August 11, 2007

Jay-Z - Kingdom Come (November 21, 2006)

If I ever doubt my own abilities, at least I can say that I finish what I start. Kingdom Come is Shawn Carter's last officially released album to date, and it appeared about three years after he announced his self-professed "worst retirement in history". Most rap fans would argue that we never truly had any time to miss Shawn, since he released two albums and appeared on seemingly everyone's singles while he was supposed to be leaning back in his beach chair. Some compared Jay's comeback to that of Michael Jordan, who never truly regained his spark once he returned wearing the 4-5. Kingdom Come was attacked viciously upon its release, picked apart and dismissed as the work of a "lazy" man who didn't even really try to give the listening public anything substantial; it seemed rushed, and they came to that conclusion because Hov recorded the album while on a world tour. As such, whenever Jay is brought up these days in blogland, it's because he appears on that godforsaken "Umb-A-Rell-A" Rhianna track, or because he's fielding rumors of leaving his presidential post at Def Jam to start up another label.

There's no question that Kingdom Come was preceded by one hundred and seventy-five percent of Def Jam's marketing force, leaving Method Man and Ghostface Killah as footnotes on Def Jam's 2006 tax return. For someone who stated previously that he didn't want to make any more solo albums, he pimped his album relentlessly, and he did so in an unorthodox manner: he went after football fans, NASCAR fans, and beer drinkers. No other rapper in history had blatantly embraced this fanbase (even though most rap fans are white people in the suburbs), and as such, it backfired on him; Kingdom Come didn't sell nearly as well as the rest of his catalog. In my city, the two quote-unquote "hip hop" stations didn't even bother adding the singles "Show Me What You Got" or "Lost One" to their respective playlists (although they still play the shit out of "Big Pimpin'" and "Can I Get A..."). Due to the fact that the album was mixed in its entirety by the good Dr. Dre (who received the audio tracks via e-mail while Jay was globetrotting), Kingdom Come also has the most polished sound of any Jay album, which probably didn't help matters much.

I'll be honest. As big of a Jay stan that I may be, even I had my doubts about the comeback disc. I was getting tired of the multiple Superman and Jordan references in his guest appearances, and I wasn't too sure that a comeback was even the smartest thing for his career. So, like everyone else who reads these types of blogs, I burned a copy of it two weeks before its release. I popped it into the car stereo while my wife and I were driving to a friend's house en route to a road trip to some carnival or something. I didn't really like the first single, with its Public-Enemy-not-Wreckx-N-Effect horn sample, so I skipped it. Unlike some of the others who were quick to pounce, I wasn't appalled by the lyrical content; obviously, what else was Jay going to rap about? I appreciated the fact that he rapped about his life experiences, even though those experiences usually include sleeping with Beyonce or running his nightclub, because he was telling the truth. (Strange how I never read any rebuttals inquiring if those other listeners would have liked Kingdom Come more if Jay was still rapping about selling drugs, but I guess you can't please everyone.) Overall, I thought "30 Something" was funny, "Kingdom Come" used the Rick James "Superfreak" sample in a most creative way, and that there was something a bit off about the John Legend-featured "Do You Wanna Ride", but I dismissed the rest of the CD as kind of boring. I chalked Kingdom Come up as a "meh" and left it at that.

My Thanksgiving in 2006 was really good and fun until the late evening, when some personal stuff happened that devastated me to such a degree that my wife and I went out to a nightclub and I proceeded to get shitfaced. I was supposed to go to work the next day, but I was (a) drunk as a motherfucker, and (b) suffering from a heinous sinus infection, so I called in and rode around while my wife took care of some things. While we were in a Target shopping for some gifts for a friend's newborn, my wife threw the special edition of Kingdom Come in the basket (the one that came with the DVD, not the version with three extra songs from Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt 10-Year Anniversary concert), since she isn't blind and realized that I had purchased every single other Jay-Z album prior, and figured this may help me get out of my funk, since I like reading liner notes and supporting artists whose songs are actually good.

After I almost gift-wrapped it with the baby's things, I opened the actual CD and gave it a spin. My initial gut reactions came back to me, but this time, maybe due to the fact that my hangover/sinus infection was causing me to actively pay attention, I heard a different CD, with some of the most introspective lyrics (and, admittedly, some of the most misguided album sequencing) that I had ever heard on a Jay-Z album. After that, I put the CD away for a couple of months, both because of the shitty reviews I kept reading online (not that I believed them, but they were overwhelmingly negative), and because that's just what I do with new CDs these days; sad to say, but new music doesn't really excite me that much anymore, even if I run out and buy it the day it comes out, because the quality is usually lacking.

