Jay-Z
The Black Album


4.5
superb

Review

by Mr. Lean Mug USER (112 Reviews)
June 21st, 2006 | 82 replies


Release Date: 2003 | Tracklist


Shawn Corey Carter is one of the smartest men in the hip-hop business. Actually, he’s quite possibly the smartest man in the hip-hop industry, bar none. I mean, for Carter to rise from humble rap beginnings under his stage name of Jay-Z, to becoming the President of Def Jam records and CEO of Roc-A-Fella Records, is pretty damn impressive. Carter probably realized that not everyone has a long-winded run in the music business, and thus, became a veritable entrepreneur, securing his own financial freedom and influence, as well as launching the careers of some of the most successful artists to hit the scene in the last few years. However, despite all this success, many people believed that by the turn of the century Jay-Z as a musical artist was down and out. And so, critics and fans alike were shocked when he released The Blueprint in 2001. Widely considered to be his strongest album, The Blueprint achieved impressive commercial success, and even managed to grab a spot on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. However, as appealing as The Blueprint was to some, it’s follow-up, 2002‘s The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse was quite the opposite. The album’s main critiscms stemmed from it’s extremely pop-oriented feel, and rapid departure from Jay-Z’s much heavier earlier works. Once again, Jay-Z as a rapper became a severe underdog. One year later, though, he was back on top of the world, having just released The Black Album. With this new record, “Jigga" seemed to have discovered the perfect balance between his gangsta rap past, and his pop-laden present. So, I’d say that it’s a fair assumption to state that Jay-Z is the smartest man in rap.

Actually, he describes himself rather well in his interpretation of Ice-T’s “99 Problems":

I got the rap patrol on the gat patrol
Foes that wanna make sure my casket's closed
Rap critics they say he's "Money Cash Hoes"
I'm from the hood stupid, what type of facts are those
If you grew up with holes in ya zapatos
You'd be celebrating the minute you was havin' dough
I'm like f*ck critics you can kiss my whole asshole
If you don't like my lyrics you can press fast forward
I got beef with radio if i don't play they show
They don't play my hits well I don't give a sh*t so
Rap mags try and use my black a*s
So advertisers can give 'em more cash for ads, f*ckers
I don't know what you take me as,
Or understand the intelligence that Jay-Z has
I'm from rags to ritches niggas I ain't dumb
I got 99 problems but a bitch ain't one
Hit me


I couldn’t have said it better myself. Not only does Jay-Z give “99 Problems" a whole new hard rock-esque makeover, he also applies it to himself, and hits the nail right on the head. “99 Problems" is one of the strongest hip-hop songs of recent times, and it proves that Jay-Z can still hang with the best of them.

But how does the rest of the album stand up? It’s been an unfortunate trend in recent years for rappers to build their albums around two or three extremely powerful songs, while essentially using all the other tracks as filler. This, however, is not the case with The Black Album. The record delivers quality from end-to-end, with little or no faltering. Sure, some songs are better than others, but every album has it’s ups and downs, even masterpieces. The Black Album is still a refreshingly consistent album, and should serve as an example on how to make a 21st century mainstream hip-hop album.

Jay-Z’s delivery remains as strong as ever. He’s the king of the hip-hop world, and he knows it. You can almost feel it in the swaggering, yet commanding tone of his voice. Jay-Z’s rhymes are tight, and constant; he never misses a beat. If anyone could have doubted what his is still capable of doing, I’d be willing to wager quite a bit that they’re eating crow after hearing The Black Album. As if the fact that his vocal triumphs weren’t enough, The Black Album features some of Jay-Z’s best lyrical moments. Take the chorus lines from single “Dirt Off Your Shoulder" for example:

If you feelin’ like a pimp nigga, go and brush your shoulders off/Ladies is pimps too, go and brush your shoulders off/Niggaz is crazy baby, don't forget that boy told you/Get that dirt off your shoulder

“Ladies is pimps too." How many times has a rapper asserted something like that? On The Black Album, Jay-Z combines street-style and pop-aesthetic wordplay together, to create a sound that is both highly accessible, and highly immersive. As for said immersive aspect of The Black Album, you have the tranquil tale of temptation and regret that is “Allure."

It's just life, I solemnly swear/To change my approach, stop shavin’ coke/Stay away from hoes, put down the toast/Cause I be doin’ the most.. oh no!/But every time I felt that was that, it called me right back/It called me right back, man it called me right back - oh no!

Jigga appears to be conflicting with his inner demons, judging by that lyrics sheet. “Allure" is a fine example of the brilliant genre fusions that can be found on The Black Album. It has a very serene feel to it, and manages to maintain its pop roots, yet still gives off a feeling of hip-hop majesty. One of the best songs on the album, to be sure.

So, The Black Album has great vocals and intelligent, well-constructed lyrics, but how does the music sound? This is where the record’s greatest strengths comes into play: production value. You see, almost every song on The Black Album was overseen by a different producer. These range from eager young protégés of Jay-Z’s (Kanye West, who has since, made quite a name for himself) to seasoned veterans (Rick Rubin; The Neptunes). The overall effect of having so many hands work on the album makes for a very unique experience. Each song maintains a certain sense of individuality, yet still feels similar enough to its peers to remain coherent. The variety of samples, beats, and all-out instrumentation on The Black Album makes the record sound virtuosic, yet incredibly polished. The Black Album is a straight up example of how nearly everything can go right on a hip-hop album. We’re going to get back to that “nearly" catch a little ways down the road.

