Back To Black
A look at Jay Z’s Black Album 10 Years Later
by Evan Jackson
For his “final” album Jay Z made a slew of statements. The always confident MC would claim on The Black Album to be “The best rapper alive”. Can you argue with him though? Even Jordan would claim he was the best basketball player although he didn’t have the most rings or points all time. And that’s an apropos comparison. That element of the influence on pop culture is an important factor. On this album he took critics to task, revealed parts of his life he hadn’t done on previous bodies of work, and reestablished himself in the Hip Hop history. So let’s revisit and reflect on The Black Album.
Jay Z approached his final album as if it was his first. He came with a fresh perspective on his life within the Hip Hop game and addressing issues he hadn’t done in previous albums. For those with a cloudy memory Jay Z reminds everyone why he is the very best on Encore assisted by Kanye West’s signature production. He even hints at coming back like Jordan. That should have given us all a clue that he wasn’t even close to done. Up to that point of his catalog, with The Black Album being his eighth solo album, it had been by far his most personal. I admit sometimes I brag Like Hov but my favorite songs & lyrics is when he isn’t displaying supreme confidence. This is showcased on Moment of Clarity with the dark and ominous production provided by non-other than Eminem. Jay Z walks us through his place in Hip Hop with a hook that sums up all his albums. The 1st first verse is basically a nod to the title of the song: a moment of clarity reflecting on his absentee father. Other instances of the album he confessed that his decisions made him who he was, while simultaneously never glorifying them, and he had only relished in the fact that he was one of the lucky ones.
As far as the critics they did not go unscathed on this album. The addition of 99 Problems with Rick Rubin’s hard edged instrumental was a big middle finger to all of those who opposed Jay. From the cops who would stop him, radios that wouldn’t play his hits and the magazines that only used him for his likeness to garner more money from ads. And for those calling out Jay for biting Biggie’s rhymes was ridiculous. Considered contemporaries Biggie and Jay Z were good friends. He would profess that this song would get bit up on What More Can I Say. Well he was right! T.I. would have the hit record “Bring ‘Em Out” sampling that very song. He even tapped into ’96 Jigga where he was snapping back at the lower level haters on Threat. It could of easily been a bonus cut on his classic debut album Reasonable Debut.
Jay Z had set new trends with The Black Album as well. President Obama during his 2008 campaign for presidency would coolly do the gesture of wiping the dirt off his shoulder. Solidifying the fact that yes, our future president listens to Hip Hop and he knows his Jay Z. He had billion dollar moguls such as Warren Buffet throwing up the roc sign at Jay’s 40/40 club. On Change Clothes Jay Z wants people to grow with him as he becomes more of an executive. He tells grown men to trade in their oversized basketball jerseys for purple label and suits. Public Service Announcement, an extended interlude, serves as his opus, a prologue to the ending of the first part of his career. Establishing there is no one better. I don’t think anyone really thought this was the end of his Jay Z’s Hip Hop career. But if this was his last album then it would have been the perfect finale.
So in closing…Public Service Announcement: Jay Z beyond a Reasonable Doubt, from his Blueprint Beginnings to his Black Album (ending? Not quite.) is the best rapper alive. What more can I say?