What is the point of this rambling post? I'll get to that below. I will say this, though: the point of this blog was not to review brand new albums before their release dates, but to listen to older albums to see if they still hold up.

So, nine months after I first listened to it, here's Kingdom Come, through 2007's eyes.

1. THE PRELUDE
Credit should be given to Jay for bringing on a nobody to produce the first song on a long-awaited comeback album. It helps that B-Money provided Shawn with a great track to spit to (at?). Jay's intros have all been pretty good (except for that Memphis Bleek appearance on "Hold It Down"), and "The Prelude" is no exception. A great way for a rapper to reintroduce himself.

2. OH MY GOD
Oh My God, this song sounds, for lack of a better word, doofy. Justin Blaze is not a very good producer for Jay to work with; Blaze should keep his beats and give them to Saigon, since I hear he has an album that's coming out February 32nd.

3. KINGDOM COME
The second best Blaze/Shawn collabo (numero uno being "You Don't Know"). Contains the aforementioned Rick James sample. The chorus is weak, but the song actually sounds better today than it did nine months ago.

4. SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT
Whereas this song sounds even worse than upon its initial release. The time you would spend listening to this horrendous first single would be much better spent tracking down your copy of Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, to listen to this song's inspiration. The video is pretty fucking lame as well.

5. LOST ONE (FEAT CHRISETTE MICHELE)
The chorus still doesn't quite fit. "Sorry I'm a champion?" However, this Dr. Dre-produced track proves that Jay is at his best when he stops rhyming about the glamorous hip hop lifestyle and looks into his past. The first, Dame Dash-baiting verse will cause you to now take up Jay's side in the Roc-A-Fella battle, even if you didn't agree with him before, simply because what the fuck has Dame Dash done in the past few years, except not release the posthumous Ol' Dirty Bastard album? Interweb bloggers have commented that the second verse is actually aimed at Rosario Dawson and not Beyonce, which I suppose would make more sense, since Jay and B haven't actually broken up since 2006, but I'm still pretty skeptical. The final verse is a tribute to Jay's late nephew, who passed away years earlier in a car accident. All in all, probably one of the finest songs he has ever and will ever release, even if the beat sounds suspiciously like Snoop Dogg's Dre-produced "Imagine", from Tha Blue Carpet Treatment, which was released on the same day.

6. DO YOU WANNA RIDE (FEAT JOHN LEGEND)
Kanye West's sole production contribution (I guess Justin elbowed him out of the Def Jam offices). Look past the fact that it's blatantly obvious that this track, with the John Legend chorus intact, was probably intended as a "song for the chicks" for another artist, possibly Kanye himself. Jay's version of Nas's "One Love" sounds pretty heartfelt, if you ignore the chorus completely.

7. 30 SOMETHING
This song is still pretty humorous. This song is the epitome of why people thought this album was a failure. What the fuck else was he supposed to rap about? His first album came out twelve years ago, people! For people who say they appreciate artistic growth, you should read the lyrics not as a man bragging about his accomplishments, but as the thoughts of a man who realizes that you can embrace your youth while still acting your goddamn age. If Jay was still dressing up with the doo-rag, everyone would talk shit about the elderly gentleman with the bandanna on his head. Oh, this song still sounds decent, but "30 Something" by the Juggaknots, from Use Your Confusion, which was released around the same time, ponders the same subject matter with a fresher approach (and even contains a Jay-Z vocal sample, to boot).

8. I MADE IT
Jay had already done his "I Love My Mama" songs on The Blueprint and The Black Album, so we didn't really need another one. DJ Khalil provides a dull-as-shit backdrop for Jay to perform over. I always skipped this track before; now that I've forced myself to listen to the whole song, I still think it sucks. Whenever you read about this album, this is the song that people forget is even on here, it's that plain-jane.

