February 13, 2007

Jay-Z - In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (November 4, 1997)



Few people remember that Shawn Carter once stated that he would put out one album and that would be it. (Judging by how good the album was, that probably wouldn't have been a bad business move.) But then his BFF Biggie Smalls was murdered, and just when he thought he was out, he was pulled back in. By his own sense of self worth? By the lure of a larger, shinier Bentley? By the few fans that originally bought Reasonable Doubt? Whatever the reason, I choose to believe that he decided to come back to keep the legacy of the Notorious B.I.G. alive, by quoting his lyrics verbatim throughout the majority of his career.



(Even fewer people remember that this album was originally titled Heir To The Throne, Vol. 1. Those people spent way too much time reading The Source back in the day.)


In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 was the first Jay-Z release on Def Jam Records, a partnership that seemed to be brokered when Jigga loaned his "Ain't No N---a" track to Def Jam's Nutty Professor soundtrack, which sold eleventy billion copies (estimated). This was a business deal whose ramifications are still seen today, at least in hip hop. He brought his Roc-a-Fella label with him, meaning his business partners Damon Dash and Kareem Burke, and, unfortunately, Memphis Bleek, who luckily doesn't appear on here. Opting to forego the grimy sound of its predecessor, Jiggaman hooked up with Puff Daddy's production team, The Hitmen, who were popular at the time (read: they made a lot of club bangers). Because of that, this album has a cleaner, more consistent sound, which, on a rap album by an ex-drug dealer, isn't a good thing. Because drug dealers shouldn't be out shaking it at the club, they should be out selling drugs

Circle of life.


1. INTRO / A MILLION AND ONE QUESTIONS / RHYME NO MORE
For his triumphant return, Jigga brought back DJ Premier, who was already a big name in hip hop when he contributed three tracks to Reasonable Doubt. He doesn't sound like a rapper who considered giving up the game (which, coincidentally, would happen over and over again throughout the years). The beat flips when the "Rhyme No More" part starts, and surprisingly, it's not about how Jay doesn't want to rap anymore. There's a remix for this song floating around online (go on, you can find it if you try) that keeps the first part of the track, but the beat switches to a completely different, better Primo beat with all new lyrics.


2. THE CITY IS MINE (FEAT. BLACKSTREET)
And the momentum is shot to shit. Anything that samples Glenn Frey's "You Belong To The City" is just not going to be any good: this song is living proof. Jay uses his first verse to justify why he decided to come back to the game after Biggie passed, so I guess the lyrics are so-so. The liner notes list the saxophone player as Chad Hugo, who is better known as the less vocal half of production geniuses The Neptunes. So it has that going for it, which isn't much.


3. I KNOW WHAT GIRLS LIKE (FEAT. PUFF DADDY AND LIL' KIM)
Easily the worst fucking song on the album. This is all Puff's fault. How do you sample both Sly Fox's "Let's Go All The Way" and The Waitresses (The Waitresses!), and work that into a rap song? And expect it to be good? I guess Kim was a popular enough rapper at some point in time, but I'm sure she's here only because Jay appeared on her debut album. Rappers tend to trade off favors that way.


4. IMAGINARY PLAYER
This sounds more like the natural progression from the Reasonable Doubt days that most fans expected. Except now he's a lot more cocky about his rhyming skills, so he talks about that a bit more.


5. STREETS IS WATCHING
Inexplicably, only the clean version of this song is available on the album, but do you really need a bunch of curse words to make a song enjoyable? Well, okay, I'll give you "usually", but for this song, it doesn't suffer. Producer Ski (another holdover from the first album) provides a soundscape for Jay that allows his gangster paranoia to set up shop in your mind.


6. FRIEND OR FOE '98
Primo returns for the sequel to the track of the same name from the first album. Once again, shortest song on the album, most visual, best produced, and whatever the fuck else I wrote about the original song to indicate that it worked.


7. LUCKY ME
Bo-ring! Side note: he mentions that he will pray hard for his nephews, and with the knowledge that one of his nephews died in a car accident recently, I feel a little bad for saying this song is boring. But not enough to re-type this sentence.


