One could make a strong argument that what this album brought to New York on September 11th, 2001 (the original release date) is a bit of what’s missing from America right now. A little bit of a plan, one that doesn’t fly by the seat of the pants, or appeal to nothing more than the base emotions of a group of the uninformed masses. The back and forth lurch the country is making on any given day in any given week is giving us all a collective case of motion sickness, when we aren’t going anywhere in particular it seems. No blueprint.
There is a lot of baggage wrapped up in the back story of this release, with Kanye West having produced half the tracks, there is the weight (for better or worse) that his name lends to things today, that may not have been present when it was released. “Takeover” in particular drips with his influence, but not in a bad way in this listener’s humble opinion. Sampling Jim Morrison adds some excitement to a track that might just be self-aggrandizement with a different artist and producer mix.
Its’ important to remember that when this album was released, Kanye West was not the universal clown celebrity we know today, he was not married to a Kardashian, had not yet stormed the stage at the MTV Music Awards, had not yet proclaimed himself the voice of the nation, nor had he established his undying love for the reality TV star we elected president a few years ago. While I could go on and on with his publicity stunts, the reality was that he was a young and hungry music producer that did some fine work on this and a few other (Ludacris) albums, in the same early 2000s era.
I think my favorite track on the album is “U dont Know”, which was produced by “Just Blaze”. The Motown soul connection is heavy in this one, despite the sped up, almost falsetto chorus line. This is a theme that has appeared in a few other Jay-Z tunes, most notably “Otis” from “Watch the Throne” where he and Kanye worked together sampling the man himself called out in the title within the song.
Another big standout is “Renegade” produced by Eminem, who also accompanied Jay-Z on the recording. It’s missing some of the juvenile flavors that Eminem likes to sprinkle into his recordings, enough so that I, as a grown man, can listen to it without looking around to see who’s watching (judging).
Say that I’m foolish I only talk about jewels (bling bling)
Do you fools listen to music or do you just skim through it?
See I’m influenced by the ghetto you ruined
That same dude you gave nothing, I made something doing
What I do through and through and
I give you the news, with a twist it’s just his ghetto point-of-view
Those lyrics are straight and to the point unfortunately I think, they are also often underappreciated for their accuracy. Jay-Z’s universal popularity means that much of the intellect in his writing is glossed over by the pulp populace. Folks that listen to his recordings because he is currently the person they are told to listen to. When you listen to his words, when you dig into the thoughts and emotions of the writing, he is without a doubt the equal of any of the more heavily lauded poets of the literary world.