9. ANYTHING (FEAT USHER & PHARRELL)
I think this is the moment my two readers who have followed me from the beginning have been waiting for. Shawn Carter has finally topped "I Know What Girls Like". You read that right. This. Is. The. WORST. SONG. In. Jay's. Catalog. I would say that The Neptunes should fucking never produce for Jay-Z again, but this song is actually a solo Pharrell contribution (Chad Hugo was still M.I.A. in 2006). Oh man, this song is so embarrassing, it almost makes me wish that I hadn't started Hip Hop Isn't Dead with a Jay-Z album review, because if I hadn't, then I wouldn't have had to go through the discography, and I never would have heard this song again. Almost.

10. HOLLYWOOD (FEAT BEYONCE)
This beat is gawdawful, and this song sounds more like Beyonce featuring Jay-Z, even though Jay appears more often. Sure, Jay's lyrics are about being nonplussed with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, but just because this song actually has some lyrical substance doesn't make this song any good.

11. TROUBLE
Thankfully, Jay inadvertently placed the three worst songs on the album in one continuous block, rendering them easily skippable. This song is the best Dre track on here, even if the beat is relatively simple. I can picture this song playing during the opening credits of a crime procedural show on CBS (and I know, that image isn't gangsta). The third verse is Jay at his most blissfully ignorant, dropping the n-word like a kid dropping quarters into a Mortal Kombat arcade machine in 1992.

12. DIG A HOLE
Swizz Beats is surely one of the most overrated producers out today. This song, which is perceived as Jay's response to Cam'Ron's incessant disses because it is actually a response song, doesn't sound good. For aspiring rappers out there, if you choose to diss someone on a track, it helps if your song is catchy.

13. MINORITY REPORT (FEAT NE-YO)
Right after a Cam'Ron diss, we are presented with Jay's song about his reactions to Hurricane Katrina and the government response to it. (See what I mean about misguided album sequencing?) Jay-Z is at his most socially conscious here, even though opining that the US Government didn't do enough to help the Katrina victims isn't much of a stretch for anyone to make. (It's like saying you're against the war in Iraq at this point.) "Sure, I ponied up a mil but I didn't give my time/So in reality I didn't give a dime/or a damn/I just put my monies in the hands of the same people that left my people stranded". For Jay, this is pretty deep shit. The song is pretty good overall, but be sure to check for Jay's shoutout to Kanye's political commentary after Ne-Yo's verse ends.

14. BEACH CHAIR (FEAT CHRIS MARTIN (OF COLDPLAY))
Sure, Chris Martin sounded like a bizarre choice for a rap album in 2006, but now he's appearing on both Swizz Beats's and Kanye West's latest works, so Jay just looks like a trendsetter yet again. The ringleader of Coldplay brings his brilliant Brit-Pop soundscapes to what could be Jay's final song. "I'm not afraid of dying/I'm afraid of not trying"; "Some said Hov, how you get so fly/I said from not being afraid to fall out [of] the sky". Great way to end an album, and possibly a career. Of course, this means that Jay will probably release more albums later on, but we'll pretend that this is the end for now, okay?

FINAL THOUGHTS: Kingdom Come, nine months later, has aged a lot better than anyone would care to admit. There are still some horrible flaws, and glaring omissions (no DJ Premier? Timbaland? Jay, you couldn't even get Ski to give you a beat on your comeback?), but overall, for a 'rushed' album, Kingdom Come works pretty well as a swan song, even more so than on The Black Album, which consisted of Jay talking about how great he was. Kingdom Come focuses more on what Shawn Carter has learned in his decade-plus as a rap star, and is all the better for it. (I did not say that this album was better than The Black Album, though.)

BUY OR BURN? I admit that I burned this album at first, but I ended up with the deluxe edition in my crates. The good songs sound better as time passes, so I would recommend a purchase. However, the bad songs make you cringe more and more as each day passes, so be warned. Just conveniently forget to upload the shitty songs into your iPod and you'll do fine.

BEST TRACKS: "Trouble"; "Lost One"; "The Prelude"; "Kingdom Come"

