Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The would-be "Best of Both Worlds"

After hearing Jay's boring new song about how he hates Autotune, but somehow, not the most famous artists who use it (because they're creative?), I got to thinking again about what is the best Jay-Z album. Now, if someone like Noz or Trey Stone are to be believed, then it's Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter. A couple years ago, back when I was living in Seattle, I had a lot of free time and mostly thought about rap and went to my local used record store. After reading Noz's defense of Vol. 3 in the comments section of these posts, I figured I would actually cave and buy a record that is really only known for "So Ghetto" and "Big Pimpin'." Just in case I wasn't feeling up to buying the album that day (or ever), I could listen to it at some handy listening stations. Now, those of you who read Posse on Blogway way back when may remember some post he did about a fantasty Timbaland/Hov album and embedded some songs in that post. One of those songs is Vol. 3's "Come and Get Me." For whatever reason, I wasn't really able to get into while reading his post, but I figured that If was was going to buy a hard copy of the album, I better know what this song sounds like, so it was the first track I listened to. It started off decent enough, with talk of "remov[ing] your roof" over some beat that did not sound like Timbo at all... then it changed to this slow, sort of futuristic album cut. As though it should be the title track, with Jay defending his rise to stardom following Vol. 2. With this song at least, I was convinced.

I went looking through the album credits to see who was responsible for the rest of the production, since Jay fans love to celebrate Jay-Z's beat selection meanwhile shitting on Nas. "So Ghetto?" Check. The other four Tim tracks? Check. Everything else, though, was just not grabbing me. To be honest, all the other beats sound horribly dated from the DJ Clue?/Dame Grease/Swizz Beats era of New York rap... except these sound like their throwaway beats. Remember the first single, "Do It Again?" It's not a bad beat or song, per se, but it isn't engaging at all, and certainly shouldn't deserve Jay's supposed seal of excellence or approval. And do not get me started on "S. Carter." As soon as it started, with Amil's shrill whine, I stopped the CD player. Why he dumped Foxy for her I will never understand. Overall, the songs I heard from the album just didn't convince me that it was an album worth owning.

As I mentioned before, Noz had this rap nerd fantasy post about a Tim/Hov collaboration album. Personally, I don't think that would have worked in 2007, or anytime since Jay-Z has retired. He simply cannot rap as well as he could back in '98-01 and Timbaland, except for a few cases (like Jeezy's 3 A.M.), has simply outgrown rap. I'm not sure he could bring it anymore. But, there is a wealth of material from the past that could have been compiled to make probably Jay's best album. Think of this as a missed opportunity. Now, I would say Timbaland's best beats were from about '97-'02 or '03, and if certain people are to be believed, Jay was at his best around the time of Vol. 3. Now, what would an album look like if Jay had waited two years between Vol. 1 and Vol. 2? Here's my idea of the tracklist, in no particular order:

Intro: Hand It Down
So Ghetto
Paper Chase
N*gga What, N*gga Who
It's Hot (Some Like It Hot)
Snoopy Track
Hey Papi
Lobster and Scrimp
Big Pimpin'
Come and Get Me

Look at that, what album in 1999 could touch a lineup like that? Even with Bleek on the first track? It's amazing what a little quality control could have done for his place in 90's rap. Maybe then DMX wouldn't have been the megastar at that point in time. Oh well, I can dream.


tray said...

So which album do you think is Jay's best? Also, don't you find that Come and Get Me, while beautifully produced, really slows down by the last verse when Jay starts listing all the places he hides his guns? And that's the best song on the album to me, besides Big Pimpin anyway, so I can't see rating that album too kindly. I actually do love S.Carter though. Competition is naadaaaa.

bding7 said...

Yeah, I realized as soon as I published the post that I hadn't accomplished my stated task. I got lost in the dream. Anyway, if I had to go with one album, I would have to say Hard Knock Life. Reasonable Doubt is good, but not really a standout, Vol. 1 suffers from "Sunshine" and "City is Mine," and I said my peace on Vol. 3. The only other contender is Blueprint, but Vol. 2 has so many more memorable songs (6 singles), and Blueprint is really just great because of the beats.

Also, don't you find that Come and Get Me, while beautifully produced, really slows down by the last verse when Jay starts listing all the places he hides his guns?

Yea, the last verse really loses steam, but the first and second are very solid. Again, I don't understand why Jay would only use a handful of Timbaland tracks, especially when "Lobster and Scrimp," "Hey Papi" and even "Is That Your Chick" were all made around the same time.

Amil's voice haunts me in my nightmares.

tray said...

I think, along with some others, that five of the six singles are great and so is the intro. Reservoir Dogs is an overrated by some but pretty good posse cut. That leaves 7 songs that I never listen to. It would've made a great EP. Blueprint's really faded for me but it doesn't have 7 songs I flat-out skip... and maybe Blueprint 2 has his best work, buried in a sea of filler? I think it's really hard to find a great album in his catalogue.

Trey Stone said...

lol, thanks for the shout. i actually wouldn't say Vol. 3's my favorite, just that i think it's pretty underrated. a friend who was really into Jay put me on to it and it took me a bit to get into too, but there's only three songs i flat-out don't like. you're probably right that beats like "Pop 4 Roc" are dated but i kinda dig them anyway. and even though i don't really like late '90s Swizz (i blame producers like him when people shit on guys who're actually talented with the synths, because, like, synths are bad) a few of his tracks with Jay from that period aren't bad.

i think it's a reach to say BP is only good for the beats. outside of "Renegade" i can't find much fault with his flow on that album. definitely better than Vol. 2 in that respect, outside of certain moments. plus even though i like both Vol. 3 and to a lesser extent 2, i prefer livelier BP-era Jay overall.

i dunno that Tim could hold down a whole Jay album today (i mean even i'll admit dude generally isn't the most consistent on albums...again though, inconsistent with genius moments > consistently decent/good,) but that "Ain't I" beat was vintage. 'sides, to me even an iffy Jay/Tim collabo album would be a welcome break from what he's been doing lately. giving cheesy third-rate beats to Chris Cornell and pretending you're experimental = lame.

tray said...

Well of course Blueprint is flawless, flow-wise, but... as it ages it becomes very dull for me and others in ways that, I guess, others are better at explaining. It's just come to feel like this insipid candy-coated orchestral celebration of how Jay's such a hell of a guy. Although I guess Takeover and You Don't Know don't much fit into that mold.

bding7 said...

Tray basically said how I feel about Blueprint so allow me to address your other points. You're right that some of the Swizz/Jay stuff is really good, I just can't stand that Mariah Carey beat/hook. I don't understand why, when you plan to put "Jigga My N*gga" on the album, you think that, of all songs, should be a bonus track. but whatever.

I hope you didn't get the impression from me that a Tim/Jay album would be of any good now, I was saying between '98-'00 or so. But yes, "Ain't I" was slick. Tim has gotten a little too predictable now. Ten (hell, even five) years ago, none of his beats had much in common, now I feel like I can easily identify them when they come on.

Trey Stone said...

i dunno if i'd say he's gotten too predictable so much as just stopped caring as of late. i mean, even though he's pretty versatile, you can pick out definite similarities between his beats in different eras, but i don't mind that something like him and Magoo's "Party People" sounds like "Nigga What" because they're both dope. in the same way i wouldn't mind if Timberlake put out another album like him where he didn't try anything new but it ended up as good as FutureSex/LoveSounds. it's just that there's been a definite dip in quality. besides "Ain't I" i can't think of much i've really enjoyed from him since Shock Value.