April 13, 2007

Jay-Z - The Black Album (November 14, 2003)

With The Black Album, the Jay-Z discography is nearly complete. Touted as his "retirement" album (and we all know how that played out), Shawn Carter attempted to appeal to his original Reasonable Doubt fan base, all while satisfying the female fans he picked up along the way, what with the club hits and the Beyonce and all.

A lot of people know
The Black Album as the one that everyone and their mother has remixed and put out there on the Net. (No, really: my own mother remixed this shit, and she made it her own.) But we will discuss it on its own merit, as it has moved over three million units without the benefit of Danger Mouse or any of the other "collaborators".

Jay must have realized that The Blueprint 2 was shit, so this album has zero guest appearances (except for a chorus here and there), and the album is all the better for it. It's a return of the laser-focused Jay, and a showcase for some of the biggest names in hip-hop production to do their thing, working around Memphis Bleek's Burger King work schedule, so that he could never spontaneously appear and fuck the album up.

How can you have an interlude as the first track on the album, you ask? I don't fucking get it, either. Just call it an intro and skip it.

Shawn Carter's mother narrates this song, which takes you from Jay's childhood through his current success, all in the span of roughly four minutes. The beat on this track sounds like shit.

I love the fact that Russell Crowe is credited on this song for the Gladiator sample. I'm aware that Jay uses this song to kinda diss 50 Cent, and gives a backhanded compliment to Busta Rhymes, but the song isn't very good.

Kanye West produces, John Legend sings (somewhere), and Jay-Z raps his ass off. Fantastic song.

The Neptunes give Jay a catchy, albeit weak, first single.

With what should have been the first single, Timbaland and Jay finally deliver on their promise of a perfect collaboration.

9th Wonder (formerly of the group Little Brother) samples R. Kelly while Jigga gets his thug on. This song is punchline heaven, and yet you still believe that Jay would kill you for looking at him funny. (It helps that he's really stabbed people, of course; street cred is a must these days.)

Marshall Mathers produces, but thankfully doesn't rhyme. All of Eminem's production work tends to sound all doom-and-gloomy, and this song is no exception. Weak.

Rick Rubin, whose last hip hop songs of any merit may have been Beastie Boys tracks, produces. This song is fucking fire.

Brought to you by Just Blaze and the good folks at Roc-a-Fella Records. The best Just Blaze/Jay collabo, period.

I read in an interview that Shawn Carter was very disappointed that Madonna (whose "Justify My Love" is sampled here) wasn't able to make it to the studio to re-sing her vocal before the album deadline. As if that would have made this awful song tolerable.

Kanye West again. Not as accessible as "Encore", but still pretty good.

I don't think that The Neptunes should be allowed to work with Jay-Z ever again.

Slower, touching song to round out the album? Check. Too bad it's not any good.

The Black Album would have been a great way to end a career, even though nobody truly believed that Jay was retiring. At least Jay brought his A-game to the booth, though; some of the beats presented are so bad that Ras Kass would skip over them. Which, I suppose, is why the remix albums soon proliferated the Internet. (One of these days, I'll compile a list of the best "remixes" for an Ultimate Black Album post, if you're good.)

BUY OR BURN? The bad tracks are awful, but the good songs are fucking great. I feel no shame in telling you to
buy this shit. This album is deservedly in his top three.

BEST TRACKS? "Dirt Off Your Shoulder"; "Threat"; "Encore"; "Public Service Announcement (Interlude)"; "99 Problems"

Kingdom Come coming soon...well, not that soon. I have to eat, you know.


Jay-Z - The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
Jay-Z - The Blueprint
Jay-Z - The Dynasty: Roc La Familia
Jay-Z - Vol. 3...Life & Times Of S. Carter
Jay-Z - Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life
Jay-Z - In My Lifetime, Vol. 1
Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt


  1. i personally would have say burn this...it let me down so much, and lets face it, Danger Mouses Grey Album was better than the original.

  2. I actually really like this album, my third favorite out of Jay's stash. "Justify My Thug" still makes me vomit a little in my mouth though when I hear it.

    I have an unhealthy obsession with those remix albums though.

