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On Legacy and Jaybaland

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Jay-Z f/ Drake – “Off That

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Jay-Z – “Reminder

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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 [1] 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.[2] 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 [3] of Jay’s career wasn’t about albums. The public loved him because of his ability to make big summer hits.[4] 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. [5] 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 [6] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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.

[1] So consider this the, “Why Vol. 3 is my favorite Jay album” post that a few of you have been demanding.
[2] 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.
[3] 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.
[4] 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.
[5] Sure “Show Me What You Got” charted pretty well thanks in part to a Budweiser backed marketing blitz. But nobody actually liked that song.
[6] 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.
[7] 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.

[8] He’s like a damn blogger.

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58 Responses to “On Legacy and Jaybaland”

  1. jordan s Says:

    “run this town” is a bonafide hit & i think “roc boys” is the opposite of “show me what you got” in that it didn’t chart all that well but it felt kinda big for a while esp since tons of other rappers freestyled over that beat

  2. noz Says:

    “‘run this town’; is a bonafide hit”

    yeah but its a hit the way “03 bonnie and clyde” was. in that it sucks.

  3. jordan s Says:

    and as for this

    “The records that probably come closest to finding a middle ground are Vol. 3 [1] and The Black Album.”

    the album that finds the middle ground is obv the blueprint, which is his best album. “girls girls girls”, “h to the izzo”, “jigga that nigga” being the big singles ( + the indelibility of “the takeover”) and then of course the classic run from “u don’t know” on

  4. jordan s Says:

    “Jay is perhaps the only rapper of all time that properly knows how to make use of a Timbaland track.”

    and i’m throwing in a vote for ludacris

  5. noz Says:

    “Jigga That Nigga” is exactly the sort of ugly outlier I am talking about. Even though it’s a great record, it has no place on that album at all.

    And I think the success of “Izzo” or “Girls” simply grew out of the tremendous buzz that Jay had in that instant, coming off the Nas situation. I don’t remember either being as ubiquitous as say “Big Pimpin” or “Hard Knock Life.” (Then again, I had also JUST moved out of the greater New York area when that album dropped, so that’s probably affecting my perception.)

  6. noz Says:

    “Takeover” is the greatest diss record of all time, but it’s more of an underground hit. See: the comments in that Mos Def post, except obviously on a larger scale.

  7. monique r. Says:

    Great post. I guess I feel like Jay has always been more about his image than his rapping. Sure, he’s a good rapping abilities but I think he also has an image of being “average” (sort of like the John Cena of rapping or Madonna: “I don’t need a (permanent) gimmick, I’m just great” type thing). Nothing about him has been all that inventive, including the image he projects. Whether he’s dressed as this mobster, hood-prototype, or hipster rapper…it’s all equally sort of stupid because it lacks energy and creativity–and authenticity.

  8. Elijah Says:

    Yeah, “greater New York area” makes a big damn difference. I live uptown, and a few weeks back I had to keep reminding myself that “D.O.A.” wasn’t ACTUALLY a monster hit, because it sure felt like one around here.

  9. Tray Says:

    “American Gangster did everything necessary to recreate the RD impulse at its bear minimum, and a lot of people bought into that. Except it was missing an “Ain’t No.””

    I think that here and elsewhere you are going a little too far with the RD hate… surely the difference between AG and RD is a whole lot more than the absence of an “Ain’t No.” Even if RD is pretty forced and lacks that classic Jay persona and swagger we love his best work for (a swagger, incidentally, which is there in full form in the very first few seconds of ‘A Million And One Questions,’ to my mind a substantially more satisfying track than anything on RD), you do have, there, some classic Premo beats, some classic songs period, some pretty incredible lyrics, and I will even say a fuller and more interesting treatment of the life and stresses of the drug dealer than you get anywhere else in Jay (‘Streets Is Watching’ – the song – aside) or in the work of more than a handful of others. It certainly isn’t the case that Reasonable Doubt is just an exercise in brand-building and an attempt to authenticate his success to purists and rockists. I mean, what success at that point? It’s a fair description of Blueprint, but I think you’re unfairly slighting that a bit too. It is a somewhat dreary comfort food-y symphonic candy-coated celebration of what a hell of a guy Jay is, but it definitely has its charms beyond ‘Takeover’ and the singles. Lastly, just saying how great Volume 3 is isn’t much of an argument, and certainly isn’t enough to persuade me when the album has about 5 especially worthwhile songs or songs I can remember, and a fair amount of dubious conceptual crap.

