Saturday, September 05, 2009

Jay-Z discography

Next week Jay-Z will release his twelfth album, The Blueprint 3, his first in 2 years. He is my favorite rapper of all time or possible the best. Here's a look back at his arresting catalog:

Reasonable Doubt, 1996 (5/5). With the changing faces of Hip-Hop during the '90s, Jay-Z's masterpiece debut arrived at the right time, the album joined the debuts of fellow rap artists Snoop Dogg and Nas who both released theirs around the same era of hip-hop and no more was hip-hop synth laden funk but instead broiling laid back grooves. Reasonable Doubt, is among the most strongest hip-hop debuts of all time, bringing in the producing skills of DJ Premier, Clark Kent, Knobody and Ski. The album provides a compelling storyline throughout, as Jay-Z narrates through songs like the Knobody and Hitmen produced hit "Can't Knock the Hustle" featuring Mary J. Blige. The politically driven "Politics As Usual" and "Dead Presidents II." He dictates his experiences on the streets in cacophonous honesty, which builds up to the albums defining moment "22 Two's" in which Jay-Z also shows his skills as a freestyler. Best: 22 Two's, Can't Knock the Hustle, Feelin' It, Ain't No Ni--a, Can I Live, Politics As Usual, Dead Presidents II, Cashmere Thoughts, Friend or Foe

In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, 1997 (5/5). Similar to his debut, but maybe not quite as good, Jay-Z churned out another solid piece. From the opening bars of the DJ Premier produced "A Million and 1 Questions" (which sampled Aaliyah's then current hit "One in a Million") you can tell his sophomore album was going to be a more commercialized effort, showing more pop presence than usual. The albums most notable poppy moment was the happy synth laden "(Always Be My) Sunshine" with Babyface and Foxy Brown. Many fans failed to embrace the change, but I still liked it a lot. The flow isn't as tight as it was on the last album, but despite this Jay-Z still makes up for it by providing a series of excellent tracks. The rapid bassline of "The City is Mine," the '80s inspired synth chords of "I Know What Girls Want" with Foxy Brown and P. Diddy, the bass driven "Imaginary Player" which all builds up to the albums best moment "Streets is Watching" in which Jay-Z provides a lyrical skeptical--taking two or three listens to completely clock on to everything he says: ("If I shoot you, I'm brainless, but If you shoot me, you'll be famous"). Best: Streets is Watching, The City is Mine, Imaginary Player, I Know What Girls Want, Lucky Me, Where I'm From

Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life, 1998 (4/5). By this time, hip-hop faced yet another change, it had now become an necessity to incorporate a sense pop presence within your music, with P.Diddy being the front runner with that trend. Jay-Z's third album acquired a more tougher production than the last album, but still met with commercial success, but it wasn't as consistent as his last two, seamlessly riding mostly on beats rather than lyrics, but still presenting a handful of great tracks, some credible for how the sound and a couple for how well Jay-Z lyrically runs the song. The albums biggest hit "Can I Get A..." with Ja Rule and Amil, is one of the highlights. The biggest highlight is "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)" sampling the Broadway musical, Annie's "Hard Knock Life," it's possibly among the best hip-hop track ever recorded. Other highlights include the downbeat "Money, Cash. Hoes" and the R&B sounding "Reservoir Dogs" with The Lox, Beanie Sigel and Sauce Money. Best: Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem), Can I Get A..., Reservoir Dogs, Money Cash Hoes, It's Like That, Ni--a What Ni--a Who, If I Should Die

Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter, 1999 (4/5). After pursuing pop territories with his last two albums, Jay-Z returned to the grits of hip-hop on his fourth album. An array of cutting edge tracks which made the album more exhilarative than the last, but it wasn't wildly better and whilst his rap style and flow tightened, the albums production seems to be the centerpiece of this project--at times proving to overshadow the music itself. Timbaland makes numerous appearances; the albums biggest hit "Big Pimpin," the more R&B sounding "It's Hot (Some Like It Hot)," the Aaliyah styled "Snoopy Track" and the thumping "Come and Get Me." After working on "Heartbreaker" Mariah Carey returned the favor on the Swizz Beats produced "Things That U Do" a downbeat, flute and bass fronted track. Timbaland's contribution surely overshadowed everyone elses, you may even miss that DJ Clue fronts the innovative "Pop 4 Roc" or Rockwilder and DJ Premier collaborate on "So Ghetto." Best: Big Pimpin', Things That U Do, S. Carter, Pop 4 Roc, There's Been A Murder

