Reviewed by Robert Gabriel, Fri., Jan. 9, 2004
Jay-ZThe Black Album (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam) Having dominated the hip-hop market like no other in the history of the genre, Jay-Z ominously proclaims The Black Album his last hurrah with lines like, "I'm supposed to be number one on everybody's list. Let's see what y'all think of me when I no longer exist." Then again, ever the sensationalist, Z also goes on to foreshadow his eventual return to the rap game, "when I come back like Jordan wearing the 45." Dispelling any prospect of a musical decline as quickly as it does his fantasies of a prolonged retirement, The Black Album stands up alongside Reasonable Doubt and The Blueprint as Z's most ambitious work. While "Change Clothes" utilizes the sultry throwback funk of the Neptunes to woo women and metrosexuals alike, "Dirt off Your Shoulder" jumps from a lofty perch constructed by Timbaland in its portrayal of the hard-knock life. As soulful productions from rising superstars Kanye West, Just Blaze, and 9th Wonder assist him tremendously in his quest to stand apart from his crunk-addled competition, "rap's Grateful Dead" dares to get emotional with his pinpoint lyricism. "If you can't respect that your whole perspective is wack, maybe you'll love me when I fade to black." The album's final cut, appropriately titled "My 1st Song," reveals Z as an ever-evolving MC with many issues yet to be settled. With yet another top-notch album under his belt, just how long will the ego of Shawn Carter manage to keep the audacity of Jay-Z under wraps?