It all started at the Sam Goody store in Circle Center mall in the fall of 1998. Going to the mall was a gift and a curse, as there was the possibility I would be rewarded for my patience as my mother shopped. But said patience would make minutes seem like hours sitting in that one chair by the dressing room.
I tagged along, but had ulterior motives as there was this CD I was going to purchase. I don’t go “shopping,” I pick things up. There was this song that started with this trance like ring, memorable baseline and one of the most memorable hooks in Hip-Hop history. The artist went by the name Jay-Z and the song was “Hard Knock Life.”
The album would go on to be Jay’s most commercially successful album, but on a more personal level began my journey through the thought-provoking and imaginative world of Hip-Hop. Outkast had Aquemini and Tribe Called Quest had The Love Movement, but Jay would rule that day as I purchased his album with a naïve sense of accomplishment. Naive because I was unaware of his first two albums, one of those being Reasonable Doubt, which is and will always be a definitive piece of genius work.
I wish I could tell the story that I got in early, that I always hated the beat on “Brooklyn’s Finest” from Reasonable Doubt or that I laughed as Jay or Hov, (I prefer to call him Hov) put out a record like “Sunshine” on In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. Although I was unaware of his previous work, I was completely fascinated with Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life. From the “Hard Knock Life” single to collaborations with DMX (arguably the best rapper alive at that moment) Ja Rule (Yes, that Ja Rule… before cliché lines in The Fast and The Furious and the debacle which was Fyre Festival) and Jermaine Dupri (“Money aint a thing” was his best verse ever) the album received constant spins in my waterproof CD player, which was cool for absolutely no reason.
From that moment on, there would be a sense of child-like nostalgia every time one of his albums was approaching. I left school early to buy The Black Album with a group of my friends, but didn’t get the chance to listen until I was in the car with my dad, who wasn’t big on some of the language in songs. Picture me, a sixteen years old explaining to my dad, “This is his last album and I haven’t been home all day. I’m turning this on.”
The build up to that album was that important. I basically told the man who still puts fear in me this is what we’re doing.
From there he gave us Kingdom Come – poorly received as the album came off a bit out of touch, but he had reached new heights. None of that mattered as it was his first album since “retiring” after The Black Album. American Gangster would follow the same process as I purchased it, but waited until a group of my friends got together before one of those spoken word poetry slams. I heard Blueprint III for the first time in a friend’s white Dodge Durango and I remember him loudly exclaiming after a few songs, “Bruh! I accidently bought the clean version!”
The albums bring about hype, but the one-off songs do as well; especially while he was “retired.” There was always this moment when he’d start a verse off with one of his token ad-libs and he’d deliver a verse we’d talk about for weeks. Verses from Bun B’s “Get Throwed,” Young Jeezy’s “Go Crazy” and his incomparable verse on the “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” remix helped hold us over while he took his “sabbatical” of sorts.
In today’s music vacuum, does a Jay-Z album have the same hype? There are talented artists putting out new music on a near daily basis, fusing genres and creating their own lanes. As his new album, 4:44 nears its alleged release date of Friday June 30th I’m not sure what to expect. On one hand, its Hov and that’s all that needs to be said; but as a fan of the culture and what moves it forward, does he have what it takes to give us a piece of work that challenges the status quo? I will be forever grateful for what he has done for music, but Hov is 47.
47 years old.
…with a wife and one kid and two on the way. He’s worth nearly a billion dollars and doesn’t need to rap anymore.
Those are the pros and cons, but as a fan, as a kid knows there is a line in Hov’s discography for every situation. I’m hopeful this album will speak on a variety of social issues, as opposed to the superficial lines that have become so commonplace. Music changes, artists grow up and it’s almost selfish to expect them to talk about the same things. I look forward to not only thought provoking lines like, “My uncle said I never sell a million records/I sold a million records like a million times,” but the subsequent explanation of how this line is a representation of people projecting their fears on others because they only “want the best for them.” For all those who blame Hip-Hop for everything and nit-pick at every line, they tend to miss the lines that make you think. He has countless lines like these in his discography, ones that challenge me and ones that make me expect more out of artists.
As Friday approaches, there is a more mature bit of excitement. I am more prepared for the possibilities as opposed to the past. Although I won’t make that journey to some record store to purchase the album, I’ll be familiar with every song by the end of the day. As things change, from age to mindset, those like me can celebrate for what’s set up to be the soundtrack for the summer – once again, its Hov time.