The Dynasty: Roc La Familia, 2000, (4/5). In 2000, Jay-Z returned with the freshest album of his career (at the time), back with a more updated and fresh sound. It wasn't necessarily a better offering than his last two, but for what it set out achieve--it's still pretty good. Roc La Familia, was only suppose to be a Roc-A-Fella collaborative effort, but was marketed as Jay-Z's fifth album--which would explain the limited number of big name guest appearances: Snoop Dogg on the string laden "Get Your Mind Right Miami" and R. Kelly on "Guilty Until Proven Innocent." Other guest appearances are more lesser known names on the Roc-A-Fella label. The album landed the fantastic Neptunes produced lead single "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It to Me)" which became Jay-Z's biggest hit at the time. Also Kane West produced one of the albums finest tracks "This Can't Be Life."Best: I Just Wanna Love U (Give It to Me), This Can't Be Life, Guilty Until Proven Innocent, Parking Lot Pimpin', Change the Game, Get Your Mind Right Miami, Where Have You Been

The Blueprint, 2001 (4.5/5). The first in the, Blueprint, series. From the opening bars of "Takeover;" If it seemed like Jay-Z was running out things to say on his fourth and fifth album, his sixth album definitely brought to the table a creativity recharge, proving he was indeed the top MC in the industry, at the time. The album landed the popular single "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" (which I first heard in an episode on UPN's Girlfriends) produced by Kanye West and samples the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" and the brilliant, breezy second single "Girls, Girls, Girls" which follows consecutively. The Blueprint was definately Jay-Z tightest album since his debut--or if anything, his second album. Best: Girls Girls Girls, Izzo (H.O.V.A.), U Don't Know, Takeover, Heart of a City (Ain't No Love), Song Cry, All I Need

The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse, 2002 (3.5/5). I use t0 be very big on Jay-Z's seventh album, but I don't like it that much anymore. The second part in the, Blueprint series, did feel a bit lackluster (especially in comparison to the first). It definitely wasn't as consistent as previous offerings and Jay-Z's flow really didn't hold the whole through and as a two disc special, it did seem wastefully lengthy. The albums best moments (mostly located on the first disc) were the string and bass fronted collaboration with Beyonce on "'03 Bonnie & Clyde" which unsurprisingly became a top 5 hit. The sultry "Excuse Me Miss" is another winner. On the second disc, the haunting "Diamonds if Forever," the Kanye West produced "Some People Hate" and the surprising rock orientated "Guns & Roses" are quite good. Best: '03 Bonnie & Clyde, Excuse Me Miss, Some People Hate, Guns & Roses, Some People Hate

The Black Album, 2003 (4.5/5). Jay-Z's eighth album was promoted as his final album, as he announced retirement. (At the time) The Black Album, definitely showcased the rapper going out on top. Not losing momentum anytime through, the album pushed a compelling storyline, narrating through an imperative series of tracks--beginning from the horn and bass fronted "December 4th" where Jay-Z dictates his life until present time, adding to the intimacy of the song, his mum opens with a touching somewhat awkward dialogue. The albums three singles also stack up as among its best moments--the slick, piano key backed, Neptunes produced "Change Clothes," the more cultured Timbaland carved "Dirt off Your Shoulder" and the slightly rock tinted "99 Problems." Other highlights include the horn laden Kanye West produced "Encore" and the dramatic "What More Can I Say." Best: Change Clothes, December 4th, 99 Problems, Moment of Clarity, Dirt off Your Shoulder, Lucifer, Justify My Thug

Kingdom Come, 2006 (4/5). Before Jay-Z dismissed thoughts about retirement, he had previously collaborated with rock group, Linkin' Park for the fantastic album, Collision Course (2004) and re-collaborated with R. Kelly for the poor, Unfinished Business (2003) before the release of his ninth album, which was also marketed as his comeback album. Whilst it wasn't a very consistent or noticeably solid effort (which I still put down to sequencing) it did provide a handful of great tracks, including the jaunty horn fronted lead single "Show Me What You Got" which sould have opened the album. The piano key and bass laden "Lost One" and rejoyceful "I Made It" are pretty good too. Best: Show Me What You Got, I Made It, Lost One, Hollywood, 30 Something

American Gangter, 2007 (4.5/5). Inspired by the movie, American Gangster, Jay-Z released his tenth album of the same name--which I put down as one of the best of his career. The album wasn't as narratively stricken as, The Black Album or Reasonable Doubt, nor did it try to be mainstream and poppy like, The Blueprint 2 or In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. It was solid 15 track set, leaving little room for filler, starting from the stomping basslines of opener "Pray" which also features spoken vocals from wife, Beyonce. The biggest highlights include the soft, piano key laden "American Dream'," the vibrating, bass driven "Hello Brooklyn 2.0" with Lil' Wayne, the horn and drum charged lead single "Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)..." and the Neptunes produced "I Know." Best: Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)..., I Know, American Dreamin', Hello Brooklyn 2.0, Ignorant Shit, Blue Magic, Party Life

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