On Legacy and Jaybaland
Jay-Z f/ Drake – “Off That”
Jay-Z – “Reminder
from Blueprint 3 (Roc Nation, 9/11/09)
Let’s get one thing clear. Jigga didn’t hold it down six to nine summers on the strength of his album making ability. He did it off singles. Jay-Z generally makes either slapdash albums of a few major hits and poorly arranged/sometimes awesome filler (Vol. 1-2, BP2, Dynasty) or album albums that are almost completely devoid of hits. The records that probably come closest to finding a middle ground are Vol. 3  and The Black Album. His consciously album oriented projects (Reasonable Doubt, Bleuprint,American Gangster) are simply exercises in brand building, an attempt to authenticate his success to purists and rockists. He sacrifices his hit making ability in the process or he tacks one or two obvious hits on there at the expensive of cohesion. Understand that if it wasn’t for “Ain’t No” he might have been Mic Geronimo with a slightly better debut.
This accounts for Jay’s awkward stumble towards becoming hip hop’s first (living) legacy artist. Very few, if any, single focused acts have been able to make that leap. The big artists in other genres that rack up catalog sales – MJ, Dylan, The Stones – are consistently album oriented. Sure, they made hits in their prime, tons of them, but those songs were organically embedded in their albums. The best of their albums were top to bottom collections of hits. (Thriller, anyone?) The aging Bob Dylan fan will buy his new records until the day that they die because they recreate the cohesion of those classic albums. Jay’s aging fans aren’t as invested in albums, the most memorable chunk  of Jay’s career wasn’t about albums. The public loved him because of his ability to make big summer hits. Gigantic ones that exist in the moment. Without those hits even the best of his current day work feels empty in comparision. American Gangster did everything necessary to recreate the RD impulse at its bare minimum, and a lot of people bought into that. Except it was missing an “Ain’t No.” In fact Jay hasn’t been able to make a legitimate hit since coming out of retirement.  This is the reason for all the false starts with BP3. His team knows that his future relies not on his ability to make albums, but hits.
Which brings us to “Off That.” Timbaland certainly hasn’t forgotten how to make hits. Here Timbo simply hands Jay that beat. Vintage Timbo madness. T.I. or Kanye probably could have turned it into at least a minor hit with just the slightest bit of effort. Jay is past slight effort. Drake  delivers a functional enough hit but Jay doesn’t really do anything past the minimum. He’s not whispering but the energy is noticeably absent. No particularly memorable lines, a pretty high brow concept thats executed uncomfortably. He just sort of flounders. And without nostalgia or grown manisms to fall back on that fish stench is finally starting to become noticeable to even the most aggressive Late-Jay apologists.
“Reminder” is the opposite. Timbaland has always been Jay’s most reliable hitmaker, other than maybe Swizz. But those expectations have also suffocated the duo. Every time they get in the studio they’re aiming for home run hits, no flies or grounders. The “Come and Get Me“s rarely even get made. Which is unfortunate because Timbaland brings the best out of Jay as a rapper as well as a hitmaker. And, more importantly, Jay is perhaps the only rapper of all time that properly knows how to make use of a Timbaland track. But “Reminder” is, finally, a true album track from the team. The beat is evil and hardly danceable. The hook barely exists. Jay is rapping better on this than any of the flopped singles, and maybe that bodes well for the rest of the album. It’s not a lot Early Jay was meticulous, every word was accounted for rhythmically. Here he wastes a lot of space and rattles off a lists to fill that space. And there’s some of that lingering old man finger wave vibe carried over from “D.O.A.” Still it’s probably the best song he’s made in the past year. It’s just nothing close to a hit.
 So consider this the, “Why Vol. 3 is my favorite Jay album” post that a few of you have been demanding.
 Remember that Jay was still loathed by a lot of true hip hop purists prior to the first Blueprint. That record was a calculated lob to that audience. And, as Face said if real n****s respect it, the squares gon’ rep it. Every other doubter just fell in line.
 Again, Jay-Z’s most successful work mostly happened before the turn of the century, when critics and the mainstream media and capital-w white people definitely did NOT take him seriously. It’s only after his hit making slowed down that he was able to get on Oprah and 60 Minutes. His success with that audience is more about branding and timing than any actual musical accomplishments.
 It’s actually quite shocking that we haven’t seen a legitimate, domestic greatest hits album yet. Def Jam should be cashing in quickly now that he’s split though.
 Sure “Show Me What You Got” charted pretty well thanks in part to a Budweiser backed marketing blitz. But nobody actually liked that song.
 Jay has never really succumbed to making buzz collabos. With a few exceptions (Juvenile? Wayne? Em? all of whom were more established than Aubrey or Cudi) Jay has usually saved the guest slots for his homies and heroes.
 Of course this might have something to do with Timbo pricing himself out of the rap game? Remember that Timbaland was originally rumored to be producing BP3
before Jay probably realized that it’d be a lot cheaper to get Kanye.
 He’s like a damn blogger.