without trying to go into it too much, it still stuns and angers me how our Federal Government all but abandoned those people, during and after the hurricane and it's a shame. One woman said, "it's not about low, middle or high class, it's about people", and I agree 100 percent. Jay essentially feels the same. Although he contributed 1 million dollars of his own money, he could've done more. Everything he said about the people and this entire tragedy/disaster, were right. Ne-Yo said in the hook, "seems like they don't even care", and that's true too. The best song on this album.
*5 out of 5*

14. Beach Chair

"Life is like a beach chair"


Oh man, not because it's complicated (it isn't), but this closer must be heard to be appreciated.
*5 out of 5*



Lukewarm, mediocre, uninspired, forgettable. Those are 4 words I frequently saw around the release of this album, and still do today. For a comeback album, it may not have been the blockbuster most were hoping for, but make no mistake about it, this is a damn good album. With two songs clocking in at a "5 out of 5" rating, nine at "4 out of 5", and two with "3.5 out of 5", that more than jumps my rating up. To those who own it and haven't played it in a long time, I recommend a revisit, you may be surprised. If you shied away from it due to the mixed feedback, I still consider it a recommendation.


4 stars 

*Selling 680,000 units its first week, this was Jay's highest selling album in a one week period
*Certified double platinum (2,510,000 units sold to date)
*It was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album (it lost to Kanye West's "Graduation"




After 2006's successful "Kingdom Come" album, Jay returns with what I considered his concept album, "American Gangster", which is inspired by events of the movie with the same title. Even though I was looking forward to the next Jay-Z album after "Kingdom Come", unless I missed something, I literally didn't find out about this album until a week before its release. And of course, I was right at my local Best Buy to purchase this on the first day it came out.


Release date- November 6, 2007


Featured Guests
Nas
Beanie Sigel
Lil Wayne


 Behind The Boards
Chris Flame
Diddy
LV & Sean C
Bigg D
The Neptunes
Just Blaze
Toomp
No I.D.
Jermaine Dupri

1. Intro
An audio clip from the movie and spoken words about "what a gangster is" sends us on our way.

2. Pray

"This is why I be so fresh/I'm tryin to beat life cause I can't cheat death"

This was a very good way to start this album. The theme? No matter what you're doing or going through in your life, you can do one thing, pray.
*5 out of 5*
 
3. American Dreamin

Backed by a nice sample courtesy of the late, great Marvin Gaye ("Soon I'll Be Loving You Again"), Jay tells the tale of something most of us can relate to, searching for and going after that American dream. Going back to Mr. Gaye, including that aforementioned sample was a good choice. Not only was he a dreamer himself, he worked hard to make his dreams come true before his untimely death.
*5 out of 5*

4. Hello Brooklyn

"Like a mama you birthed me/Brooklyn you nursed me/Schooled me with hard knocks, better than Berkeley"


First off, believe it or not, prior to this project, I only listened to this song once and that's the day I bought it. Honestly, the song isn't bad, with Jay showing mad love to the place that birthed him, and the Beastie Boys' "Hello Brooklyn" sample was a nice touch, but man , I REALLY could've done without Lil Wayne on this song. The hook is a thumbs down, plus he has NO connection to/with anything relating to Brooklyn. He's out of place on an otherwise good song.
*3 out of 5*

5. No Hook

"The most important thing in business is honesty, integrity, hard work, family, never forgetting where we came from" -Frank Lucas 

"Leave that boy Hov alone why don't ya/You don't have to if you don't want to, but don't say I didn't warn ya"


Jay certainly didn't need a hook for this, what I call a "brief epic". Check this out dear reader, the next time you bump this song, consider these options:

1) At home, make sure it's the evening and make sure you have a nice set of headphones while you listen to this. And tune out everything else if you can, lol.

2) In your ride, turn the volume up to a medium-high pitched level with the windows up, only if it's not too hot, lol.

