Now my journey through ten perfect albums continues with something completely different…
I came to Hip Hop pretty late really, despite the first record I ever bought being Vanilla Ice – Ice Ice Baby. Actually, maybe that was why…
I had a few friends in high school who were into Snoop, Dre and the like, but I didn’t hear enough of it to get into it. I did like the Beastie Boys but I was only really exposed to them via MTV2. I guess they were just ‘alternative’ enough for that playlist.
After I left school and started a part time job building computers in a local indie PC shop, the majority of the staff there listened predominately to hip hop. I think I tried to resist it for a while, but eventually it started to stick.
Initially I only really enjoyed ‘club hip hop’, finding the way in was via artists like Ice Cube, DMX, and ODB. I enjoyed some of the singles from Jay-Z’s Blueprint album, but it was The Black Album* that I fell in love with, and solidified Jay-Z as my favourite rapper.
Very much a favourite, Encore carries the implied weight of the album. The Black Album was presented as Jay-Z’s retirement from hip-hop. I remember at the time being mildly disappointed that I’d discovered Jay-Z just in time for him to retire. Repeated listens to the album though made it clear retirement wasn’t going to stick though. “When I come back like Jordan” indeed.
Probably the most distinctive single from the album, 99 Problems is almost the definition of catchy hip hop. This song was everywhere when it came out.
I love this, so much of rap is biographical, but December 4th is a very literal telling of Jay-Z’s life story. Including memories delivered, by his mother.
Relationship with the album
When this album came out in November 2003, I think I pretty much grabbed it on day one. In December I was given my first solid state portable mp3 player as a Christmas gift from work. It only had a meagre 64 mb of storage, and The Black Album was the first and only album I put on it. I basically listened to this one album every day for the next 4 months.
It still sounds fresh to me now, and remains my favourite Jay-Z album.
My relationship with hip hop involves some pretty heavy cognitive dissonance. Jay-Z is my favourite rapper, but I also unashamedly love 50 Cent. I think Jay-Z is probably the ‘best’ rapper, while 50 is much more of a performer. Both artists, along with many, many, others are problematic. However, their upbringing and background is so dramatically different from my own that it feels impossible to judge.
I do like to see areas where hip hop takes positive strides though, and while it’s easy to find examples of misogyny etc in Jay-Z’s lyrics, he has also used his platform to champion areas of Social Justice.
Other albums and songs
There are far too many great albums from Jay-Z to cover here, I’ll just touch on a few, but there are many more I could easily have included.
While Linkin Park’s – Hybrid Theory was a strong contender for my list, it didn’t quite make the cut. However this EP collaboration from Linkin Park & Jay-Z deserves a shout out here. Numb/Encore was the single, but all 6 tracks are great fun.
The Blueprint 3
Another favourite album, the Blueprint 3* is one of those albums that just “sounds like summer”. A real go to whenever the sun is shining.
Already acknowledged in my Mighty Mighty Bosstones post, Jay-Z – Unplugged is an outstanding live album, with Jay-Z collaborating with The Roots.
I’m sure people who have been listening for hip hop much longer than me, with arguably much better taste, would point to any number of Jay-Z’s albums as being better than The Black Album. Not me though, I adore this whole album and it’ll forever be a favourite. It is perfect.
*As usual, these links are affiliate ones, which may earn me a small commission if you buy something.