Larger than life

Two kinds of triumph from Jay-Z and the Game
By MATTHEW GASTEIER  |  December 6, 2006
061208_inside_jayz
EGO: Forget the result: what counts is that Jay has the clout to collaborate with an artist of Chris Martin’s stature.

Although predictions that Jay-Z, in his comeback, would pull in the biggest sales numbers of the year were proved wrong (at 680,000, his Def Jam release Kingdom Come ranks third behind Rascal Flatts and Justin Timberlake in 2006), that’s hardly the story worth telling. After all, the predictions were unreasonable given that in this post–Tower Records world most people get their music from Wal-Mart and Best Buy, where country comforts like Rascal Flatts reign supreme. The story is that Jay’s dominant showing — he did, after all, take the #1 spot last week — marks his ninth debut at the top. Which puts him behind only Elvis Presley and the Beatles in that department. Elvis Presley. The Beatles. Jay-Z.

So, did hip-hop grow up with the release of Kingdom Come? Along with his new-found spot in the record books, Jay’s album would appear to be the first hip-hop disc to reach out to a grown-up mainstream audience without changing the genre’s fundamental sound à la OutKast. A week after the Game released one of the best hip-hop discs of the year to solid numbers from a core hip-hop crowd, Jay-Z, the man many call the king of New York, decided to show the West Coast youngster how to play to the red states (religious references and all). Although the response to Kingdom Come from hardcore fans has been mixed, the mainstream’s embrace is very real.

And that’s no surprise either: Jay has traveled into uncharted territory for an MC even at a time when hip-hop crossovers to the mainstream are at an all-time high. GQ and Life magazine covers? Check. Hangin’ with Gwyneth? Double check. And how many rappers brag about their UN initiatives? Probably about the same number of CEOs that rap about their cumulative performance on the job (“Kingdom Come: Def Jam’s Fourth Quarter Report”). But the changes in Jay’s life and the triumphs on the charts belie the reality of the wax: this is pretty routine stuff for the Brooklyn MC.

That’s not to say Jay hasn’t tried to make a difference in this crazy rap game. There’s the genuinely strange Kanye beat on “Do U Wanna Ride” that sounds like ambient elevator music trapped underwater in a drum, a failed experiment in next-level explorations. And then there’s the most-talked-about excursion, Jay’s collab with Coldplay singer Chris Martin on “Beach Chair.” Coming across as Radiohead-lite, Jay, whose idea of cutting-edge rock is John Mayer, must no doubt be thrilled with the result. But Radiohead have already brought IDM strains into the pop playing field. In that light, Jay’s copy of a copy loses some of its shine. And in the context of Timbaland and Prefuse 73, who’ve been injecting pure avant strains into the hip-hop bloodstream for years, Jay’s stepped-on foray into genre hopping is as muddy as the mix, and as ill-advised as his previous rock excursion, which was with Linkin Park.

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  Topics: Music Features , Elvis Presley, Timbaland, The Game (Rapper),  More more >
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