Mark my words, you're going to leave this song with a different view, putting it on repeat when it's over too, lol!
*5 out of 5*

6. Roc Boys (And The Winner Is.....)



It's definitely a celebration on this one, and you can hear it in Jay's voice. The horns here were amazing.
*5 out of 5*

7. Sweet

"We playin for property, no monopoly/So I'll pass go and let my nephew follow me"


Of course you know what Jay thinks of himself and his life, the life is sweet, much like this song.
*4 out of 5*

8. I Know

You can look at this song from a variety of perspectives in terms of the "high life", whether it's sexual, smoking, life in general, etc, they all apply here. And at the same time, Jay brings a smooth like tone over a Neptunes produced track that's smooth too, but also bangs.
*5 out of 5*

9. Party Life

"I'm in a whole nother league, niggas can't catch me/And I sport fly shit, I should win an ESPY"
 
"Hola hovito, cooler than zero/Below fresh, one blade, no kemo/Art wit no easel, please there's no equal/Ya boy is off the wall, these other niggas is Tito" 

By his own admission, Jay comes slick with it on this apply titled song.
*4 out of 5*

10. Ignorant Shit

"Y'all niggas got me really confused out there. I make Big Pimpin or Give It 2 Me, one of those, y'all hail me as the greatest writer of the 21st century. I make some thought provoking shit, y'all question whether he fallin off. I'm gon really confuse y'all on this one...... follow!"


Jay didn't confuse me and I got the message. Those lines above and the title of the song best describes it, and it's something he's faced most of his career. He could make a song, not only something good, but it'll chart as a hit single, then he's questioned about whether he's falling off if he makes a song like, for example, "Moment Of Clarity"? Makes no sense to me. Also, Beanie Sigel came through with a brief, but decent verse.
*5 out of 5"

11. Say Hello

"Say hello to the bad guy, they say I'm a bad guy/I come from the bottom, but now I'm mad fly/They say I'm a menace that's the picture they paint/They say a lot about me, let me tell you what I ain't"

"I ain't a ordinary nigga/Look around this ain't what ordinary gets ya/Extraordinary figures/I'm an extraordinary nigga"


The underrated Toomp laces Jay with a banger. Oh yeah, to all those feel/felt Jay is a "bad guy", this one's for you, and it's not directed at you in the way you may think.
*5 out of 5*

12. Success

"Let that bitch breathe!!!!!"

"Nigga said Hov was over, such dummies/Even if I fell I land on a bunch of money, y'all ain't got nothin for me"
 
"Up ya catalog dog, mines worth too much/Like Mike Jack's ATV pub, Motolla can't touch" -Nas


You KNEW I was waiting for the next Nas and Jay-Z collabo after "Black Republican", and this one delivered in spades! Nas and Jay KILL this one and lyrically it's harder than "Black Republican".
*5 out of 5*

13. Fallin

I really like this one. "Karma", "what goes around, comes around", they all apply here. Jay is all but saying "watch what you do and the decisions you make".
*5 out of 5*

14. Blue Magic



Oh boy, I have a funny story I want to share, and I'm sure the ones who are familiar with it reading this will laugh all over again. In a "song versus" topic on a forum (can't recall which one), someone asked which song was better, "Blue Magic" or "Change Clothes". Lol, I was probably the only one who picked the latter, smh+lol. Everyone else who commented on this couldn't believe it. I'm not sure why I picked "Change Clothes" in the first place and why it took me so long to change my mind, but it's very clear "Blue Magic" is the better song and it's dope.
*4 out of 5*

15. American Gangster

"The way I shine is like a zillion dollar light bill"


Another apply titled song, oddly enough, kinda fast paced too. This was a very good closer, bringing everything full circle.
*4 out of 5*



I want to backtrack on something. This is less a "concept album" and moreso a "movie on record" like Jay always said. Form top to bottom, this is an excellent album, and that includes "Hello Brooklyn". The "American Gangster" movie was a very good inspiration for this album and it delivered.


4.5 stars

*The album moved 425,861 units in its first week, in the process tying Elvis Presley's record for second most number one albums in the U.S.
*Certified platinum 



Coming almost 2 years after 2007's "American Gangster", Jay blessed the hip hop world with the 3rd album in the Blueprint trilogy. I'm not sure if it was intended to be on this album or not, but I remember being hyped as hell when I first heard "Jockin Jay-Z", which you can also listen below:




As you can probably tell, the anticipation for this album was already there obviously, but that single only made it grow. More on this later.

