I mean, I probably have heard it in bits and pieces here and there at parties and on the radio and that. But I've never sat down to listen to it. Myself and mainstream hiphop had issues for a few years, quite a few years. I didn't see the point of helping fund some megalomaniac thuggy empire rise up and crush another twenty talents with every lazy swatting stroke it made. But I gave B.I.G. a go, and there was a bit of Hova on the radio during my time back from work. So...
I hadn't realised (somehow - I know, right?) that Kanye West was pulling the production strings. Warm, brassy sounds from the glory years of soul lending Jay a swatch of sophistication, a backdrop of respectability. Or maybe bought would be more accurate than lent. And I don't mean that in a sniffy way. He hasn't borrowed these tunes, he's paid for them. "Takeover" uses The Doors to neat menacing effect, which everyone knows - "You little fuck/I got moneystacks bigger than you" and "Nobody can read you dudes like we do" is all about putting down the Nas and the Mobb Deep and all of them. I wonder does he still have to exert himself to these ends? Then onto the "Girls Girls Girls" to show he's a lover as well as a fighter. Ahem. "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)" shows love for what is was in 2001: respect from competitors. But "What you eat don't make me shit" is a great line.
So am I buying stock in the Hova Enterprises after all? "Song Cry" - "I can't see it coming down my eyes/So I gotta make the song cry". Disingenuous, yes? There's the "mouthpiece for hustlers" telling of tales, the pushing of the brand - which is the essence of a fuckload of hip hop, of course. The lyrics are pretty amazing technically, but they aren't saying much outside of his shadow. And I still find the "nigga" word difficult to take in. For all the cash washing about, the tunes lack the glamour of the darker, hoodlum tunes of the nittier, grittier contemporaries. There's not enough pain; it's all success on top of other success. It gets a bit bland, blared out by the same trumpets shining in the soulglow sunlight.
"Renegade" features Eminem (before the plastic surgery around the eyes) to make sure there is gravity drawing in all kinds of interest. It is an Eminem track in essence with a pimp whistle Dre slink in the production and given over very much to his slippery rhythms. Just to get the only rap artist on the same level as Jay on the team.
Late on, I realise why the use of all the soul samples keeps prickling at me. It's taking the triumph of black culture in the Sixties and Seventies, the explosion of self-confidence after civil rights progress - no matter how illusory in real economic terms - and using it to bolster his industry, his image, the celebration of himself and his own rise to the toppermost. And that sounds tired.
Rating: Corporate Infinity out of Cocaine Skyscrapers