Has Jay-Z Lost His Way As a Rapper?

By: Nick Nuk'em
Jay-Z can say whatever he wants about him being a hustler who just happens to rap. But let's have a look at what exists under the 500 million dollar, Maison Margiela gear-wearing, MoMA mainstay; a poor brotha from a large ghetto who decided to tell hood stories over blues-inspired beats that other broke homies could vibe to and identify with. Damn that sounds like the exact characterization of what even the squarest L7 weenie on Earth would call a “rapper,” doesn't it?

After listening to Hov's last couple albums and having to constantly pause to Google search what the hell Audemars and D'Usse (watch and cognac companies) were and wondering if Hublot had any connection to–the also very European–Hugh Grant, the average hip-hop fan has to begin questioning whether the Best Rapper Alive (2x proven) was still approaching the studio microphone in a attempt to relay stories of homies selling dimebags on the drug-infested, cockroach-clad corners across America.


Let us not forget the rap “normalcy” Hov once attained and portrayed through songs like “Friend or Foe” and “Coming of Age.” They were songs that promised that he would hustle in the streets till he was rich, making an average hoodfella feel like Jay would always be there to represent for him through ghetto anthems recorded in the now renowned D&D studios.

But contrary to the message from Jay's sophomore album In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (the second track), he no longer belongs to the city, at least the part of it he came from.

What a contrast it is for rappers who've been perpetually known for selling their CDs -riddled with the cheapest cellophane wraps and poorly printed graphics- out of Cadillac trunks (see Afroman's “Palmdale”) to see Jay get paid a multi-million dollar sum for exclusive rights to an album release on frickin' mobile device. When's the last time you think Jay shopped around trying to find the cheapest CD printer or best distribution deal? Remember “Rap Game, Crack Game” in '97 when he said “Priority's (the music label) work wasn't right so we changed factories”? It was probably around then.

Perhaps the sweetest 16 years of all time later, Shawn Corey Carter can't stop separating himself from that street corner as he goes higher and higher up the corporate ladder in a skyscraper through lyrics that frankly fail to remind you that at one point in time Jay-Z cleaned the scuffs off his shoes with a toothbrush. Now with a song on the freshly-minted Magna Carta Holy Grail titled “Picasso Baby,” along with hella Basquiat references and even the mention of a world-renowned art dealer, Larry Gagosian dating back to “Watch The Throne”, one can't get through more than a couple bars before what appears to be a mandated reminder that Jay-Z is an artist not to be confused with local rhymesayers who are prohibited from taking the stage at the shittiest of venues until reaching a quota of ticket sales.

The day after MCHG was released in stores a couple weeks ago, Hov put on a six-hour show at the Pace Gallery in what will be the video for “Picasso Baby,” in front of a private crowd where you can presume no blunts were sparked and no fights broke out in the crowd due to a careless Jordan stomper being called an anything “ass nigga.” A guy like Method Man would probably retire if he performed at a show without either of these occurring.


Even in the inconceivable event where a rapper –see earlier definition– would mention a museum in his bars, he would not have the “knowledge of a hipster” -yeah, that's a thing now- to acrinomycally refer to its French-ass fanciness in that last “MA or CA” syllable. Any hip-hop fan with a somatosensory deficit disorder will hear Jay's boastful lines and tell you “the boy's lost touch.” And ask an upcoming rapper from Compton if he's been to the MOCA in LA and he'll probably reply “I don't really fuck with chocolate, cuh, it breaks my face out.”

Born Sinner – a Biggie reference, and J. Cole's new album title – is much easier, as a rap fan, to swallow than an album with a title like Magna Carta, Holy Grail, which is significant to Historians who only hear rap when sealing leftovers for refrigerator storage.

So has Jay lost his way? Nah, you might say he's created his on way. He's pioneered the next way to express the issues of the oppressed Black man, an aspect of blues (hip-hop's granddaddy) that you gotta respect. Know that the rest of the rap game will follow suit as soon as they see themselves able. He said even before this #NewRules stuff that he would “Change the Game” (a track that boasts that's one of Dre's dopest beats to date).
The maturity that all musicians experience as time goes on happened a little different in Jay-Z's case. It was more of a mutation that took this purveyor of the drug-dealer lifestyle to his current not-so-humble state that even Sinatra would refer to as grandiose. He did it his way.

If you listen to Reasonable Doubt, you could see this coming all along, hence the track titled “Cashmere Thoughts.” It would've been also appropriately titled “Imma Ball On Y'all Nasty In A Few Years.”The “pull up in 4.0 line” from Hov's “Imaginary Players” was the epithet that showed you that Hov would go above and beyond whenever he got the chance. And would revel in his ability to tell would-be ballers about their inferior style and lack of extras on a whip as European as his damn Hublot -which can go for as much as half a mil a time-ticking pop.

Rap on the streets will never be the same now that young MCs aspirations to get their mom's houses have upgraded to aspirations of buying them villas in Monaco full of Jackson Pollack pictures that replace that Black panther painting (the animal, not the activists) hanging in most ghetto households.

And to any of the underground hip-hop fans who thought this might be a mainstream rap hate piece: Lo siento! Would you rather be overpaid or underrated? Hov is and forever will be… the absolute shit.

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