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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Jay-Z swaggers on with latest release

Published: September 18, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.

Who is the king of New York? I can distinctly remember sitting at my middle school lunch table discussing this very question with my peers. Everyone had an opinion on the issue, and if you didn’t, either you ate from your bagged lunch and kept quiet or you hopped on a bandwagon and conveniently repeated something someone else had already offered in the debate.

Perhaps it was because we were discussing the question right after the September 11th attacks, or maybe it was because hip-hop was taking over the radio airwaves, but the question loomed large in our prepubescent minds (second only to the “who do you like?” inquiry).

With the advent of Jay-Z’s “Blueprint” trilogy and the release of Nas’ “Stillmatic” just a couple of months later, we middle school students had to make a choice. Nas or Jay-Z? Who deserved the throne? After countless hours listening to both albums, I made my informed choice. I chose Nas. Now I wonder if it even mattered.

On “The Blueprint 3,” Jay-Z at times sounds as hungry as he was on “The Black Album.” His lyrical flow and chest beating bravado (while touched upon in every album he has made) are the defining characteristic of Jay Z. They’re why we buy his album and blast his music when we’re driving.

No matter how many times he tells us he’s great (and he tells us a lot in this album), a couple of tracks later he will find a more quotable and fresher way to say it again. It is because of Jay Z’s superior talent in spitting out lines other rappers could not dream of (let alone come up with without writing them down) that makes him a rap legend.

There is an innate confidence that Jay Z possesses every time he goes to the mic. It is this quality above all others that made me disregard the lectures in middle school that took place after our lunch period.

Even when the excessive amount of guest stars and undercooked beats threaten to pollute the album, Jay-Z remains solid. His commercial hits (“Run This Town,” “DOA”) blend well with tracks meant for a more devoted group of listeners. Jay Z is as comfortable rapping about money and fame as he is rapping about the streets where he grew up (and he is more than convincing on both types of tracks).

For instance, his best song on the album, “Empire State of Mind,” will unquestionably find itself in the top-selling singles for iTunes, and at the same time, will become an anthem for those who are from New York and maybe even those people who don’t want to admit that they love the place (hello, Bostonians).

With his most recent album Jay Z has proven once again why he is still considered one of the best rappers of all time. Whether he is the “king of New York” is another question. It is a question that people will continue to debate as long as hip-hop stays important. It is a question that people will continue to debate over as long as legends like Jay-Z and Nas continue to put out records. I chose Nas. But that doesn’t mean Jay-Z isn’t great. Just ask him. I’m sure Jay Z thinks Jay-Z is the king of New York. On “The Blueprint 3” he makes a good argument.