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Thursday, November 14, 2013

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?

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Last Anti-Hero

Allen Iverson: The Last Anti-Hero

By Evan Jackson 

 Was he a combo guard? A two guard masquerading at the point? Or was he just pure brilliance? Yes, let’s just leave it at that. Allen Iverson was brilliant in the manner that he just played basketball a 100% every single game with a vigor no NBA player has ever matched. A lightning rod for controversy before he came into the league “The Answer” and his antics often, unfairly so, overshadowed his basketball career. This 6’0” guard is and was NBA’s last Anti- Hero. And here’s why: He didn’t care what you said about him, he didn’t care what you thought about him, he never apologized for who he was, and most importantly he laid all out on the line.
The cornrows, the tattoos, and the one armed sling were the imagery of Allen Iverson but inside him was a heart of a lion. He even went to the basket with attitude; a chip on his shoulder. He had something to prove like he had been counted out since the beginning which he was. Allen Iverson was seen as bad for the league with his off the court issues and the look on the court. Arguably he was what the NBA needed most of all. Entering the post Jordan era the NBA and its fans were all left wondering…What’s next? Plenty of (unnecessary) candidates were seen as the second heir apparent to Jordan. Most notably Kobe Bryant. Kobe was still young, developing, and didn’t have the moxie of a Jordan but definitely had the skill set. When Allen Iverson crossed over His Airness in his rookie season that’s when everyone should have taken notice. This isn’t the “post Jordan era” this the age of the Anti-Hero.
If you talk to any kid who loved basketball or any close followers of the NBA they say Kobe and Shaq were bar none the best. But everyone had a special spot for Allen Iverson. That underdog mentality and the reckless abandon he played with was alluring and fascinating. How can this little guy go against giants? Compete with them every night and get bounced off the floor in the process. A.I. had that (for lack of a better term) swagger that the NBA needed. He had converged the Hip Hop world with the NBA brand to the point that they were meant to be together. A kid could listen to the new DMX album as they go to buy their first pair of Iversons. And the respect among the current NBA players goes beyond saying. Two time NBA champion, four time MVP, Lebron James called A.I. “Pound for pound the greatest player of all time.” Allen Iverson has the second highest playoffs scoring average of all time; second only to Jordan. Lebron has an argument there. His impact on the era also deserves a say in that conversation. Anti-Hero might project a negative connotation but it’s fitting for A.I. I don’t think he ever wanted to be seen as a hero. I don’t think he wanted to be  another “post Jordan” superstar that couldn’t be distinguished from another. He also wasn’t a mr. nice guy and he never pretended to be. He was unapologetically himself and you can never say he took a game off. Despite the infamous “Practice” quote you can see how hard he played. Almost too hard.

Here’s to NBA’s last Anti-Hero, who recently officially retired. He knew he was seen as the bad guy and he knew he didn’t fit David Stern’s ideal model for an NBA superstar but damn it he didn’t care! That’s why people loved him. That’s why in the hearts and minds of the NBA audience he was the people’s champ.

Feel Young, Be Bold, Live Regal

Feel Young, Be Bold, Live Regal