This past week two highly anticipated releases both hit the 'net from two Hip Hop legends and veterans of the game that once vied for the title "King Of New York" back when it really meant something. The two artists being Jay-Z and Raekwon and their respective projects "The Blueprint 3" and "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2". Listeners have been comparing both albums for the better part of the past week now but to be totally honest it's not fair to do so for several reasons. I'll highlight some here in this blog "A Tale Of Two Albums".
Jay-Z first left the game after dropping his brilliant sub classic "The Black Album" back in 2003 where he used the hottest producers in the game at the time (namely Just Blaze, Kanye West, Timbaland, The Neptunes & 9th Wonder) to create the sound of his "final album". Lyrically, thematically and sonically "The Black Album" was easily one of Jay-Z's best projects as he swung for the fences on it. When Jay-Z took the job as the president of Def Jam and spent 3 years as an entrepreneur and NBA team owner. When he decided to return to recording his album "Kingdom Come" in 2006 he was not only met with hostility from rappers that were heated he returned and encroached on their space but fans angry at the themes and overall tone of "Kingdom Come". I guess they wanted another "Black Album"
In a different situation altogether is Raekwon, after making the classic album "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx" back in 1995 and it soon became his own personal "Thriller" album. His follow up "Immobiliarity"in 1999 was extremely disappointing to fans and while 2003's "The Lex Diamond Story" was a step in the right direction it lacked the high powered production needed to push it over the top. After a couple of years with the dark cloud hanging over his head that his first album was one of the greatest in Hip Hop history but his subsequent solo efforts failed to live up to his potential, Raekwon then decided to attempt to make another classic. Encouraged to do so by Busta Rhymes and later RZA & Ghostface Killah, Raekwon began crafting a sequel to his classic debut "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..."
Jay-Z had a string of #1 albums, hits for days, a bunch of thriving businesses, he was now married to Beyonce Knowles, arguably the most famous and popular R&B star/actress on the planet. Jay-Z already has multiple classic albums and a gang of near misses that even he admits were due to him trying to make radio friendly music. Jay-Z can make a classic song or album almost as easily as he can draw a breath. However, Jay-Z isn't just a businessman, he's a business, man! He has audiences with heads of industry & state alike. He knows Barack Obama's BlackBerry PIN. Oprah loves him and she HATES Hip Hop. He headlined the Glastonbury Festival for God's sake! Do you muthafuckas realize whom Shawn Corey Carter really is?
He knows the game is to be sold, not to be told. Fans were angry at songs like "Do U Wanna Ride", "30 Something", "Anything", "Hollywood", "Beach Chair", "I Know", and the list goes on. Why? I'm not exactly sure. Jay-Z will become 40 on December 4th, he isn't the same cat he was 2003 in 2009. He isn't even the same guy he was back in 2006! He's trying to make an event album to open Roc Nation up, move units and have tracks get licensed & used in ads & commercial spots everywhere. Jay-Z isn't trying to make a classic album and spit the "Reasonable Doubt" era type rhymes you hope he will. He's done that already. Why would he hustle backwards? Now people say he should put his mic down. Really? After 3 years of being gone not one emcee occupied the spot he vacated between 2004, 2005 & 2006. Not one. Marinate on that! © Martin Lawrence
Raekwon's career was going the opposite direction. While he's never been wack and he managed to bring it consistently in verses over the years he's been trying to climb back to the elevated status he had during the early to late 90's again. The Wu Tang Clan albums have been met with lukewarm receptions from the Hip Hop world outside of diehard Wu heads and outside of RZA, Ghostface Killah and to lesser extent Method Man the relevance of the Wu Tang Clansmen has had a sort of resurgence in recent years. Once Raekwon announced that he was going back and making that shit the fans were clamoring for anticipation was high. It was at a fever pitch when Raekwon brought to project to Aftermath/Interscope and the 3 Vatican series mixtapes dropped. Then came the news that the project wouldn't drop on Aftermath. Were we really surprised?
It took 3 years of waiting, news leaks, mixtapes, rumors, numerous delays and a gang of interviews but it finally happened. Raekwon hooked up with an all star team of producers (Marley Marl, RZA, Dr. Dre, Pete Rock, J Dilla, Erick Sermon, The Alchemist & Scram Jones) and guest appearances that echoed that raw sound of classic material the fans have been fiending for Raekwon to return to since 1995. The sales numbers for this project aren't even important, purely the aesthetic of the finished project. There are people that haven't been excited about a new album since the 2nd Golden Era (1992-1996) ended or the Backpack Era died out (1997-2002) who will be at a record store on September 8th to cop "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2". I find that both admirable and extremely sad.
Jay-Z isn't concerned with recapturing his brilliance of days past. He has nothing to prove to himself or anyone else for that matter. He's concerned about conquering the corporate world with his business ventures much the way he conquered Hip Hop and the music world as a whole without the aid of Damon Dash. If Jay-Z made another "Reasonable Doubt" it would be like if Quentin Tarantino made another "Reservoir Dogs" instead of "climbing the mountain" and directing the "Inglourious Basterds" remake he's been planning for 5 years now. This event album will set up his new label/management venture with Roc Nation lovely. So what you want another "Friend Or Foe"? Go listen to "Friend Or Foe" and "Friend Or Foe 2" then. Jay's making "Ghetto Techno" now. Embrace the now or leave it alone.
Which album is "better" is strictly based on the individual listener. Either way, Jay-Z & Raekwon are legitimately satisfied with the finished products that'll hit stores next week. How far apart will their individual album appear on the Billboard charts or Soundscan is anyone's guess. Is that even important? Jay-Z has a lot riding on this album from a financial & marketing standpoint. Raekwon has a lot riding on this project from a personal & professional standpoint. He made a promise to his diehard fans back in 2006 that he was going to make up for the past plus decade with his upcoming album. The sales are all gravy and almost inconsequential in comparison to Rae living up to his word as a man. Look for my official reviews on Friday in "What's New In Dart's iPod #94 AKA Only Built 4 Hip Hop Fiendz..."