Jay-Z never really had all that much to say. Of course, he'd occasionally throw in a "Song Cry," or "Where You Have You Been," to flex an often-veiled three-dimensionality and complexity, but for the most part Jay's ouevre has been limited to slick boasts about how he has the most and/or best money, girls, drugs and guns. And for my money, no one in hip-hop history has done it better. Which is why a large part of me just wants to ignore, "Jockin' Jay-Z," the new Kanye West-produced single from The Blueprint 3. I mean there's something almost silly about inveighing against one of your five favorite MC's of all-time, dead or alive. (Along with BIG, Ghost, Andre 3 and of course, this guy.)
But fuck it, "Jockin' Jay-Z," is weak, a disconcertingly tepid exercise on auto-pilot, more stylistic kin to the limp Kingdom Come than the modestly great, thematically consistent, American Gangster. Since coming out of "retirement," Jay's alternated back and forth between greatness and mediocrity, with one "A Billi," for every three "Hollywood's." It's like watching a Hall of Fame boxer fight two years past the point he should've retired. When he connects, it's with the knockdown velocity of a one-time great. When he swings and misses, all you can do is remember the highlight reel of past glories.
So now we're going to get a Blueprint 3, a record that no one asked for but from the title we can infer that it's Jay's way of saying "Ok, look this time I mean business, but I don't have any original ideas or themes to write about, so hey how 'bout another sequel?" Of course, the cheap champagne after-taste of Blueprint 2 isn't all that far off, as Jay followed up his second-best record (Reasonable Doubt #1, obviously), with one of his worst, a scatter-shot affair with a few classic cuts like "Poppin' Tags," bookended by disastrous Lenny Kravitz-aided wankfests inevitably conceived during a night when the pair were chasing bulimic models at Butter. More troubling is that it seems to have no real reason for existing. After all, we're still three years away from the original's 10-year anniversary and not only does Jay lack beef with any of the current crop of rap's finest, they're all falling in line to worship at his Ferragamo-clad feet. Mmm...leathery. Which would lead one to assume that its raison d' etre is owed more to fourth quarter board room bottom-lines than any burst of creative genius. Either that or Bleek nagged Jay-Z into doing it just to get a guest appearance.
Something Tells Me An Ether-like Retort Isn't Forthcoming
There's something inherently rote to "Jockin' Jay-Z," with the song staggering on for nearly four minutes of self-satisfied complacency. It's not the fact that Jay's still heavily in thrall to the "I'm Rich, Bitch" school of lyricism. After all, he practically invented that Big Willie shit. Yet as Joey pointed out yesterday, the lyrics feature "repetitive and lame swagger...with some really weak bars, 'Why you still talking money shit, cuz I like money bitch. That's the kind of rhyme that impresses the brain-cell deficient, like DJ Khaled." In a flaccid bid to re-ignite the only controversy he's been involved in in years, there's a cursory mention of the beef with Noel "Oasis," Gallagher over some idiotic remarks that the latter made over Jay playing Glastonbury.
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Of course, mocking Noel Gallagher in the year 2008 is like ripping Robin Williams: you're vaguely aware that they used to be great at an indeterminate point in the past but you can't quite remember when and you're pretty sure that it was because of cocaine anyhow. More importantly, Jay's anger towards the Wonder-Washed Up feels muted, less lingering enmity than it is an excuse to fill in the rest of his 16. Indeed, after 10 albums, Jay sounds bereft of original material to discuss, but most distressingly, his punchlines are lethargic, his rhyme schemes lazy and predictable, his boasts uttered more with a yawn than a smirk.
Kanye's beat is just okay, the snares explode, the Run DMC sample is cool but almost cloying, a nod to the retro-leaning 808 minimalism that might be in vogue today but plays to neither of 'Ye or Jay's strengths. Both men are maximalists at heart, needing soaring chipmunk soul squawks, regal horns and anthemic bombast to realize the full brunt of their over-sized personas. On "Jockin' Jay-Z," the beat's emptiness falls in line with it's lyrical content to make for a particularly hollow experience. Of course, it's premature to write The Blueprint 3 off yet, especially when reportedly less than a half-dozen songs have been recorded. Yet judging from this track and Jay's post un-retirement inconsistency, it doesn't augur well. Five years ago, when he claimed to be leaving the game, a move that ostensibly cemented a practically flawless legacy, Jay asked us what more could he say. Stuff like this me leaves apt to answer, "nothing."