Jay-Z is bigger than this. He doesn't leak singles to the street; he launches them on Budweiser commercials during the World Series. He doesn't blog on Myspace; he flogs for Hewlett-Packard. He doesn't beg for time at MTV; he owns the billboards above it. To most of the world, he's not just a rapper, he is the rapper. When he calls himself the "Mike Jordan of recordin'," he's not talking about being the greatest player the game has ever known, he's talking about being the game itself.
But, like athletes, we expect rappers to disappear when they turn 30. We have no use for them as they become older and more comfortable with themselves-- even if their minds are as sharp as ever. We don't want to see them smiling on the cover of Life or hear about their hopes for the future. In hip-hop, there is no future. Everything is now because, presumably, it could all end brutally tomorrow. Jay's two biggest rivals are dead, and we canonized them partly because they were murdered in their mid-20s, most likely because of each other. Jay-Z didn't die young, though. He dubbed himself Jay-Hova and lived beyond any of our imaginations, and now he's left to figure out what the biggest rapper in the world is supposed to do when he gets old.
But is the album any good?
The early consensus on Kingdom Come is that it's one of Jay-Z's worst albums.
Actually, that's not bad for Pitchfork. (And I'm not about to start throwing stones at reviewers who can't resist a long, pretentious wind-up....)
Much worse is the usually reliable, if infinitely more modest Popmatters, which seems to be doing a lame Pitchfork parody with its review:
Regardless, Jay-Z seems quite willing to play the part of savior.
Of course, even he can’t pull it off and save hip-hop. Jay-Z is hip-hop, yes, but the dirty little secret that he likes us to ignore is that hip-hop is not Jay-Z: whether Sean Corey Carter came back for the judgement or not, children would still be ridin’ dirty and wondering just what they know about that. As a matter of fact, Jay’s stature as impossibly-rich-CEO and certifiable hip-hop legend almost seem to cripple him in this regard — that Jay is an icon first, operating on a plane so far above his contemporaries (at least with regards to status), creates enough of a separation between hip-hop and him that even with a resounding success it would just be Jay-Z, not the pulse, not the mass of hip-hop. So the rainforests all have grown back? Big surprise, man, the walking god did it.
99 problems, but having an editor clearly ain't one.
Over at Coke Machine Glow, the reviewer gets tangled up midway in some embarrassing undergrad postmodernism:
We aspirant “writer” types discuss with religious diligence our “angle,” the way we plan to tackle a piece of writing. We assume all stories are already written, but then find the new take on it; that’s the angle. Jay-Z’s always been a master of the angle, rhyming about nothing but doing it with wit, style, and absurd ease. But a writer without an angle always knows it, and so the writer writes unsurely, clinging to half-cooked paragraphs and unnecessary wordings, clunky at times and anemic at others, starting a sentence in one place and ending it somewhere else. The writer flounders, self-loathes, feels “blocked.” I’ve been there a thousand times, taunted by the cursor and utterly ashamed at my inability to put words down. I know those waters, and I rejoice that I’m not in them now, because my angle hangs in front of me, glinting in the sunlight: Jigga didn’t have one.
He mostly redeems himself elsewhere ("It’s brutal to hear him fall off like this, but, shit, he’s got Beyonce and Budweiser to worry about these days. If nothing else, “Show Me What You Got” prepped listeners for an album of phoned-in pseudo-punchlines."), but still, "my angle hangs in front of me"?
So the new album is shit. To remember better days, please go here for "99 Problems," still the coolest video (and song) in many a year.