  10. Trey Stone Says:

    pretty sure he was referring to “AG’s” lack of hits, not comparing the two albums in quality.

  11. noz Says:

    I love RD. You really need to stop selectively reading my sentences before debating them. The phrase bare minimum might be the one you want to focus on. My point is not that the albums are even in the same stratosphere as far as quality. It’s that AG offers a passable revival for nostalgic old heads

    I do think that RD was an exercise in brand building, maybe not as consciously as Blueprint or everything after but that Combat Jack post I linked and some of his other writing backs up that argument. I don’t get the idea that Jay ever aspired to be the best rapper on the planet, he just wanted to market himself as such.

  12. Tray Says:

    Bare minimum. I… am not sure it matters what Jay aspired to be, but I guess I agree in the sense that if he had aspired to be such, he wouldn’t have recorded so much crap; then again, I’m pretty sure that he aspired to be the biggest and most important rapper out there, and perhaps he thought that lame attempts at trend-hopping and a lot of the other junk he did would help achieve that aim. Anyway, I agree entirely that he’s not much of an album rapper.

    On another note, I do want to respond to Monique’s point about Jay lacking energy and authenticity. Jay is not the liveliest rapper, he said so himself in that animated like say a Busta Rhymes line, but I think that’s fine. Jay was sort of like the swaggering stoic John Wayne of rap, down to his extremely static stage presence, comportment in videos, etc., and emoting in Tourettic fashion like a DMX or Busta would have detracted from that. As for authenticity… yeah, that isn’t really Jay’s bag. He’s sort of this abstracted version of the godbody-ness of Kane, Rakim, LL and can come across a little empty and pointless as a result of the abstraction, but at his best, what he loses in particularity and personality he gains in, uh, transcendence. Either you care for that sort of thing or you don’t.

  13. noz Says:

    Haha I did write “bear” instead of “bare.” And then I quoted it and still didn’t catch it. Fuck me. I quit.

  14. Combat Jack Says:

    Thanx for the link. I’m a Jay apologist, but I can’t conceivably apologize for “Off That”. I’m off to kick rocks now.

  15. TSF Says:

    “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.”

    ^^ Truest thing ever written about Jay. I still fail to understand all the love people have for The Black Album, it was serviceable at best.

  16. david Says:

    one secondi see a dope lil boosie post and i remember why i like cocaine blunts…the next i see some jay z bullshit and i think im at nah right…..

  17. bding7 Says:

    Funny that you couldn’t even bare to mention Kingdom Come when explaining your thoughts about the patterns his albums follow.

    And I second Jordan’s assertion that Luda can handle himself over Timbo.

  18. DR. NO Says:

    Jay right now is like a US president in his last 6 months in office- obsessed with his legacy, self-consciously trying to reinforce its narrative, trying not to fuck it up at the last minute by going out of his lane too much..it feels too calculated, lacks the looseness, the infectiousness of ‘Give it to me’ or ‘Dirt off your Shoudler’ (I’m talking big radio joints).

    I also think Jay in the position he’s in now, is bound to make more and more conservative moves artistically, all this Kid Cudi & Drake shit is like antithetical to what he’s been rhyming about for 15 years, it’s clearly about marketing. He’s thinking as much like a label head as he thinks like an artist and he seems to think we’re ungrateful for not wanting to hear a club banger about his career…it’s funny cause his career would’ve been even more impeccable had he really retired after The Black Album.

  19. nico Says:

    i wish coke blunts would just give up on this faggot.

    jay ain’t relevant to the game no mo’

    this shit is weak.