CONCLUSION: After hearing every single Jay-Z album ever released (to this point, anyway), I'm convinced that Jay-Z did not kill hip hop. He certainly hasn't helped much, though: His jumping on to the Puff Daddy bandwagon early in his career just exposed more people to Sean Combs and his annoying ass. His repeatedly professed love for the South has led to a career explosion for UGK and Scarface (which is good), but has also thrusted the Rick Rosses, Young Jeezys, and others like them into the spotlight (which is horrible). He brought us Kanye West (good) and Sauce Money (better, but where the hell is he?), but also subjected us to Memphis Bleek, Amil, and Beanie Sigel (who has yet to release anything that's even remotely good). He's battled with his mentor (Jaz-O), his rap game doppelganger (Nas), Mobb Deep, 50 Cent, Cam'Ron, Jim Jones, and others, and has emerged relatively unscathed. On his Unplugged album (which I never reviewed, as it's not a proper album), he introduced MTV viewers and the world to the instrumental stylings of The Roots, one of the best rap groups working today. For the club heads, he turned them on to the sounds of The Neptunes and Timbaland. He's seemingly turned his back on the producers that made him who he is today (Primo, Ski), but still manages to make good songs, whether they be club bangers for the radio, or street singles for the thugs. Shawn Carter didn't change his style to fit the rap mold, he broke the goddamn mold, and forced everyone to cater to him. And for that, I recommend the majority of his catalog (not everything, though, since some of the below albums still sound like warmed-over shit). It'll be worth your time.

This post has taken a lot out of me. Look out for more updates in the near future, though, including the continuations of discographies from Nas, the Wu, and Bow Wow.

-Max

RELATED POSTS (IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER):
Reasonable Doubt
In My Lifetime, Vol. 1
Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life
Vol. 3...Life and Times Of S. Carter
The Dynasty: Roc La Familia
The Blueprint
The Best Of Both Worlds (with R. Kelly)
The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
The Black Album
Unfinished Business (with R. Kelly)
Collision Course (with Linkin Park)
Kingdom Come

19 comments:

  1. "...subjected us to Memphis Bleek, Amil, and Beanie Sigel (who has yet to release anything that's even remotely good)"

    Amil...fine, she sucks. But Bleek and Sig' are monsters. Theres' no denying that.

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  2. Enjoy the sublime sense of closure for the next few months till his "b-sides" or some such nonsense comes out. You killed it again though homie.

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  3. you're telling us to burn method's tical 2000 and gza's beneaththesurface and then you recommend to purchase jay-z's garbage? dude, you are a tool

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  4. "Amil...fine, she sucks. But Bleek and Sig' are monsters. Theres' no denying that."

    Co-Sign that. Amil never should have been signed to ANY label, let alone the Roc. Bleek has always been underrated, and as for Sigel...he may not have any classic albums (yet), but the man's lyrical skill is undeniable. "What your life like 2" is still on the iPod in heavy rotation.

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  5. 2 things,
    1. I meant "Duets" not "B-Sides"
    2. Ivan, consider that shit denied emphatically. "Monsters!?" really?

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  6. sorry, but i have to disagree. This album is complete garbage. Not because its particular bad for the ears or embarrassing, but because it is just weak.

    If there's one word that describes this album its BLAND.

    Jay-Z at least sounded hungry on some of the shite that was on Blueprint 2 (which was dire btw) but here he can't even be arsed. Some songs don't even sound like complete articles.

    I wouldn't be surprised if he knocked this together over one weekend and was probably drunk for most of its recordings. Its just a really, really pointless album with no substance.

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  7. Some of my favorite Memphis Bleek songs:
    Regular Cat
    Hypnotic (feat. Jay and Sig')
    Understand Me Still (feat. Rell)
    Do It All Again (feat. Geda K & Lil Cease)
    Life Through My Eyes (feat. 2pac)
    In My Life
    Smoke the Pain Away (feat. Denim)
    ...I could keep goin'...
    Now on to Sigel:
    Look At Me Now
    Remeember Them Days (feat. Eve)
    I Can't Go On This Way (feat. Free & Chris)
    Still Got Love for You (feat. Jay & Rell)
    This Can't Be Life (feat. Jay & Scarface)
    Some How Some Way (feat. Jay & Scarface)
    ................................................................

    You stand corrected
    ;-D

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  8. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessAugust 13, 2007