Release date- September 8, 2009


Featured Guests
Luke Steele 
Rihanna
Kanye West
Alicia Keys
Young Jeezy
Swizz Beatz
Drake
J. Cole
Kid Cudi
Pharrell Williams
Mr. Hudson


Behind The Boards
Kanye West
No I.D. 
Shux
Janet "Jnay" Sewell-Ullepic
Angela Hunte
The Inkredibles
Swizz Beatz
Timbaland
Jerome "Jroc" Harmon
The Neptunes

1. What We Talkin Bout

 "What we talkin bout, real shit or we talkin bout rhymes/You talkin bout millions or you talkin bout mine?"

"I don't rap no more, I run the map!"

"Grown men want me to sit em on my lap/I don't have a beard and Santa Claus ain't black"

The day I bought this, I played this song about 3 times before I made it to the next song, that's how excellent it is. Fact or fiction? Rhymes or millions? Beef or not? What we talkin bout indeed. Everyone has something to ask and/or say about Jay and he addresses it in vintage Jay-Z form.
*5 out of 5*

2. Thank You

"Thank you, thank you, thank you, you're far too kind/Hold your applause, this is your song, not mines"


That line above perfectly describes this excellent, appropriately titled song, and there are so many quotables here that I'd be listing the whole song as a result, especially the 3rd verse.
*5 out of 5*

3. D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)

"This is anti Auto Tune, death of the ring tone/This ain't for iTunes, this ain't for sing a long's" 



No I.D.'s reworking of Janko Nilovic and Dave Sucky's "In the Space" provides the perfect backdrop for Jay and his lyrical ending of Auto Tune. I want to make two points before I proceed. 1) At this point in hip hop (and R&B too), the use of Auto Tune was becoming a trend for all the wrong reasons, as one of the keys to success then was either having an auto tuned hook, song, or both. I feel this song ended that trend, although it did pop up a few times since 2009. 2) Lil Wayne released a "No Ceilings" mixtape later that year (which I have heard), and freestyled over this "D.O.A." beat. I remember hearing people say Wayne flowed better over the beat than Jay did. I disagreed 100 percent. I'll admit, Lil Wayne did ok, but in no way did he "murk the beat" better than Jay. Overall, I really like this song, dope as hell.
*5 out of 5*

4. Run This Town



This song received a LOT of radio play in 2009. "Run This Town" was a nice title for it, because Jay, Kanye West and Rihanna, who did very good on the hook, did run the airwaves at the time. And yes, Kanye did have the best verse.
*5 out of 5*

5. Empire State Of Mind



Like "Run This Town", this song also received a lot of airplay and it still receives spins today. It's one of the best tributes to New York in a hip hop form ever, and I don't think anyone else could've brought it on the hook like Ms. Alicia Keys did.
*5 out of 5*


And if you're keeping track, that's five songs in a row rated at "5 out of 5".

6. Real As It Gets

"Close your eyes you can smell/Hov's the audio equivalent of braille"

Real recognize real, and that's what this Young Jeezy assisted song is all about.
*3.5 out of 5*

7. On To The Next One

"Hov on that new shit, niggas like how come/Niggas want my old shit, buy my old album(s)"

"And niggas don't be mad cause it's all about progression/Loiterers should be arrested"

"MJ at the Summer Jam, Obama on the text/Y'all should be afraid of what I'm gon do next"



I really like this one and it does have a party vibe to it, which is why my mom likes it so much, lol!
*4 out of 5*

8. Off That

"I'm just a runway show/But I wear that so my plane need my runway clothes"

"I'm on a practice field runnin two a day/So I don't drop the ball when it's threw my way"


Not even Drake on the hook ruined the fast paced vibe of this Timbaland produced track.
*4 out of 5*

9. A Star Is Born



I like how Jay gave a nod to hip hop's past, present and future, all the while signaling the rise of a then newcomer in J. Cole.
*4 out of 5*

10. Venus Vs. Mars

"Me I'm from the Apple, that means I'm a Mac/She's a PC, she lives in my lap"