The lifeblood of the album is, unsurprisingly, its songs. On the whole, the track list is quite exceptional. You have songs like “December 4th" (Jay-Z’s birthday), which are something like history lessons to make old and new fans of his akin. “Lucifer" and “Encore" reek of Kanye’s influence, but in a good way. “Change Clothes," the album’s first single has an exuberant feel to it, with plenty of pop hooks to spare; clearly it’s a song designed for parties and clubs. “Moment of Clarity" features some of the best rhyming on the album, giving The Black Album due poetic justice. “What More Can I Say" begins with the defiant sounds of actor Russell Crowe shouting “Are you not entertained?" You don’t need to worry about that, Jigga: most people will not only be entertained, they’ll be slack-jawed with impress. The Black Album is, at the core, a strong album.

Unfortunately, we’ve come to the catch: that “nearly" that I mentioned earlier. For every good respect that The Black Album has, there’s just one little drawback that’s just significant enough to detract: the album’s flow. Things can feel just a tad too disjointed at times. This, however, is a minor quibble, and hardly depreciates the overall value of The Black Album. It is still a very worthy way for Jay-Z to say good-bye. Oh yes, this is to be the rap megastar’s last album, according to the man himself. This point is further accentuated by the “death" of Jay-Z at the end of the “99 Problems" music video. Jay-Z couldn’t have picked a better way to go out. The Black Album is, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, his strongest effort. If Mr. Carter decides to finally go out on those note, then he’ll be remembered two ways: as a true innovator of hip-hop as an industry, and as one kickass rapper.



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One of the best Jay-Z albums ever made....


Comments:Add a Comment 
Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
June 21st 2006


16089 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This is Jay's best labum for sure. This was also a pretty good review, although I still personally hate quote boxes in reviews with every fiber of my being. "99 Problems" is glorious.

Bron-Yr-Aur
June 21st 2006


4405 Comments


Great job, Hep.

metallicaman8
June 21st 2006


4677 Comments


Metallica's black album> Jay-Z's black album

Superb review, as always.

Bron-Yr-Aur
June 21st 2006


4405 Comments


The Beatles White Album > Metallicas' entire catalogue. And to Dan, I am currently having that problem with Reign In Blood.

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
June 21st 2006


16089 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I'm halfway done with my Kidz Bop review. Yay?
Thanks for giving the 'ol axe to the boxes.
And this Black Album is ever so slightly better than Metallica's (that is the only Metallica album I particularly enjoy, to be honest)

metallicaman8
June 21st 2006


4677 Comments


Different Strokes for different folks, I 'spose.

Hatshepsut
June 21st 2006


1997 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Awesome, really like the review. I've actually heard this before, my friend copied his album. Like it.

LF96
June 22nd 2006


97 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Hmm, I don't really agree with the 4.5/5 rating, nice review nonethelles. That's much too high for such an unbalanced and uneven album. Around half of the songs I listen to, the other half I don't care for at all. The good songs are really good though, some of his best work is on here.

"Freshly Baked"
June 22nd 2006


583 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

IMO......

1. Blueprint (1) 5/5

2. Reasonable doubt 4.5/5

3. The Black Album 4.5/5

4. In My Lifetime 4/5

5. The Dynasty 3.5/5

6. Hard Knock Life 3.5/5

7. The Blueprint 2 3/5

8. The Life And Times of S. Carter 3/5

This is up there with The Beatles White Album and Orbital's Grey album for the best albums named after colors (Wow, thats kinda lame)

and Jigga's Black Album >>> Metallica's Black AlbumThis Message Edited On 06.22.06

Oddsen
June 22nd 2006


1127 Comments


What about Weezer?

"Freshly Baked"
June 22nd 2006


583 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Of course, how could i forget about weezer (meh, I think it's a four)

And I meant Orbital's Brown album, I said Black album and White album, so of course I thought of Danger Mouse.

Bladder
November 30th 2006


204 Comments


retired my f*cking arse, just another stunt to get bread.
geez some people.....

axemexa
April 24th 2007


22 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Possibly better than Blueprint.

FightOffYourDemons
October 26th 2007


19 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I never thought I would like a Jay album more than the Blue Print until I heard this. The only hip hop album that I actually bought the vinyl record of because I liked it so much.

ninjuice
December 11th 2007


6760 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

No real idea why I like this, but I do. I'll probably raise my rating as time goes by. Good review.

McP3000
December 11th 2007


3941 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

Its decent for a rap album, but i lost interest in it after a dozen listens.

tharealest
July 8th 2008


12 Comments


this is my shit.

michaelbchnn
August 30th 2008


41 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

4.5 is to high 4 would be right on the money. The best songs of his career are on this album i:e, Public Service Announcment, 99 Problems & Allure. The main criticism i have for this album is the production which is wierd to say about A Jay-Z album. On a lot of songs especially glaring on "Moment of Clarity" the beats don't fit the lyrics. Still it's his best album lyrically since Reasonable Doubt.

ninjuice
August 30th 2008


6760 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Nah the production is easily the best in his discography, and Moment of Clarity is one of the best songs. My 1st song is the only one with a "weak" beat.

bastard
November 28th 2008


3435 Comments



Metallica's black album> Jay-Z's black album


why are you comparing the two?

Jay-Z's black album owns Metallica's anyway if we want to just talk about entertainment value.



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