Shot Of Rhythm

[ Thursday, November 23, 2006 ]


Big ticket

Jay-Z's new album, KINGDOM COME, has landed in a rather unique position: on the one hand, the return of probably the most universally celebrated artist in hip-hop has provoked a certain degree of excitement, particularly within the communities for which his two-year retirement was merely an unconvincing blip on the radar. On the other hand, though, Hova's new effort has been the victim of relatively merciless pre-release naysaying, part of which has to do with the very "retirement" issue, and quite a bit of which stems from the relative wack-ness of the album's debut single (and accompanying video), "Show Me What You Got." Indeed, that song - and particularly its filmed counterpart - didn't have me all that excited, dropping as it did in the midst of much more impressive and exciting leaked material from Nas, Ghostface, UGK and other hip-hop heavyweights releasing material in the next month or so. Still, with something like hesitation, I tried to approach KINGDOM COME with an open mind.

I'm glad I did...sort of. Granted, it's not in even the top half of Jay-Z's catalog (a glorious position populated by REASONABLE DOUBT, THE BLUEPRINT and THE BLACK ALBUM), but it's also not the embarrasment that NASCAR drivers in the video, or Chicken Littles in the blogosphere, suggested it might be. (It also should be noted that, as our friend Tyina Steptoe points out, Jay's never been known to put out superior first singles: "Change Clothes" was the first off of THE BLACK ALBUM, after all...) What's most surprising about KINGDOM COME, and what's most likely to remain interesting on repeated listens, is the maturity with which Jay-Z conducts himself on this effort, maturity which plays out in both the content (he's unafraid to address his new executive status, but doesn't play into any easy romanticization or disaffection) and the musical textures. Indeed, as posted below, his continuing love affair with the sounds of the 1970s reaps great rewards once again. There's a fine Katrina track, too, on which Jay digs deep into the event's contradictions, both political and personal. On the down side, there aren't any great dance tracks, and the duet with Beyonce is as disappointing as his contribution to her recent album (a record which, on the whole, is far better than this). Still, none of the album's more potentially disastrous moments end up in catastrophe, not even the self-aggrandizing "30 Is The New 20" or the track produced by Coldplay's Chris Martin. While the record's highlights aren't as high as his best work, and while both Nas and Lil Wayne are likely to surpass Young Hov with their next releases, KINGDOM COME doesn't fall too far from the solid-career-entry work being done by some of hip-hop's most reliable voices, like Snoop Dogg or Scarface, and - even if it's something of a step down from Jay's "ruler's back" era, that's not a bad place to be.

"Lost Ones" (with Chrissette Michelle) (produced by Dr. Dre)"

"Do U Wanna Ride" (with John Legend) (produced by Kanye West)

"Minority Report" (with Ne-Yo) (produced by Dr. Dre)

On the box right now: Tom Waits, ORPHANS, Disc 2. Soon...


Dove With Claws [6:19 PM]

[ Monday, November 20, 2006 ]


This and that

I'll have a more substantive post in a couple days, but - until then - here are three things that have been floating around cyberspace.

Mary J. Blige - "We Ride"

Common (feat. Will.I.Am.) - "I Have A Dream"

Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band - "Highway Patrolman" (live in Dublin)

On the box right now: Jay-Z, KINGDOM COME. One of the next two entries will be on this, and the other will be on the new, astonishing Tom Waits collection.


Dove With Claws [8:06 PM]