Black, the color that encompasses all others, can symbolize many things including the end of a beginning or death. But with a microphone in one hand and a farewell Hallmark card of an album in the other, Jay-Z presents his proposed last work. The Black Album encircles his music and fades it into darkness.
With a career that began with Reasonable Doubt, one of the best albums since Nas’ Illmatic, Jay-Z consistently changes the way people listen to rap. Every volume of music he releases makes it harder for anyone to fill his shoes. But as a consequence to his continuous evolution comes the weight of producing a final album that sums up Hov’s discography and gives listeners a proper end to a string of groundbreaking albums. This proves to be rather hard for the self proclaimed “Hova.”
The album starts with an intro that explains, “All things must come to an end, it is an inevitable part of the cycle of existence.” This is a segue into “December 4,” one of the most personal songs on the album. The track, which is a four and a half-minute chronology of Jay’s upbringing, includes transitory footnotes about Jay-Z’s life, told by his mother, Gloria Carter. After the brief look back at the events that molded the Hov of today, no time is wasted in putting down critics and haters.
“What Else Can I Say” immediately asks the question “Are you not entertained?” by utilizing a Maximus Narcissus Merida quote. Soon after, a barrage of finger-pointing lyrics and arrogant slang-riddled call-outs arise. “These f**** too lazy to make up s***, they crazy/ They don’t paint pictures they just trace me.” But ironically, part of the beat Jay raps over is sampled from Canibus’ “How We Roll.” On “What Else Can I Say,” Jay also ventures to blatantly comment on certain industry rappers with the lyrics, “And naw I ain’t get shot up a whole bunch of times/ Or make up s*** in a whole bunch of lines/ And I ain’t animated like say a Busta Rhymes.”
Unlike Jay-Z’s last two Blueprint installments, the lyrics on The Black Album are sadly mediocre. There are tracks that feel forced and solely function as filler. Along with woeful lyrics and lack of substance, some of the stale beats forcefully trapped in music limbo aren’t worthy of a final album from the “best rapper alive.” “Threat,” which samples R. Kelly’s “Woman’s Threat,” is painfully unoriginal, while “Moment of Clarity,” produced by Eminem, sounds like it should have been on the 8 Mile soundtrack (aside from the references it has to previous Jay-Z releases).
The Neptunes manage to play saving grace and turn the album around, but “Change Clothes,” even though it’s catchy, is not half as good as most of those usual Neptunes beats (think “Light Your Ass On Fire”). Honestly, “Change Clothes” sounds like background music for Sonic the Hedgehog. But in lieu of striking out in its first appearance, The Neptunes end up batting .500 with one of the hottest tracks on the album, “Allure.” The Black Album concludes with “My First Song,” which sums up the whole album and Jay’s career with a Biggie quote and a hard blues texture.
The Black Album may want to drop the “B” because the record is void of the greatness of a final album for an artist like Jay-Z. After being able to create so many other greats, this finale is slightly more than lackluster. But in light of Jay-Z stating: “Maybe you’ll love me when I fade to black” on “December 4,” fans will miss the rhymesayer who has an incredible flow and one of the cockiest swaggers in the biz. Cue curtains please.
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