  20. wes Says:

    this blog works best when it mixes in the regional and obscure with takes on universal hip-hop topics (ie jay). good post.

    both timbo beats knock. drake kills that hook, too. (random but: co-sign “takeover” being the greatest diss record ever, too.)

  21. MAYNHOLUP! Says:

    mayn dis David mafucka startin ta git on mah nerves mayn

  22. kidbristol Says:

    I second MAYN.

    I don’t care who you write about as long as you’re taking rap seriously and that you’re not taking shots just to be a contrarian. I like rap. Therefore, I like reading about rap. I like that this site highlights stuff I haven’t heard sometimes, but mostly, I just like that you write well about stuff that clearly interests you.

    Incidentally (and it does feel incidental at this point) I’m not an apologist, but I do like just about everything the guy puts out on some level. I don’t know if he’s aiming at me, you, or my younger cousins, I just like the songs.

  23. JK Says:

    I think you have a lot of good points in this but I’m with Tray, the Reasonable Doubt being a slightly better debut than Mic Geronimo’s? I just can’t see that. And I actually like Mic.

  24. Tray Says:

    “Jay right now is like a US president in his last 6 months in office- obsessed with his legacy, self-consciously trying to reinforce its narrative, trying not to fuck it up at the last minute by going out of his lane too much..it feels too calculated, lacks the looseness…”

    Why can’t we get away from this narrative shit and all the subtle critical shit and just say that the guy can’t rap anymore? It’s a very true statement. If Jay were an unknown who rapped like this, not only would he never get signed, he’d stay completely unknown. There’s nothing left. It’s not like he can still rap but is just choosing to rap about the wrong stuff, or do it in the wrong way, or overcalculating. He may be doing all that, but he’s also just not rapping well at all, and he has nothing else to get by on. Everything happening now is of historical interest at best. At least when Prodigy fell off, he still stayed interesting in this broken down loser rapping incoherently about paranoid conspiracy theory bullshit sense. Even Snoop managed to remain intermittently enjoyable after his skills went out the window and he pimped himself out to white girls as this skeevy but lovable fo-shizzle-dizzle grandpa. Jay has purged himself of all interest, all entertainment value, all style, charisma and humor, and is barely capable of getting out a verse without making you cringe somehow or another. People have to let go.

  25. TSF Says:

    “Why can’t we get away from this narrative shit and all the subtle critical shit and just say that the guy can’t rap anymore?”

    ^^ It’s a good question, but I think none of us want to think that he can’t rap. Jay is one of the best rappers of all time, hands down; you’re not gonna find many people who disagree with that statement. I think he CAN still rap, he’s just bored and as you point out there’s nothing else he can do. He failed as an exec so rapping is all he knows. Of course he’s still got the talent, he just doesn’t seem to have the passion or the hunger anymore. At least, that’s what I think.

  26. el capitan Says:

    Jay-Z can still rap… But he is more than an artist he is a brand… It’s a lot about marketing than it’s about artistic aspirations.
    He is not trying to drop a “purist” , an ambitious album or celebrating Hip Hop he just continue building his brand…
    Fuck the hypocrisy and cynicism…

  27. bding7 Says:

    He also really needs to stop with this new “Aww” shit.

  28. Giraffo Says:

    Takeover may be “greatest diss record of all time” but half of the jabs he threw at Nas were pretty lame. Jay’s catalogue at that time was hardly stronger than Nas’s. Jay’s career was on the up, and Nas’s was going down but in terms of quality, Illmatic > RD, IWW > Vol 1, I Am > Vol 2, even if Nastradamus is obviously inferior to Dynasty and Vol 3. And who ever believed that Jay sampled Nas because he was ‘using’ his voice ‘wrong’? Point is Jay has been insecure ever since Ether, a song which made him cry in public. He used to mix the commercial stuff and the stuff aimed at hip hop purists effortlessly, but since Ether, the man has seemed increasingly desperate for confirmation that he is still relevant in both departments.

  29. DR. NO Says:

    Why can’t we get away from this narrative shit and all the subtle critical shit and just say that the guy can’t rap anymore? It’s a very true statement.

