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Jesal's Artist of the Decade Series - Jay-Z
Posted by Steve Juon at Tuesday, September 15th, 2009 at 12:00AM :: Email this article :: Print this article

Jesal's Artist of the Decade Series - Jay-Z

Realizing that this decade is nearly up, Jesal 'Jay Soul' Padania decided to start a series of special features. The aim is simple: to find out precisely who the " Artist of the Decade" is - and reward them of course. Expect everyone else to follow his lead! You can read the previous entry for Nas HERE.

If this decade had to belong to just one person, it would probably be Jay-Z. In terms of accomplishments, record sales and a general aura of artistic ability/business nous, Mr Carter (Senior) has done an awful lot in the Noughties. However, he has done a lot of awful stuff too: for every Blueprint, there has been a Blueprint 2; for every Black Album, a Kingdom Come has lurked in the shadows. Even his work as Def Jam President brought Ne-Yo and Rihanna, yes; however, the scrapheap of rappers neglected by Jigga (himself a rapper, oh the shame of it!) piled ever higher over his reign. But without all-round artists of his calibre acting as life jackets, hip hop may well have drowned young in a sea of beef, breakbeats and bullshit. Yet, his relentless pursuit of the Beatles will ultimately prove futile. As I said in my controversial "Blueprint 3" review, it feels as though "Jay-Z is so fixated on achievement that he is losing track of why he wanted to MAKE records in the first place, not just BREAK them." The majority of their number 1 records came in just over SIX years, and, as time wore on, it was in the name of artistic exploration - on the other hand, Jigga will realistically have to keep going until this time next decade to break it. Will he improve year on year? Doubtful.

"Hov's a living legend, and I'll tell you why
Everybody wanna be Hov, and Hov's still alive..."

The good, however, just about outweighed the bad - and if "Volume 3: The Life & Times..." had been released less than a week later, he would have released EIGHT albums this decade, even though he effectively took 3 years off in the middle. The guy is a pioneering genius in more ways than one, with a damn strong work ethic to boot, and as hip hop has descended into the bizarre organised anarchy that we are now witnessing in 2009, the continuance of Jay-Z (minus his temporary break circa '04) has been ever welcome. Be it holding us down most summers, feuding/making up with Nas, releasing shoes, his clothing line, the royal celebrity marriage to Queen Beyonce, being Def Jam President, signing a $150m deal with Live Nation, headlining Glastonbury... The list goes on and on. That is why, at this stage in the rap life cycle, a 40-year-old multi-millionaire is so important to an industry so allegedly young, raw and rebellious. His is the face of hip hop. Still.

"The Dynasty: Roc La Familia" (2000)
This is one of those strange albums that wasn't really supposed to be a solo effort - intended to highlight his burgeoning ranks of hungry young MC's (enter Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek and Freeway, Jay-Z probably made the right decision in bringing it under his umbrella-ella-eh-eh. It sold shitloads, mainly thanks to an all-time classic club banger called "I Just Wanna Love U". It also ushered in some low-key producers you've probably never heard of: the Neptunes, Just Blaze, Kayne West (I mean, Kanye). This was, along with "Vol. 3... The Life & Times of S.Carter" - which was released a couple of days before the millennium - him at his leanest and meanest fighting weight, as he prepared to step up his game to a higher all-round level. (7.0/10)

Cool Songs: I Just Wanna Love U, This Can't Be Life, Streets Is Watching, Parking Lot Pimpin', The R.O.C.

"Blueprint" (2001)
The Blueprint is probably the most important LP that Jay will ever craft. And that is a deliberate choice of word - he crafted Reasonable Doubt, American Gangster and this. The rest are just good/bad albums that he made. But the Blueprint was put together, carefully piecing classic soul-sampling beats from then-rookies Just Blaze and Kayne West (I mean, Kanye), and his rhymes, whilst initially lambasted as over-simplified, were actually the perfect statement of intent that he was going to rule this decade come hell or high water. Sure, technically you could dock half a mark for "Jigga That Nigga" but that would be churlish, since the album, 8 years on, is as fresh and vital as it was that tragic day it dropped. It is actually pretty easy to dislike Jay prior to this LP, but once BP landed it was impossible to see anyone else running this rap shit. (10/10)