Man, although this one was aimed at the ladies, Jay was firing off punchlines throughout. His flow was more relaxed than usual, and the beat could've been a bit better, but lyrically he made this shit work.
*4 out of 5*

11. Already Home

"On another level, I'm on another plane already/H-O-V, I got my own lane already"


This was good, nothing more or less.
*3 out of 5*

12. Hate

Look at that title. Although this is something that's been covered by many artists over the years, including Kanye and Jay. I'm not sure what they were aiming for with this futuristic/experimental sound. It did serve as an indirect precursor to "Watch The Throne".
*2 out of 5*

13. Reminder

Although I know why Jay made this, I honestly don't think any of us needed any type of reminders of what he done over the years. I personally would save that for the actual, last, this is it album.
*3 out of 5*

14. So Ambitious

"The motivation for me is them tellin me what I could not be..... I'm so ambitious"

"Dear teacher, you probably somewhere near a speaker/I'm ballin outta control, can you hear my sneakers"


Pharrell's hook sums up this dope song nicely. Jay's always been an ambitious person and ironically this is his "reminder". 
*4 out of 5*

15. Young Forever



I agree with a previous reviewer, who drew the conclusion that Jay was alluding to age plus Jay-Z equals "forever young". He'll remain forever.
*4 out of 5*


Before I get to my final thoughts, I want to talk about "Jockin Jay-Z". I recall saying that had this song been on the album, I would've given it a 4.5 star rating. Well, I have to take that back. I mean, it would've been a better choice than a few of the songs on here, but my rating would remain the same. As for this album, it's still very good, especially with five straight "5 out of 5" rated songs, but I don't think it has aged all that well. Moreso than any album before it, "Blueprint 3" clearly showed what direction Jay would take as his career continued. On par with the first Blueprint? Nope. Better than Blueprint 2? Possibly.

4 stars

*The album moved 476,000 units in its first week, also his 11th number one album
*Certified platinum



 In the final portion of this project, we have reached "Magna Carta Holy Grail". I was a little surprised at how out of the blue, if you will, the announcement of this album came about, but it's all good. With Jay-Z being my #2 favorite MC of all time, this was automatically anticipated by me, although I could've done without the somewhat excessive amounts of hype it received back in July 2013. Speaking of hype, I'm pretty sure most of you remember how this album was announced, as well as the deal with Samsung. This would be his 12th studio album and his first since 2009's "The Blueprint 3". 


Release dates- July 4, 2013 (for those first one million subscribers who downloaded a new app via their Samsung phones, which I will not list here, respectively, and along with it came a free download of this album) 


July 7, 2013 (retail release)


Featured Guests
Justin Timberlake
Rick Ross
Frank Ocean
Beyonce


Behind The Boards
The Dream
Timbaland
Jerome "J-Roc" Harmon
No I.D.
Boi-1-da
Vinylz
Pharrell Williams
Hit Boy
Darhyl "Hey DJ" Camper
Mike Dean
Travis Scott
WondaGurl
Mike Will Made It
Marz
Justin Timberlake
Kyambo "Hip Hop" Joshua
Swizz Beatz
Adrian Younge 


1. Holy Grail

For starters, this was a very good opener. I like how Jay flows on this beat (although he's not saying nothing new at all) and Mr. Timberlake does a good job on the hook. 
*4 out of 5*

2. Picasso Baby

You know I was on the verge of giving this one a 3.5 out of 5, but once the beat switched up with a 1:30 left, I had to up it. Again, I must say he's not saying nothing new, but you can't deny the flair that's still there on the mic, just take a look at the title of this song, lol. 
*4 out of 5*

3. Tom Ford
 
This was decent, felt like I was listening to "Luxury Jay-Z" on this one ("I don't pop Molly, I rock Tom Ford"). Nice beat also. 
*3.5 out of 5*

4. FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt 

Just look at that title. Again, that tells you all you need to know, and when you've heard one "I got it" type song, you've heard them all and this is NO different, especially Rick Ross' verse, which I could've done without. 
*2 out of 5*

5. Ocean

I really like Pharrell's beat, as it matches Jay's subject matter and a very good hook provided by Frank Ocean. 
*4 out of 5*

