'H-O-V-A/Let's go get 'em again!" Jay-Z announces near the
start of his ninth studio album.
Officially putting an end to the most-hyped but least real
retirement in the history of popular music -- and setting aside the
fact that he'd already come back for a second album and tour as part
of the ill-fated "Best of Both Worlds" project with R. Kelly -- the
36-year-old rapper, label chief and ever-industrious entrepreneur
released his much-anticipated comeback album "Kingdom Come" on
Unfortunately, the follow-up to "The Black Album," which was
accompanied by an avalanche of farewell hype that included a "final"
concert at New York's Madison Square Garden, may be the most
self-centered, lackluster, autopilot effort of his career.
To be certain, Shawn Carter deserves his reputation as one of the
most agile, free-flowing rappers the genre has ever produced. In the
early days of his career, on albums such as his debut effort,
"Reasonable Doubt" (1996); "In My Lifetime, Vol. 1" (1997), and the
smash-hit quintuple-platinum" Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life" (1998), his
obsession with acquiring the material evidence of success could be
heard as a former crack dealer who survived the hardscrabble
existence of the streets to lust for a better way of life. But the
more popular he became, the more tedious this particular strain of
his rapping grew.
Now, at a point where his admission to any VIP lounge is
guaranteed, with or without his girlfriend Beyonce Knowles, and he's
wheeling and dealing in the corporate suites as president of Def Jam
Records, Jay-Z's rampant materialism is beyond played.
"I'm young enough to know the right car to buy/Yet grown
enough not to put rims on it," Hova tells us at one point. Even
more ridiculously, he later adds, "I got black cards, good credit
and such" and, "What you call money, I pay more in taxes."
Jay-Z was inching toward returning to the microphone almost from
the minute he quit performing and recording, but many fans presumed
his comeback meant that he had something important to say. Instead,
it seems as if he just missed the spotlight. "Fame is the worst
drug known to man/It's stronger than heroin," he confesses in
Despite a few halfhearted lines about Hurricane Katrina on
"Minority Report" and yet another tribute to his mother in "I Made
It," the majority of the lyrics on "Kingdom Come" continue to find
Jay-Z bragging about his wealth, his fame and the fact that he's
back. Despite the star-studded roster of producers, including Dr.
Dre, Kanye West and Pharrell Williams, the grooves are as uninspired
as the lyrics; the usually spot-on Just Blaze even stoops to
incorporating that hoariest of hip-hop cliches, building a track
around a sample of the core hook from "Super Freak" by Rick James.
But the blame for the album's mediocrity ultimately belongs to Hova.
Jay-Z knows that few rappers have managed to stay on the
pop-culture radar through their second or third albums, much less
their ninth, and that none of his peers has remained a potent force
entering middle age. In the disc's most interesting track, "30
Something," he insists that he's going to be the exception,
repeating again and again, "Thirty is the new 20."
This could have been a fascinating topic for the artist to mine,
if he'd actually explored the notion of how a rapper can grow and
incorporate more mature themes. Instead, he continues to fixate on
adolescent concerns and empty materialism. In this regard, "Kingdom
Come" sounds like every album the Rolling Stones have made since the
'80s: a poor simulation of once-great sounds by a legend who's
resting on his laurels and who no longer has anything to say.
Grown-up rapper/exec 'needed to get back into it'
Jay-Z famously retired from life as an artist in 2003 and then was
named president of Def Jam, but being an MC without a platform
clearly didn't suit the rap star.
''I believed it for two years ... [but] something, when you love
it, is always tugging at you and itching, and I was putting it off
and putting it off,'' Jay-Z told Entertainment Weekly this summer.
''I started fumbling around to see if it felt good.''
His latest album, "Kingdom Come," takes its inspiration and title
from the 1996 comic book about Superman's return from retirement.
Its first single, ''Show Me What You Got,'' rocketed nearly 40 spots
into the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 last week.
Jay-Z, 36, who frequently compares his career to NBA great
Michael Jordan's, says hip-hop has suffered recently from ''no star
power and no artist development'' and too much ''disposable music.''
''With the state of the game now, I jueded to get back into it,"
he says. "I'm not saying that I'm saving hip-hop by myself. There
are a lot of albums coming out -- Eminem, Nas, Dr. Dre ...
''We all want to make hot music,'' says Jay-Z. ''It seems when
people get 30 years old in hip-hop, they still want to be 16, and
that's impossible. I wanted to make adult music.''