Cool Songs: The whole album

"Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse" (2002)
This could be labelled as Jay-Z's version of "All Eyez On Me." A double-disc LP where he is buoyed by the confidence of having released "Blueprint" to such acclaim that he decides to bask in the glory of it all. I prefer to think of it as his overblown version of a mixtape - lots of remixes, trying out different genres and (generally) more technically lyrical than the previous LP. Obviously, as a hip hop double LP, it wasn't a classic, but hey, he tried - and there is something to be said for the consistency level. It contains a healthy mix of some fun tracks, narratives and autobiographical experiments. It is almost like he knew that "The Black Album"/Beyonce would be his last LP/woman so he fucks with/fucks as many songs/hoes as possible - kind of like some bizarre career bachelor party. (7.0/10)

Cool songs: A Dream, The Watcher 2, '03 Bonnie & Clyde, Excuse Me Miss, Guns & Roses, Meet the Parents, Blueprint 2, Bitches & Sisters, Excuse Me Miss (Again)

"The Black Album" (2003)
Originally a concept that the Notorious B.I.G. wanted to carry out (no promotion, all-black album cover) and refined - clearly as Jigga's "last album," there was no conceivable way that he wouldn't promote it properly. But it certainly was one "last" glorious hurrah, and contains some of the finest and most memorable rap tracks in history, not to mention, in my humble opinion, pretty much the best/purest flow that ANYONE has ever kicked. Don't forget the acapella disc that got remade a gazillion times (including the excellent "Grey Album" by Danger Mouse). Or the "Fade to Black" documentary (I still love that part when Pharrell is hyped up, going on about "Dead Presidents II" and "The World Is Yours" and how he gets Jay out of bed to the studio and plays him "Allure(??!!)" hahaha). So yes, there were a few clangers, including the weak Neptunes opening single "Change Clothes" and some strange sequencing that made "Encore" the fourth track. But the good was SO good on here, it overcame anything and anyone. He definitely "left" on a wonderful high note. (9.0/10)

Cool Songs: December 4th, What More Can I Say, Encore, Dirt Off Your Shoulder, 99 Problems, Public Service Announcement, Lucifer

"Kingdom Come" (2006)
Don't call it a comeback... Between tracks like "Diamonds (Remix)" and "Dear Summer" he never truly left. Unfortunately, you could call it a major disappointment, as there was too much filler, average beats and over-capitalistic lyrics about brands normal people hadn't heard of. There were a few special moments, like the heartfelt "Lost One" and "Minority Report" but it says everything that the bonus track "44 Fours" was head and shoulders above all else, easily good enough for "Reasonable Doubt." It wasn't a horrible album by any means - it's just that after all the hype, we were expecting a lot more.   (6.0/10)

Cool Songs: The Prelude, Kingdom Come, Lost One, Minority Report, Beach Chair, 44 Fours

"American Gangster" (2007)
Perhaps after that letdown, our expectations were tempered somewhat - the anticipation around "American Gangster" wasn't feverish by any stretch. Yet I remember the precise moment I popped the CD in and press play - an hour later I was in shock at just how stunning an album AG was. Certainly not a sequel of any sorts, but it definitely channelled "Reasonable Doubt" and Jay went all out to paint a picture perfect mini-audio movie. Of course, as it was one for the "heads" it went over many a head, and it had no universal hit singles, which led many normal listeners to simply ignore it. Their loss. For if you like brilliant music and exhilarating lyrics, this is chocked full of genuine greatness. (10/10)

Cool Songs: The whole album

"Blueprint 3" (2009)
Since the review was only posted last week, and the whole point of this is to use "the benefit of hindsight," we will revisit this circa December '09 and see whether time has been kinder than I was - so we will count this score in the average for now but the Overall Album Average could change a touch. (5.0/10)

Notable Guest Appearances:
"Crazy in Love" (Beyonce); "Umbrella" (Rihanna); "Encore/Numb" (Linkin Park); "Upgrade You" (Beyonce); "Diamonds (Remix)" (Kanye West); "Guess Who's Back" (Scarface); "What We Do" (Freeway); "Black Republican" (Nas); "Maybach Music" (Rick Ross); "Go Crazy" (Young Jeezy)


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