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The Mass Media

A Tribute to the Best Solo Artist Ever

Gangster rap died when Lil Wayne started having kids. Not that it’s inaccessible, but like grunge it went out with dying young and leaving a legacy. Jay-Z remodeled the rap game. He’s indefinable. Dapper. Relentless. Royalty, probably. Renegade, no. Jigga defines establishment.

With his butter-soft flow, understated style and over sized jerseys, Hov’s done the blueprint, and pop-culture followed suit. At just two weeks past his 40th birthday, Jay-Z’s unofficial anthem for his hometown, Empire State of Mind, still ranks number one in Billboard’s hot 100. It’s the first time he’s put a number one single on his own record.

He’s hit the top with Mariah Carey on Heartbreaker, and then he rapped over the chart-tromping Crazy In Love with his wife Beyonce. History in the making part two, he said in the intro. Why? My guess – revision is fucking key.

The last number-one-a-la-femme-fatale hit he collaborated on before he put out his latest album was Rihanna’s Umbrella.

But now there’s Blueprint III, released on September 8th 2009, three days before scheduled. It pales in comparison with the rest of his arsenal. That’s not a diss. Sleek, so perfectly performed, it can’t stand up to the honesty of his old stuff. And Jigga’s still got ridiculous word play.

In Fade to Black, a 2004 documentary about his supposed retirement, Jay-Z said a beat finds a rapper. Jay-Z never forces it. So his flow is constantly organic. And in every rap, he spits nothing but freestyle.

Jay-Z beat Elvis Pressley’s record with his latest album, which is his eleventh since Reasonable Doubt in 1996. He’s the number one selling solo artist of all time, and he’s got nine albums to go before the Beatles’ 19 chart-toppers give way to his genius. Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t. So, like the Hound Dog in his time, Jigga Man detractors prefer to minimize his cannon as crass and vain.

Haters will always hate, but the most legitimate complaint about Jay-Z, in my opinion, highlights his blatant greed and out of control ego. For Jay-Z money is substance, and that’s too bad.

You got these young cats acting like they slung cats, all in they dumb rap, talking about how they funds stack. Everyone wants to be like Jay-Z. Ok. We get it.

It’s probably always been hard to tell the difference between pop-culture and art. But both certainly sell better now than they used to. Some artists may still die poor, but since the age of communication began, most get rich. Jay-Z got filthy rich just responding to pop-culture. And that sets him apart. His raps invite dialogue. They aren’t vain boasts.

We’ve got to accept hustle. America made hustle. And here is Jay-Z’s response: I’m hustle. Look, technology’s given us luxury. Whatever you call it, getting money is God for most Americans. And Jay-Z pointed that out.

Blueprint III is just as brash as ever – there’s a whole track dedicated to Thank-yous. And another dedicated to applause. Yet through the glaze of congratulations, Jay-Z maintains lyrical clarity: used to drink Crystal but them fuckers racist, so I turned from gold bottles on to that spade shit. He speaks to rap artists. He guides pop music through his experience.

Death Of Auto-Tune (DOA) digs its heels in deep against pop trends. The righteous indignation in this song may be a bit overdone. I think everyone just wanted to sound more like Rihanna. But his opinion on the direction of rap music not only matters, DOA is award worthy – it’s been nominated for two Oscars: best solo performance and best rap song.

Art has longevity. So I guess time will tell. But for now Hov’s brilliance outshines the pettiness lingering in his lyrics.

To try and to fail, the two things I hate, succeed and this rap game, the two things that’s great.

His ghetto-candor carries him to Sinatra stardom.

We can’t forget Jay-Z’s accomplishments as an entrepreneur. He made his own record label when no one else would sign him. He dabbled in crazy weight. Without rap he was crazy strait. Now he owns the Nets. And he’d rather be compared to Frank Lucas than Ludicrous. Look that guy up for a shocker.

But emotion moved him to music. And without music he would have no capital. Music bleeds into his actions and accomplishments. His first official rap single, which was released with a video, I Can’t Get With That, basically sums up his career. He’s not a follower; he’s an innovator.

In 2008 Jay-Z headlined the Glastonbury Festival in the UK. Tickets sold slowly, and rock artists like Noel Gallagher complained, ironically pointing to tradition.

I’m sorry, but Jay-Z? No chance. Glastonbury has a tradition of guitar music . . . I’m not having hip-hop at Glastonbury. It’s wrong.

So egos clash across genres.

Eventually the gig sold out, and Jay-Z offered a gracious response.

We don’t play guitars, Noel, but hip hop has put in its work like any other form of music. This headline show is just a natural progression. Rap music is still evolving. We have to respect each other’s genre of music and move forward.

Then he opened Glastonbury with Wonderwall.

As music changes and Hip Hop takes the lead, Hov directs it. He’s been the most influential rapper since 1996. Don’t forget the kid, his old nemesis Nas with the indelible flow and excessive intelligence. But Nas, Pac, Big, aint no best? I’d say numbers talk. Jigga’s the new King of American pop-culture.

About the Contributor
Caleb Nelson served as the following positions for The Mass Media the following years: Editor-in-Chief: Fall 2010; 2010-2011; Fall 2011 News Editor: Spring 2009; 2009-2010