The Ten Most Important Artists Of The Last Decade – 3. Jay-Z

Last year, Jay-Z appeared on The Daily Show to promote his book Decoded.  Jay-Z has always come off as an intelligent dude, and the excerpts I’ve read from Decoded solidified this.  What really stood out from Jay-Z’s appearance on The Daily Show, was his humbleness.  As Jon Stewart asked the questions, Jay-Z seemed shy, awkward, and out of his element.  I’ve been a fan of Jay-Z for a while, but his demeanor made me like him even more.  It was direct contrast to his rap persona – bigger than life, and untouchable.  Jay-Z has always been larger than life.   And for those brief moments on The Daily Show, he seemed human.

Many rappers tend to boast – it’s part of hip-hop culture.  When Jay-Z declared himself the “8th Wonder of the World” in “Izzo”, it seemed ridiculous.  And it is.  But the crux of the line lies in the fact that Jay-Z views himself as simply great – not just the “greatest rapper alive” (which he is.)  It’s hard to accuse him of being arrogant, when it’s true.  It reminds me of Brian Wilson listing 8 Beach Boys songs as his Top 10 Songs of all time.  Are you really going to argue?

As a rapper, Jay-Z is instantly recognizable with that deep voice.  His flow is impeccable, and legend has it that he never writes down his lyrics, and if that is the case, it’s all the more impressive.  “Moment of Clarity” remains of one of his best songs – where he takes down his critics for going mainstream – “I dumb down for my audience/And double my dollars/They criticize me for it/Yet they all yell “Holla“.

Jay-Z has always been ahead of the game, and a trend-setter.   But with his 2001 release The Blueprint, he truly became a hip-hop titan.  His rhymes were tighter, and he tore down his rivals with such ease that almost every other rapper seemed small in comparison.  The Blueprint was also significant for bringing back sampling as a hip-hop tool, eschewing the keyboard heavy sound that was prominent at the time.   It was also one of the first albums to incorporate soul samples,which has now become something of a common practice in hip-hop.   His next release, The Black Album was a slight dip in quality (though not by much).  “99 Problems” is a fusion of rock and hip-hop where Jay-Z recalls his early days, as if it remind his audience that’s still the same guy he used to be.

To some, Jay-Z tirade against auto-tune  – “D.O.A.” – may have made him seem like a cranky old man who doesn’t understand the new trends.  But rather, it cemented the fact that he still be the greatest by existing in his own world.  And when he played Glastonbury a couple years back – to Noel Gallagher’s chagrin – Jay-Z proved that he wasn’t bound by the hip-hop world.  He could draw a crowd, and put on a show that everybody loved.

Over the past decade, Jay-Z has proved time and again that as a hip-hop artist you can be huge, and still create music that is intelligent, while still maintaining street-cred.

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Filed under Most Important Artists, Music

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