    Finally, Max's true comeback post for Jigga's supposed comeback album. Collision Course isn't really an album so that post doesn't count as an album review. Welcome back!
    I pretty much agree with your review of Kingdom Come. It's not the greatest album of all time but it's not a complete embarassment either. People act like Jay had a legacy of untouchable albums before this. I disagree. I think Reasonable Doubt is a classic. I don't get mad when people call The Blueprint a classic and I actually prefer The Black Album (and definitely The Grey Album). His other albums I either skip through or skip altogether. That's a 3 hot albums every 10 album average. The man has a lot of classic songs though.
    I have to disagree with the idea that he didn't change his style to fit the rap mold, that he broke the mold and forced everyone to cater to him. I feel like one of Jay-Z's biggest strengths is his versatility, not necessarily with subject matter, but his ability to jump on whatever is hot at the moment and sound good doing it. If you've got a hot radio song that's gonna get the remix treatment, you try to get Jay-Z on it. Because he can cater to everything. In my opinion, there are two trends that he can credibly claim to have pioneered. One is saying "holla". I don't really know that it's true, but I've acknowledged him for it on each and every one of the five million times I've heard it. The other is making outright biting acceptable by calling it paying homage. I might come off sounding harsh but I still consider him to be a top 10 MC. I just think he's closer to being a dickrider than he is to being a trendsetter. My other criticism is that the only loyalty he's ever shown is to Memphis Bleek. Beanie Sigel's talents can be defended. The only Bleek verse I have ever liked was on Get Ya Mind Right and that was more about the way his voice was mixed. Memphis Bleek sucks; his only positive contribution to hip-hop was setting off the Nas vs. Jay-Z battle.

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    1. that last line, bleek saved Nasir's career.

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  9. Great review, Max. You hit the nail on the head with most of this.
    But you're kidding about Chris Martin, right?
    Tell me you're kidding about "brilliant Brit-Pop soundscapes"!
    Bleek sucks, Sigel is decent.
    I heard the B. Coming was great, maybe that's a good album to review?

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  10. Well reviewed again Max. I'm just going to add my two cents about "Lost Ones": it may have been recorded in 2004 or 2003. Reasons for saying this:

    1)The Dame Dash-rocafella break-up was around this time

    2)When Jay references beyonce, he refers to her as being 23, when she turned 25 in 2006 on the day B-day was released. Jay and B obviously hid any talk of a break-up from the media

    3)Not 100% sure, but the nephew's car accident might have been 2004 as well

    This leads me to believe that the second verse is about beyonce and not Rosario Dawson. Also the first line: "I don't think it's meant to be, B"

    I don't know if you've heard, but in the last couple of days Just Blaze released to the nets the original "dig a hole" produced by the man himself. Apparently it's also a beat of Fabolous' new album but i haven't bothered to check that out. And yes you guessed it, the original shits on the album version

    You must be close to reviewing "Supreme Clientele" in the Wu catalog?

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  11. Beans: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEGBfL_9nxw

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  12. I actually enjoyed listening to "Kingdom Come" at Jay-Z has released some really horrible songs over the years and NONE of them were on this album. "Sunshine"? "I Know What Girls Like"? The In My Lifetime LP, Roc La Familia & Blueprint 2.1 has quite a few trash tracks on 'em. There wasn't much on this album I didn't like...although I could never rock with "Beach Chair". One.

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  13. "i reccomend a purchase" lets just stick to burning this pice of shit,

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  14. I love "The Prelude" beat as well. Then, I began to wonder how such an amazing beat could ever be included in such a horrible album. After putting my iPod on shuffle, the answer hit me. The beat came originally from Quasimoto's (Madlib's alter ego) "Axe Puzzles" from his album "The Unseen".

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  15. Why are we caring about Bleek and Sigel? I say Sigel's an idiot for getting his fat ass off the only person who'll get him cash.. and Bleek is done for anyhow chillin' somewhere.

    But on to the review. I actually thought that the John Legend hook off "Do You Wanna Ride" was worth it. Maybe I am a real Legend stan, but still. Wasn't TERRIBLE... that and unlike Nasir, Jay suprisingly followed this story exactly when Emory got released down to the Maybachs. Good move, Jigga.

    And Kingdom Come is definitely a banger. Can't even find an instrumental to it on the Net.

    Great review anyways!! I'll move on to other albums lol...

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  16. what? You've said that 'Kingdom Come' is the second best Blaze/Jay-Z collabo they've had, after 'U don't know' being #1, but in your Black Album review you say 'Public Service Announcement' is the best Blaze/Jay-Z collabo. Please explain the rankings because I don't get these contradictions.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for explaining, I totally get it now!

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    2. As with any of the reviews on the site, this is based on how I felt at the time I wrote the review. I stand 100% behind all of my reviews. That said, I haven't really listened to "Kingdom Come" after writing this, nor have I felt any need to, so quit picking away at semantic arguments and stick with the 1-2 punch of "PSA" and "U Don't Know".

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