JAY-Z Goes Kanye

TL;DR Haiku Review:

“Hova airs issues, introspective at Kanye, that’d be so Kanye”

It isn’t worth going deep on what everybody has already said about Jay-Z’s new album: it’s personal, it’s arresting, and a revelation.  It’s not that I would disagree with those assessments.  Jay-Z, like many hip-hop artists of a certain vintage, have struggled with being honest and genuinely introspective.

Yes, Jay-Z already released introspective tracks with personal lyrics.  (See: the Blueprint I for a few examples).  Those tracks, while they cannot be discounted, were often undercut by the very next song.  That has been a consistent crticisim of mainstream hip-hop artists.

However, 4:44 is (ironically) more about Yeezy than Jay-Z.  If we are being honest, Jay’s later-career albums have been more about protecting a legacy, how great it is to be him specifically, being rich, and would these lesser rappers stop taking shots at the King.  This approach worked for radio play and for generating singles about how great Jay-Z is.

It took a true iconoclast like Kanye West to pull mainstream hip-hop out of the well-worn tropes that have characterized (and plagued) the genre (again focusing on the mainstream only) since the late 1990’s.  You know the tropes: (1) I’m rich, (2) I’m real (haven’t forgotten where I’ve come from), (3) I’m great (WAY better than the rappers that I passively aggressively reference), (4) “M.O.B.” etc.  And who else, besides Jay-Z, is a bigger symbol of mainstream hip-hop post 1997?

4:44 is leaner and  devoid of hooks or gimics.  I believe Jay’s relationship with Kanye has slowly changed his music for the better because it pushed him creatively.  (You can hear the beginnings of this with “Watch the Throne.” Jay-Z was outshined by Kanye, hands down, even if he did creep outside of his MC comfort zone more.) This slow evolution brings us to 2017 where Jay-Z is comfortable enough to move beyond his need to assure everyone that Jay-Z was beyond reproach.

Jay-Z may or may not admit it, but “4:44” probably wouldn’t be but for his relationship with Kanye.  Sure, they obviously have experienced a personal fall out.  Sure, a lot of that fall out can probably be attributed to Yeezy’s tortured genius.  Nevertheless, could anyone see “Kill Jay-Z” coming without Kanye?  Forget about the creative dissing of other rappers and Eric Benet, its Jay-Z’s metaphorical self-immolation on 4:44 that stands out.  Now, magazines and the internet are praising Jay for being real, for being honest, for being raw, for being self-aware.  If those writers were being honest, they are praising Jay for putting out a Kanye record.

What would I recommend?  I would defintely buy and/or stream this album.  Unlike some of Jay-Z’s more recent solo work, this album will stick to your ribs.

 

The West Coast Revival Continues with DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar

TL; DR Haiku Review:

The West Coast is back, the LA-T-L-ien, the best rapper alive?

It isn’t every day that a hip-hop artist can follow up a near universally praised album like “To Pimp a Butterfly” with an album as good as DAMN.  I don’t buy the sophomore slump idea, but it is almost impossible to satisfy the hype and expectations that come with following an instant classic.  (I’m not counting the Untitled/Unmastered EP because it wasn’t a full-blown follow-up album)

Sit Down:

DAMN. finds Kendrick rapping furiously over understated beats and with choruses lacking hooks.  Like Nas, Kendrick doesn’t need a catchy chorus to get on the charts.  The more I think about it, the more I think people can classify Kendrick’s music as “thinking man’s hip hop” because it is introspective, honest, raw, and doesn’t feel produced or ghost written.  This is a major label release that sounds like something your favorite underground rapper put out.

Beyond that, I really appreciate all of the influences that make up DAMN.  The tracks bound with creativity and I hear Andre 3000 and mid-career Outkast, amongst other influences (for example see: Feel, Lust, XXX, Fear).  To be clear, I’m not saying that Kendrick is ripping anyone else off, I just love hearing the mix of influences that have been made into something fresh and new.

No doubt this is a must buy, download, or stream.

About that other thing:

In my opinion, forget about the comparisons or competition with Drake.  Forget about feuds, battles, cameos, singles, downloads, and sales figures.  I could care less about which artist said what about whom, but there really is no comparison between the two artists.  Drake might be more commercially marketable and palatable, but his music just isn’t as good.  Note: I don’t hate Drake, I just find most of his music to be catchy-yet-forgettable.

Drake had a moment when he released an introspective mixtape in his very early 20’s.  Since that time, he has achieved quite a bit commercially, but that doesn’t mean anything about his music itself.  Drake has a schtick, and he’s good at it.  Kendrick is more like Lil’ Wayne in that he is riding a wave of creativity that also leads to commercial success.  And just like Weezy could do no wrong in the mid-to-late 2000’s,  Kendrick can wear the ever-shifting “best rapper alive” title…for now.  Who knows?  Maybe Jay Electronica will finally drop his long awaited album and shake things up?