    ^^^^^

    Wrong. He can still rap. Anyway you can’t divorce where he’s at in his career, in his artistic trajectory from how he raps- it affects how he approaches making a record.

  30. wes Says:

    i like “ether” fine but when i think of lame jabs, “gay-z and cock-a-fella records”/”i rock hoes, y’all rock fellas”/”whiskers like a rat” come to mind…

    nothing on “ether” has the potency like the “youve been in it for 10, ive been in it for 5″ shit … also the final “y’all only get half a bar” line gets me every time

  31. Giraffo Says:

    Sure. I’m not arguing the un-lameness of some of Ether’s disses. But the song ended Jay’s streak of swag, and gave us whispering old man Jay (he stole that flow from Young Chris but Chris does it better), a rapper desperate for our acclaim and trying to build a monument of himself. Jay only raps well when he shares a track with Nas nowadays. Why do you think that is?

  32. Giraffo Says:

    And of course Jay hadn’t really been in it five. He’d been making albums for five but he’d been in it close to…. fifteen?

    [Hov]YOUNG![/Hov]

  33. the '96 impala with the gat in my lap Says:

    Bottom line: Nas sucks.

  34. the '96 impala with the gat in my lap Says:

    “Being in it” relative to the release of a major label album is a respectable way of looking at one’s time spent on the field. You’re pretty much an intern until you release an album, even if your internship consisted of released a verse on “Live at the BBQ.” Which is why he clearly didn’t say “you been in it 12.”

    The bottom line of the Takeover vs. Ether debate is that Jay-Z’s song is about how Nas sucks (or sucked) as AN ARTIST, and he didn’t call him names or resort to superficialities, which is truly, what great diss records should be about. The “artistic” jabs on Ether take up about 2% of its duration, the rest is him calling him names that are reserved for the fourth grade playground.

  35. Giraffo Says:

    Of course. If it hadn’t been for Nas, Jay-Z would still be rapping well.

  36. Giraffo Says:

    Of course, bragging about fucking someone’s baby moms has nothing to do with superficialities. Nas is Jay’s hero. That’s why he was fucking the baby moms, that’s why he was exhilirated that Nas was showing signs of falling off, that’s why he used the sample of Nas’s voice and that’s why he cried in public after hearing Ether.

  37. bding7 Says:

    And, more importantly, Jay is perhaps the only rapper of all time that properly knows how to make use of a Timbaland track.

    Jordan S already mentioned Ludacris, and I recall you saying (in Posse on Blogway, maybe?) that Deliverance is an underrated/unfairly ignored album. So, would you be willing to add Bubba?

    And enough with the Ether/Takeover nonsense. Stay on topic, please.

  38. noz Says:

    Hey did you guys hear about this battle between Nas and Jay-Z? Who do you think won?

  39. Abe Beame Says:

    Oh common, you can’t call “Takeover” the greatest diss song of all time and not expect that to happen.

  40. giraffo Says:

    Haha. Exactly. Especially not in a discussion about Jay’s career trajectory. For the record, I’ve avoided saying anything about who made the best record here so as to not derail the thread completely.

    But Jay dissed Nas, Nas dissed Jay back, and Jay cried. Whereupon Jay lost his swagger, started whispering and made a) a Blueprint 2 to recapture the success of the first one, starting with a song in which he is visited by the ghost of Biggie, who comforts him and tells him he’s really great and with a first single which would make Pac turn in his grave for obvious reasons; b) an album dedicated to how great Jay is, with Jay’s moms chiming in on the opening track to tell us all how speshu lil Jay was; c) an unsuccessful attempt at a grown man album, i.e. a Nas album, with a Nas cameo being the allbum’s only saving grace; d) an attempt to remake RD with a bit of Blueprint thrown in for good measure, only with inferior rapping; and now BP3, now this.

    Takeover may well be the greatest diss song ever, but it also gave us new, insecure Jay, a Jay who couldn’t even handle the Diplomats on his own, instead of the old Jay, the one who could make Takeover and make it sound as if he was right even when he was lying through his teeth.