6. F.U.T.W.

Allow me to refer back to "Encore" from Jay's "The Black Album". He said "I came, I saw, I conquered/From record sales to sell out concerts". That was a true statement. Listening to this one (in which F.U.T.W. stands for "fuck up this world"), I don't take what he's saying seriously in a literal sense, but I kinda see the point he's trying to make (and feel free to tell me if I'm over-analyzing this). 
3.5 out of 5

7.  Somewhere In America

We have all heard about the adventures of Jay-Z all over this world, and although he has done this before (and better), this apply titled song is good for the most part. 
*3.5 out of 5*

8. Crown

We get another apply titled song after "Somewhere In America", and even though a song like this could've easily been on "The Blueprint 3" or the "Watch The Throne" album, it's still pretty good. 
*4 out of 5*

9.  Heaven

"Have you ever been to heaven?" This question is asked during the hook, and it's one appropriately titled song if you ask me. New territory for Jay-Z perhaps? 
*3.5 out of 5*

10. Versus

Although this is 51 seconds, I had to listen to it twice. Jay is going at someone on this song and he called out no names (I think I may have an idea who it is).

11. Part II (On The Run)

When you get Jay and his wife Beyonce on a song, you know what to expect, and I feel this is somewhat of a reprise of "03 Bonnie & Clyde". I have no issue with them collaborating, because in addition to being husband and wife, they're also artists, and that's clear here just like all the other songs they've done together. 
*3 out of 5*

12. Beach Is Better 
This is another BRIEF skit/song, much like "Versus".

13. BBC (featuring appearances by Nas, Pharrell, Timbaland, and Beyonce)

Just by listening to this song, it sounds like one big party, and that's NO knock to any of the talent involved. With that being said, even with the rating I'm about to give it, I could see it on the radio. 
*3 out of 5*

14. Jay-Z Blue

I LOVE this one, as we get Shawn Carter, the father, on this song, a dedication to his daughter, and I can't forget the "spiritual vocals" of the late great Notorious BIG in the background. Best song on this album. 
*5 out of 5*

15. La Familia

Straight for the fam, yes indeed. This is another very good song (I just wish he would've switched up his flow for it). Some may feel it's late, but Jay does deliver, well, let's go ahead and call it what it is, a diss to one Lil Wayne after a few jabs from him over the years (Wanna kidnap wifey / Good luck with that bruh / You must gonna hide your whole family/ What you think we wearing black for / Ready for that war / Ready for that war ready / You ain't ready, yo, you radio"). I really don't expect Wayne to respond, and if he does, I can only imagine what ignorant mess we're going to receive. 
*4 out of 5*

16. Nickles and Dimes

This was a very good closer, even if it's nothing we haven't heard before. 
*4 out of 5*



Well, all bias aside (I'll try at least, lol), this album is pretty good. Production wise it may be a bit "busy" for some, but it fits him nicely at this point in his career. Although his lyrics are NOT wack or phoned in, he's saying nothing new on most of the songs, but the charisma and flair is still there as I mentioned before. Is this better than his last studio/solo album, "The Blueprint 3"? In my opinion, no. The ONLY thing I could've done without, of course, is the song with Rick Ross, which is nothing we haven't heard before in this day and age and easily could've been left off this album. Good overall.



3.5 stars


*The album moved 528,000 copies in its first week, Jay's 13th consecutive album to hit #1 on the charts
*Certified double platinum

Wow, what more can I say about Jay Z? He has a stellar discography, made big moves (and history) over the years and is clearly one of the greatest of all time. Much props and respect.
 


My final rankings and ratings

 1. Reasonable Doubt (5 stars)

2. The Blueprint (5 stars)

3. In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (5 stars)

4. The Black Album (5 stars)

5. American Gangster (4.5 stars)

6. Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life (4.5 stars)

7. The Dynasty Roc La Familia (4.5 stars)

8. Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter (4 stars)

9. The Blueprint 3 (4 stars)

10. Kingdom Come (4 stars)

11. The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse (3.5 stars)

12. Magna Carta Holy Grail (3.5 stars)

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