“Stop playing. / You know we run rap. / You know we done that. / Stop frontin, son. Put the gun back” - Raekwon
Two Emcees. Each from The Era. Each stepped into rap kicking ill rhymes revolving around the drug game. Each one etched his own, undeniable, legacy in the talisman of this rap shit by achieving the nearly unachievable: crafting a certified classic album.
This year, two legendary Emcees released highly anticipated sequels on the same day.
In various ways, Raekwon The Chef and Hova The God have walked perpendicular career paths since their nineteen-nineties debut. Rae of course experienced immediate classic status as a part of the ubiquitous Wu-Tang Clan and then again as a solo artist with the release of “The Purple Tape” (Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...). And although he would continue to maintain lyrical credibility as a part of later Wu releases and notable guest appearances, his solo career has been littered with under promoted and unimpactful follow-ups (Immobilarity, The Lex Diamond Story). Eventually, it would seem, The Chef’s individual contributions to The Culture plateaued.
Jay-Z’s musical career, on the other hand, spawned from within the shadows of The Purple Tape and Illmatic and Ready To Die and All Eyes On Me - outmaneuvering Industry naysayers and popular opinion to become the most accomplished, most respected, most prolific Emcee in the history of Hip Hop. His musical career alone exemplifies constant progression with mixed in shots of brilliance - represented most potently on his most revered albums Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint, and The Black Album. But what can The Company Man say about Jay-Z that you don’t already know?
September Eight, Two Thousand and Nine marks an interesting intersection between these two legendary Emcees. Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...PT II is one of the most anticipated albums of the decade. All together, its been 4 years in the making complete with numerous production changes, guest appearances, label quagmires; you name it, OB4CL2 went through it. But with so much time and trepidation put into one project, not to mention that this is the sequel to one of the most celebrated albums of all time, can OB4CL2 live up to the astronomical hype?
Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 3 is without a doubt one of the most anticipated albums of 2009. Its the latest addition to the Blueprint series and in many ways represents Jay’s truest return to the album game since his 2003 pseudo retirement (Kingdom Come was like when Jordan came back wearing the four-five; a little rusty but still better than most. American Gangster was his conceptual excuse to step back into Reasonable Doubt mode and wash away Kingdom Come’s aristocratic undertones). The original Blueprint was a watershed moment in Hip Hop as it cemented Jay’s legacy as the undisputed title holder. The Blueprint 2 was....well, lets just say that The Blueprint 2 was “due.” Can part 3 restore the luster to The Blueprint brand?
“I’m talkin’ about music, I ain’t talkin about rap...” - Jay-Z
Jay-Z’s lyrical superiority on TB3 represents the best of rap music. Faux-progression and lapses into stagnant production represents the worst of rap music.
Raekwon’s dark images and crime rap depictions stereotypically represents the worst of rap music. OB4CL2’s unified sound scape and visual storytelling represents the best of rap music.
TB3 feels too long at 15 tracks. At 23 tracks, OB4CL2 feels too short.
Both artists enlisted several different top flight beat makers to craft their sonic backdrops. Where Rae’s production selection united to provide a cohesive sound supporting his album’s intentions, Jay’s production selection comes across as fractured and commercial, limiting his album’s intentions. Where Dilla and Rza and Dre and company seem to artistically compete for Rae’s best beat, Kanye and Pharrell and Swizz Beats and Timbo seem to compete for Jay’s top selling single.
On OB4CL2, every producer steps up. On TB3, Timbaland lets down.
The Blueprint 3 (complete with a week long media blitz including guest appearances on Letterman, Leno, Bill Maher, and a live concert broadcasted globally on Fuse TV) is CEO rap at its finest, packaged for today’s general consumer.
OB4CL2 (complete with early proclamations of classic status from fellow Emcees and those disenchanted with the Industry) is crime rap at its finest, packaged for longing Hip Hop heads.
The Blueprint 3, by design, symbolizes Hip Hop progression. Jay states he’s talking about music, he’s not talking about rap. Although his rhymes remain otherworldly throughout, stale beat selection (“On To The Next One”, 2 of 3 Timbo contributions) and repetitive commentary (“Off That”, “Reminder”) gravitationally pulls the progression back down to Earth. In the end, this album ends up being more about the raps than the music.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...PT II, by design, symbolizes a return to gritty, New York City Hip Hop. That good ‘ole Boom-Bap shit. Although Rae sticks to the least progressive rap subject (crime rap) throughout, otherworldly production and cinematic story telling propel his album out of this atmosphere. In the end, this album ends up being more about the music than the raps.
1995. The Era of wisdom. The Era of foolishness.
Two Emcees from that Era.
2009. Two sequels. The Blueprint 3. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...PT II.
A Tale of Two CDs...