8. (ALWAYS BE MY) SUNSHINE (FEAT. BABYFACE & FOXY BROWN)
Remember what I wrote earlier about Puff Daddy trying to ruin this album with club bangers? I didn't write that? Well, I meant to. This would be one of those attempts. I have a soft spot for this track, though, proving that I, too, appreciate songs made solely for girls to dance to. But "I Know What Girls Like"? Worst fucking song on the album.


9. WHO U WIT II
Another "sequel" song, this time more along the lines of "Dead Presidents II", where the beat is the same, but it's still a treat to hear new lyrics. The beat is by Ski again (who also did "Dead Presidents"), but the beat isn't near the level of classic. Enjoyable enough, though. For those who care, the original "Who U Wit" can be found on the soundtrack for Sprung, some film that came out years ago that nobody really remembers.


10. FACE OFF (FEAT. SAUCE MONEY)
The Trackmasters (in '97, they were the other kings of club bangers, along with The Hitmen) provide a bizarre backdrop for a Jay-Z/Sauce Money reunion. Lyrics are on point, with an engaging back and forth, but it again begs the question: Why the fuck was Sauce never signed with the Roc?

11. REAL N----Z (FEAT. TOO $HORT)
Foxy Brown was also part of Def Jam, so I imagine all Jay had to do to get her on the CD was throw a wadded up piece of paper at her in the cafeteria. Sauce Money was already part of Jay's crew. But for Blackstreet, Babyface, and now Too $hort, Jay had to reach out beyond his calling circle. $hort Dog proves that he can rap about more than pimpin' bitches, which is still a good life skill to have. The chorus is stolen from a mixtape-only song Biggie put out (verbatim). Not completely horrible.


12. RAP GAME / CRACK GAME
Big Jaz (or Jaz-O), Jay's now ex-mentor, produces a track that starts with a whimsical, fantastical sample (reminds me of a Disney movie for some reason), and devolves into your usual "the music industry is actually exactly just like selling drugs" metaphor that has been done before. I guess because Jay has actually sold drugs, though, he may have more insight. Nas' vocals are sampled for the second time in Jay's catalog, just adding more fuel to the fire.


13. WHERE I'M FROM
By far the gem of this album. I'll even forgive the fact that it was produced by two of the Hitmen, since the beat actually draws you into the Marcy Projects, albeit with an old-west feel. This song is among the best Jay has ever done.


14. YOU MUST LOVE ME
The "downbeat song that ends the album" song. Also known as the song where Jay has remorse about selling his own mother crack. As despicable as that sounds, the fact that you can actually hear the sadness in his voice help you almost understand. This would be the first of many songs about his mother and his absentee father.


FINAL THOUGHTS: In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 has a few good songs, one of them actually great, but he tried too hard to reach for that commercial club banger (the first album actually only had one), and pretty much strikes out every goddamn time. Overall, this album is meh. And "I Know What Girls Like"? Still the worst fucking song on the album .


BUY OR BURN? "Where I'm From" is good enough to warrant the purchase, but that would be the only reason to buy this. So a burn is sufficient enough, even though I admit that you could probably find it for about two bucks used online. You can always pretend "I Know What Girls Like" doesn't exist, after all.


BEST TRACKS: "Where I'm From"; "Friend Or Foe '98"; "Streets Is Watching"


Album # 3 coming soon.


-Max


RELATED POSTS:
Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt


6 comments:

  1. Where I'm From, crazy. Couple of Jay-z freestyles good comparison, then and now:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUiv617LUAo&mode=related&search=

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3S9oZ0G4XKc

    ReplyDelete
  2. AnonymousMay 07, 2008

    (Even fewer people remember that this album was originally titled Heir To The Throne, Vol. 1. Those people spent way too much time reading The Source back in the day.)

    sorry that was me

    mr.childs

    ReplyDelete
  3. AnonymousMay 07, 2008

    kelly price sung on yu must love me

    mr.childs

    ReplyDelete
  4. AnonymousMay 07, 2008

    you forgot about streets is watchin
    as one song to bang

    mr.childs

    ReplyDelete
  5. I did forget about "Streets Is Watching". Weird. Corrected.

    ReplyDelete