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His catalogue contains some of the most potent imagery and lucid storytelling about poverty and the desperation that it breeds, all while dominating mainstream pop music, in a delicate tightrope act that almost no one else has ever been able to manage for the span of time that Jay has.
His merging of thinking-man street raps with commercial hits paved the way for artists like Kendrick Lamar and J. Jay-Z’s adolescence coincided with the Reagan ’80s.
(2017): Come for Blue Ivy’s mumble raps (that flow, though!
); stay for Jay deriding Trump and pledging the importance of kin while a sample of Colombian singer Totó la Momposina’s voice plays in the background.
But he continued to develop his craft, taking stock of hip-hop’s evolving aesthetics and mastering hyperspeed raps in the vein of East Coast rap duo Das EFX.
“Roc Army,” (2002): A sparse Roc cross-pollination designed to unite Cam’ron with State Property, under Jigga’s supervision.
The setting particularly amplified this galactic Beyoncé-guested track, despite Kanye’s verse sounding like placeholder vocals and Hov not saying much of anything, either. “Mo’ Money,” (2002): Shawn Carter flirts with dancehall — at the time a scalding-hot mainstream fascination — but stops short of fully committing musically.
The alternate version retains his verses, but backpedals by swapping out Sean Paul’s vocals and adding a Timbaland beat that possesses not even a sprinkle of jerk seasoning. “Stop,” (2013): Justin Timberlake, Pharrell, Nas, Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, and Jay-Z put their heads together and came up with this tepid ode to ’80s drug-dealer paraphernalia. “They Don’t Love You No More,” Sports fans gave Jay (perhaps unwarranted) shit for the line, “Boy, you know you soft as a lacrosse team” — a perceived Drake diss — pointing out that lacrosse is indeed a full-contact sport.
It’s a human album that builds on familiar topics like black nationalism, infidelity, and money phones, but here, he handles these topics with more maturity and sophistication than ever before. D.–chopped samples — Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Sister Nancy, the Fugees — are significant in their own right, creating a mature and well-worn ambiance unlike anything else streaming on Spotify’s Rap Caviar playlist.
is the late-career big-budget home run that Hov needed. It’s never been harder to predict where he’s headed musically — which is why it’s the perfect time to look back on his entire body of work.