  3. How can you call "Moment of Clarity" weak when Jay spits lines like this:

    “I dumb down for my audience to double my dollars/they criticize me for it but they all yell ‘holla’/if skills sold/truth be told/I’d probably be/lyrically, Talib Kweli/truthfully, I wanna rhyme like Common Sense/(but I did 5 mil) I ain’t been rhymin’ like Common since/when ya sense got that much in common/and you been hustlin’ since your inception/fuck perception you go with what make sense.”

  4. duh!....the whole albums weak, and even Jay knows he aint very good...lol

  5. I'm surprised you guys didn't like this album. I thought it was very good. Also, I believe the first two songs on this album are the best two on here. On "Dec. 4" he does a very sincere narration of his life and the beat is really cool, but there is a 9th Wonder remix of it that is unbelievable. On "What more can i say" his flow is so nice. He rides the beat perfectly. "No I'm not through with it, in fact I'm just previewing it; this ain't the show I'm just EQ'in it, 1,2 and I won't stop abusin it". The Buchanans gave him a great beat there.

  6. Good review. I think DM improved on some of these tracks, though, most notably "Moment of Clarity".

  7. Weird, Max you contradicted yourself. In the review for Kingdom Come you said your "numero uno" Just Blaze/Hova collabo was "You Don't Know" and then in your Black Album review you say "PSA" is the best Just Blaze/Jigga collabo ever, PERIOD. I don't get it...please explain.

  8. Jordan, it's not really a contradiction. The reviews were written in chronological order, so when I hit The Black Album first, I made that statement about "PSA". Unfortunately, Blogger posts the most recent one first, so it makes it look like I'm going backward. But the concept of the blog is that I'm commenting while I'm listening, so the notes are just what I felt at the time of the spin. Thanks for reading!

  9. Honestly man, I'm NO Jay stan, but ALLURE is such a great song. Do you listen to music or just skim through it? Of course thats not directed at you, since I respect you as a blogger and what not. But that Jay quote pretty much summarizes your attitude towards Allure.

  10. I just didn't like "Allure". The weak-ass-shit Neptunes beat didn't do it any favors, either. I will admit, though, that after hearing DJ Green Lantern lay "Allure"'s lyrics over the "Flashing Lights" beat that I liked Shawn's lyrics a lot more, though.

  11. I don't really like "Reasonable Doubt" but i prolly started appreciating it after hearing "Black" album reason being is he did kinda did the same thing with this album... some really good 10 songs and the rest are very boring and ammusing to me.. "Lucifer" are u kidding me!!! lol "Change Clothes" is prolly the worst song tho but this is my favorite jay album even though i know Jaz-O says everything about this dude is true.. i hate to jump on the wagon for this album but i actually really enjoy this album.. maybe because of the behind the scenes look into his last concert "Fade to Black" anyway good review!

  12. AnonymousJune 22, 2010

    this is a classic...one of his top albums

  13. New member here, I guess... but your DEFINITELY right about December 4th. Honestly, I really don't know if Jus was fed formaldehyde instead of his normal teener and stuck in the wrong samples by mistake. Too glorious to me. Other than that, I thought "What More Can I Say" was good, not bad. Great review though, and yes, "Justify My Love" is shit.

    But could you honestly review the 9th Wonder remix album, "Black is Back"? It makes three-fourths of the tracks I've ever listened twice as lyrical, and it did WONDERS for December 4th.

  14. What's up with all the "Justify My Thug" hate? Yes, the hook is straight ass, but the verses and beat knock hard (and actually fit well together). It should NEVER be reviewed worse than "Change Clothes"

  15. Have you given the "Ultimate Black Album post" any consideration since the review? It would be interesting to see. Especially since I did something similar last year. Right here (in danish, but you'll get the idea): http://hiphopmedley.blogspot.dk/2011/12/black-album-revisited.html

    1. I had actually completely forgotten about it until you brought it up. I'm not sure if I'll ever have the time to research it, unless I grow exhausted of my ongoing projects and need a break, but if, say, a bunch of readers wanted to contribute to a similar post alongside me, it could happen...