Jay-Z's Kingdom Come or Ya' Boy is Wack
There's a moment at the minute and 45 second mark of Kingdom Come's 10th track when the album's problems become abundantly clear. The song in question, "Hollywood" is ostensibly an attack on Hollywood and its ability to swallow souls. It features Beyonce on the hook. It is excruciatingly boring. But in the midst of the track's listlessness, Jay-Z brags about how cool it is that he's "friends with Chris and Gwyneth." With one fell stroke, one truly sees the insider he's become. The man who'd embodied the spirit of an honest man living outside the law had become the consummate "celebrity," complete with a basketball franchise, an R&B superstar girlfriend and a corner office at Def Jam. These things are all well and good for Sean Carter but not for Jay-Z, a rapper suddenly without soul and edge. With Kingdom Come not only has Jay-Z delivered his worst album yet, he's also invented a new genre of hip-hop: socialite rap.
Speculation leading up to release of Kingdom Come had centered around what sort of form the comeback would take, whether we'd see Jay looking like Jordan in the 45, or the succesful but humbled Washington Wizard. The answer is neither. Jordan on the Wizards averaged 20 ppg. This is akin to Willie Mays stumbling around in the outfield for the New York Mets, a shell of his former self. Throughout the 59 minute running time, Jay-Z's flow has never been more torpid, his wordplay so lazy, his ideas so rehashed and trite.
With Kingdom Come, Jay-Z has turned in the winning entry in 2006's annual Wyclef Jean Award (Rap Albums for people who don't like Rap). Everything feels sanitized and corporate, as though Jay was afraid to say anything that might embarass him in the new upper-crust circles that he presumably inhabits. After all, what would Chris and Gwyneth think? God forbid one offends Martin's sensitive free trade-loving sensibilities.
Fall Out Boy: Once Again Proving That Everything They Touch Turns to SuckYou didn't need to see a picture of Jay-Z and Fall Out Boy to see that he was past his prime (though it helped.) Rap is a young man's art form, whose best albums all seem to have come from people who sound fierce and hungry to stake their claim. Jay-Z's career would seem to follow that statement to a tee, as he's followed a perfect pattern of following brilliant albums with ho-hum cliche laden bricks. Without Nas, Jay would've never turned in the legacy-stamping 5 mic instant classic Blueprint. Without the retirement plans, The Black Album would've carried a bit less meaning. Until we get to Kingdom Come, which has none.
This isn't the portrait of an artist as a young man. This is the portrait of him as the man who owns the world but has nothing left to say. "The Prelude" kicks off the album with a boring and ridiculous clip of a man babbling about "setting the corporate world on its ear." Edgy. As it strolls awkwardly on, Jay-Z asks us to "guess who's back", tells us he's a "hustler disguised as a rapper," and tells us that he "used to think rapping at 38 was ill until last year he grossed $38 mill." I could've made this album with a Jay-Z cliche generator machine (now probably Jay-Z endorsed and sold at Toys R' Us. Roc-a-fella y'all.)
The next track, the Just Blaze produced "Oh My God" seems a direct copy of the "U Don't Know" beat that he'd given Jay on Blueprint. Except now neither the rapper nor the sonics sound fresh. Never before has Jay-Z been so sloppy with words, dropping tired similes like "I'm Ruthless like Ice Cube," or as hopelessly old-sounding when he makes My Chemical Romance references (I kid you not). Unlike misfires like Roc La Familia and Hard Knock Life Vol. 2 that suffered from mediocre beats, the slickly produced Kingdom Come's faults lie solely with Jay-Z himself.
US Weekly that Beyonce leaves lying around?
On "Do U Wanna Ride?" Jay-Z makes the perfunctory "for the ladies" track, getting John Legend to sing the hook. Despite his efforts Legend ends up sounding more like the black version of Adam "Maroon 5" Levine than he does Stevie Wonder (who I imagine he's trying to be). I don't even want to mention the other "for the ladies track," the Usher and Pharell featuring "Anything." It makes "Change Clothes" look like "Like a Rolling Stone."
The album's only really strong song is the Dr. Dre-produced "Trouble" where Jay-Z shows flashes of the brilliance that characterized his earlier career. But despite these snippets of his old self, "Trouble" seems like a trite re-working of "Threat." Plus, he uses the phrase "Angelina Joleezie."
Kingdom Come, I couldn't help but compare it to the Game's album, and not just because they share an almost identical roster of producers (Kanye West, Just Blaze, DJ Khahlil, and whoever actually does Dr. Dre's beats). The comparison is also valid due to both men's incessant name-dropping. Where the Game seems obsessed with West Coast Rap Legends and shoes, Jay-Z wants you to know what celebrities he knows, what sorts of polite circles he traffics in and what name-brands he's able to buy. Truth be told, I'll take another boring Eazy E reference anyday than having to hear Jay complain about being spotted by "paparazzi in the lobby of his high-rise." Whereas, Game sounded vulnerable and angry to prove himself, Jay-Z seems smug and self-satisfied, content with his lot in life.
Louis XIV Asking Jay-Z If He Likes Their "Gay Paralegal" Costumes
As the album crashes tediously to an end, Jay-Z tries to go conscious, offering up the beyond-tame Bush administration critique of "Minority Report." Truth be told, the song is so vanilla that it makes "American Idiot" seem like "Fuck tha' Police." But it's the hollow and empty final track, the Chris Martin aided "Beach Chair" that reveals the album's Coldplay-esque sterility. Despite its initially cool-sounding piano keys and thunderous drums, "Beach Chair" features some of the most inane lyrics Jay-Z has ever spit. It's chorus reads: "Life is but a beach chair." Perhaps one of the most meaningless statements ever uttered. He brags that he's never "been on Myspace because he's too busy letting his voice vibrate." Was this supposed to be his entry in 17 magazine's poetry competition?
Will Jay-Z remain one of the greatest rappers of all time? Of course, he will. This album won't change the fact that Reasonable Doubt and the Blueprint are practically perfect. But it will be an unneccesary blemish on an otherwise stellar career. This album won't be played until kingdome come, it will be forgotten by the new year. Jay-Z can go back to finding no-talents like Rick Ross and Young Jeezy, sit courtside at Nets games and go back to the Penthouse apt. where he belongs. After all, he is friends with Chris and Gwyneth.
If you want some new Jay-Z tracks go to Notes for a Different Kitchen for the god-awful "Beach Chair."
Idolator also has the insomnia-curing "Oh My God."
In the meantime, I'm going to post these two relatively unsung album cuts from the days when Jay-Z might actually have been the best rapper in the world.
Jay-Z: "Intro/A Million and One Questions" from In My Lifetime Vol. I (right-click, save as)
Jay-Z : "So Ghetto" from Hard Knock Life: Volume 3 (right-click, save as)