Album: The Black Album
Release Date: 14th November 2003
Firstly let’s get this out of the way, you might want to sit down. Ok yes, despite what you think Jay-Z’s “The Black Album” is better than “The Blueprint“. Yes I know, I know it hurts. You can’t understand, maybe I am insane, but not about this. Where “The Blueprint” is the album we all knew Jay could make, “The Black Album” was the album no one knew he was capable of.
2003 sees Jay-Z in a strange place. He had received critical acclaim with his album “The Blueprint“. He strayed from his mainstream singles and filler tracks, and crafted a perfect Hip-Hop record. But following the albums success he tried to recreate the magic with “The Blueprint 2” and it’s remix album. But his recent work saw Jay slowly return to the club dominating music, and none of his previous works depth. So he announced his retirement to follow his last album “The Black Album“. A final hurrah then, to cement his position as one of Hip-Hop’s greats.
The albums release was preceded by a smarter Pharrell collaboration in “Change Clothes“. A nice mature song, that praised women instead of objectifying them. A rap song for your mother if you will. Doing well on the charts, and causing no harm to Hip-Hop sensibilities, the song left me maybe a little cold and was a grower, and even when it did grow on me, I was hardly on the edge of my seat with anticipation. But still come release day I did what any self respecting rap fan would do and bought the album.
Opening with a smooth, trancy intro the album officially kicks off with Jay-Z more open more than ever before on “December 4th“. His mother tells the story of Jay-Z‘s childhood, with Jay-Z filling in the blanks. Casting a magnifying glass over the bitter moments in his life, particularly when his parents split up:
“Now all the teachers couldn’t reach me, And my momma couldn’t beat me/ hard enough to match the pain of my pops not seeing me/”
With the few tears dried up, the album’s purpose is revealed on “What More Can I Say“. A triumphamnt instrumetal sees Jay singing his ownb praises. But this time it’s not the overly familar idle bragging. Jay makes a statement as to why he deserves your respect, even ending the song by killing the instrumental and storming out of the booth:
Firmly winning just about everybody on “What More Can I Say“, Jay starts his victory lap on the Kanye produced “Encore“. Even from the opening bars the track sounds like a classic. It tellingly ends with screaming fans which cements Jay-Z as a stadium act. This song is the moment that changed Jay-Z from a successful rapper to an icon.