Since this is my last weekend on the site until I return, begging for a job as James Del's assistant, I've invited some friends to play with me. Matt Ealer is the proprietor of Rendit Dot Tumblr Dot Com. Matt?
I just drove from DC to Philly and listened to Jay-Z's 2007 American Gangster about two and a half times. This is significant.
Sandwiched between two albums (comeback flop Kingdom Come, and 2009's high-tech Blueprint 3) that are the rockcritical equivalent of Batman and Robin—so easily maligned by the type of press that values "authenticity" and "honesty" among all else such that it becomes cliche — it stood as a revelation at the time. Al Green, Marvin Gaye, vintage Beastie Boys, and Isley Brothers samples. Lyrical nods to classic Outkast, EPMD, Rakim, Biggie. The picture painting of Ghostface mixed with the lyrical dexterity of MF DOOM mixed with Biggie's weird and halting virtuoso breath control. All the signifiers were correctly in place, and we ate it up. In spite of ourselves.
Consider. The sinewy, pitch-noir ode to Brooklyn's True Grit featuring perhaps the greatest example of Lil' Wayne's crazy-old-bluesman-in-a-19-year-old's-body rap-singing committed to tape of American Gangster versus the bloated, warbling banality of an ode to power centers of Midtown Manhattan and the lost life of three-martini lunches featuring Alica Keys at perhaps her most stultifying of The Blueprint 3.
And yet. For all the seemingly absent authenticity of these two perma-hated records; it becomes clear upon further investigation that they are, in the most literal sense of it, the most authentic records. Kingdom Come's "Minority Report," "Beach Chair," "Young Forever," as hated as these songs are amongst the rockcritical establishment and the subset of Shawn Corey's fan base that reads them, these are the songs about what it is actually like to be Jay-Z. More specifically, these are the songs evidencing a bleeding consternation over these very issues—how does one continue to rap when one reaches this level of success rapping about what it is like to be young and desperate?
American Gangster, on the other hand, is all nostalgia at best and cynicism at worst. And he says this, explicitly in the text. The second verse of "Ignorant Shit" is really the key to the record. He tells you that everything he is currently telling you is a lie. It is a show. It is a put-on. He is the self-created, artificial man. He is the self-made man, at odds with the fiction of the American Dream yet a perfect representation of its actuality. He is telling us explicitly that he is playing us.
And we eat it up. As we are told. In fact, even our hate at the more "mainstream," chart-pop oriented albums is part of the plan. For if not, what would we have to praise him for when he sleepwalks out an American Gangster?
To drive the point home, after the one-two meta punch of "Ignorant Shit" and "Bad Guy," he has a song that features Nas, a man who buys the rockcritical position so much that he actually named one album Hip-Hop is Dead and the next The N Word both without a hint of self-knowing irony, dropping maybe the worst verse he ever has in his long and twisted career. Jay is blatantly smirking at us, here.
And by God, when "Blue Magic" finally follows the worst ever tacked-on end to a "concept album" since the heyday of Rush; I nod my head and get goosebumps at the greatest Ronald Reagan takedown ever committed to tape. Because Jay-Z is playing me. And I am eating it right up.
Which is all a long way of saying that Denton is the Jay-Z of blogging. Hi, Nick!