  41. Trey Stone Says:

    bleeblahbloo

  42. MAYNHOLUP! Says:

    z-ro > jay-z mayn

  43. MF Says:

    Mayn has a point.

    Also, if you type the words J*y-Z and N*s in a sentence together you should have battery acid poured on your hands.

  44. mark p. Says:

    I couldn’t even believe that there were people who thought “Ether” was a stronger diss record than “Takeover” at the time, let alone 8 years later.

    Nas sounds like such a crybaby on that song. And some of his disses are the definition of “reaching”, especially the thing about KRS/Blueprint. He apparently forgot that Mantronix already had an album called The Album. Except theirs wasn’t the worst mafioso rap recording ever made.

    Anyway, I’d just like to say that anyone who thinks “Blueprint” wasn’t a great singles record is crazy. I mean, that album has “Girls, Girls, Girls” on it, and “Takeover” was a GREAT street anthem in the same way that “Come Clean” or “DAAAM!” were great street singles. I’d even argue that it isn’t even necessarily an album-oriented album when compared to Reasonable Doubt/The Black Album/American Gangster.

  45. kidbristol Says:

    This is some cutting edge shit. You know what we should talk about next? East Coast vs. West Coast. Which is better?

  46. mark p. Says:

    It actually is getting to the point where that could be a valid debate again, so maybe?

  47. noz Says:

    “Oh common, you can’t call “Takeover” the greatest diss song of all time and not expect that to happen.”

    “Takeover” was the greatest diss song of all time before it ever had a verse about Nas on it.

    And my name’s not Common.

  48. Abe Beame Says:

    Apologies sir. I was not even bothering to question the validity of that somewhat absurd and highly questionable claim. You seemed to be poking fun at the age old debate being hashed out in the comments over who won the Nas v. Jay battle. I was merely pointing out you were the catalyst for said debate thanks to the aforementioned comment.

  49. zee Says:

    This shit is garbage. Jay Z is a total fraud. That chorus on Reminder? hahahahah Ur kidding right? insanely bad.

  50. SANTANA Says:

    It wasn’t “Blueprint” that ingratiated Jay with the squares, it was “Unplugged”

  51. Bobby Says:

    Me and DJ Premier say DYNASTY ROC LA FAMILIA is the best JayZ album ever. from start 2 finish.

  52. Bobby Says:

    also NOZ this album sounds as tired as Universal Mind Control or Finding Forever so far. If the whole album keeps going ths route I hope you recognize that Jay-Z is just as tired and old sounding as Common at this point.

    American Gangster was his swan song.

  53. G Off Says:

    Noz- thanks for finally at least kind of doing your Vol. 3 post. I’m loving these Jay/Tim tracks, even if there isn’t a “hit” amongst them. Reminds me of the Vol. 3 tracks that are hard to categorize, but are very re-listenable. Now, can we get a “Come and Get Me” on there?!?! Please?!

  54. Thaddeus Clark Says:

    Besides the post content I found Kid Bristols comment most redeeming:

    “I don’t care who you write about as long as you’re taking rap seriously and that you’re not taking shots just to be a contrarian. I like rap. Therefore, I like reading about rap. I like that this site highlights stuff I haven’t heard sometimes, but mostly, I just like that you write well about stuff that clearly interests you.”

  55. betrott Says:

    excellent writing always. as far as greatest diss songs i always lean on “no vaseline” simply because cube was the underdog and he destroyed his ENTIRE whole crew. right below that I would toss in “dollars & sense.” i know quik isn’t the most full service rapper, but that was a great song let alone diss record.

    jay started using revisionist history after big died. sure rd was dope, but he had a lot of comp in ’96. i remember in the source they sorta implied that foxy would be a bigger star than jay. i like how you said mic geronimo, but i was thinking more along the lines of royal flush.

  56. mike Says:

    all these leaked bp3 tracks just reaffirm that andre 3k is the best rapper in the game… quality over quantity folks

  57. noz Says:

    “all these leaked bp3 tracks just reaffirm that andre 3k is the best rapper in the game… quality over quantity folks”

    It’s sort of a prerequisite for the best rapper in the game to actually rap once in a while.

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