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Artist: Jay-Z
Label: Def Jam
Genre: Hip Hop/Rap
Release: Jan 2003   My Rating: 0
Duration: 112:30
Summary: If "The Black Album" is "truly" Jay-Z's last statement before retirement, he at least goes out near the top of his game. While it probably won't be remembered as his best album, "The Black Album" is his most personal to date and features some of his most compelling writing. Jay-Z is defiant and defensive here--he's trying to make sure his legacy is properly acknowledged, although he can get a bit heavy-handed at times. Still, he's rarely been more incisive or insightful in his rhymes, exposing his own childhood struggles on songs like "December 4th" while slapping at his haters with "What More Can I Say" and the cutting "Threat." Longtime Jay-Z collaborators Just Blaze and Kanye West churn out outstanding production, especially Blaze, whose beats for "December 4th" and "Public Service Announcement" are among the album's best. Newcomers Aqua and the Buchanans represent well also but Eminem's minor-key drone for "Moment of Clarity" is mired in mediocrity. Jay might fade to black after this one but his last shot doesn't miss. "--Oliver Wang"


Artist: Jay-Z
Label: Roc-a-Fella
Genre: Rap
Release: Jan 2006   My Rating: 0
Duration: 59:21
Summary: Few retirements are as short-lived as that of New York rap mogul Jay-Z. Barely two years after bowing out in 2004, he's back with "Kingdom Come"--and if he's set down the mic for a minute, it doesn't show. Backed by a dream team of producers (Just Blaze, Kanye West, Dr Dre, the Neptunes), with special guests including Pharrell, Beyonce, and Coldplay's Chris Martin, it's an A-list cast. Naturally, though, it's the Hova who's the star attraction, slightly older and prone to pontificating on his ten years in the game (see "30-Something"), but certainly no wiser: as he raps on "Trouble," he's still got "hands in the cookie jar." The first few tracks are pure consolidation, gleaming and boastful productions that remind you just how great Jay-Z is on the mic. Further in, though, "Kingdom Come" branches out in style: "Hollywood," the duet with Beyoncé, is a jaded take on celebrity culture, while "Minority Report" relives the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with the Bush Administration in the metaphorical sights. Finally, the Coldplay-produced "Beach Chair" concludes the album on a spiritual note, Jay-Z announcing "life is but a dream" as Chris Martin trills like an angel atop echoing drums and distorted, music-box guitar. If you thought it could never work, you were clearly underestimating."--Louis Pattison"


Artist: Jay-Z
Label: EMI America Records
Genre: Pop
Release: Nov 2006   My Rating: 0
Duration: 120:18
Summary: Jay-Z's classic debut is a compelling reflection on his life as a hustler. It's invested with an uncommon complexity and candor that has noticeably faded in his later material. Armed with clever phrasing and sly deadpan wit, Jay-Z navigates indulgent romps ("Can't Knock the Hustle"), thought-provoking introspection ("Regrets"), and devastating street-corner soliloquies ("Friend or Foe") with savvy composure. The beats on "Reasonable Doubt", provided by the likes of DJ Premier & Ski, are as irresistibly slick as his persona. "Brooklyn's Finest," his mic-passing session with his friend Notorious B.I.G., takes on a torch-passing significance in the wake of Biggie's death. That song, and the entire album, foreshadows Jay-Z's subsequent ascension to kingpin status. "--Del. F. Cowie"