Larger than life

By MATTHEW GASTEIER  |  December 6, 2006

But faulting Jay for weak attempts at the avant-garde is to miss the point. Always an image more than a visionary, he lives and dies by his ego. It’s not important what his collaboration with Martin sounds like, only that he’s got the clout to collaborate with an artist of Martin’s stature. Even if the Neptunes turn in an average beat, it isn’t much worse than what they offered on Jay’s The Black Album. And if Dr. Dre’s four tracks seem to lack his usual spark, none of them fails completely. Everybody knows that Jay’s persona is what will make or break the album, not the backing tracks.

 

And that’s where Kingdom Come dies. The hungry Jay — the Jay who always seemed to think he was one step behind Nas, the Jay who saw commercial success but wanted industry respect — is dead. Long live the fat, content King of New York. Gone is the fighter who clawed his way to the top with 2001’s The Blueprint. What’s left of Jay is a salesman halfheartedly trying to convince everyone that 30 is the new 20. It’s a routine that’s going over well with Def Jam stockholders. But in the hip-hop boardroom, fans are thinking: sell.

Retirement lasted three years for Jay-Z — about a year longer than the Game’s absence from the racks. So whose comeback is the Game’s new Doctor’s Advocate (Geffen) anyway? The Compton MC has gone through a lot since The Documentary put his home town back on the map. When 50 Cent decided Game wasn’t giving him enough credit for his success, he kicked him out of G-Unit. It could have been the end of the Game, who at that point hadn’t shown much talent on the mic and had mostly depended on excellent production to deliver the quality goods. Things got even worse for Jayceon Taylor when word of his pre-Game-fame appearance on the dating-game show Change of Heart made the rounds. At the end of his cameo on a TV show that has already become part of hip-hop lore, “JT” decides to “Stay Together,” but his girl picks “Change of Heart.” Snap!

Given that he was dropped from Aftermath when Dre was forced to take sides in the beef (even after a “truce,” one label isn’t big enough for 50 and someone he feels threatened by), it may seem odd that the Game chose to stick with the title Doctor’s Advocate, and odder still that he mentions the Doctor more than 30 times on a disc that features no production from the Compton legend and Aftermath chief. But Game recognizes game, and the disc’s sound is indebted to Dre’s catalogue. Taylor can even sound like Dre, punching his voice down into the gutter as he runs through the usual street tales and industry boasts. But the marked improvement in lyrical skills is inspiring; this, ladies and gentlemen, is a hungry MC, desperate for success and confirmation of his skills.

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