Fade to Black

Jay-Z returns with The Black Album - and renewed disdain for the hip-hop game

"If I release Song Cry,' I get 500 spins. If I put out Big Pimpin',' it's No. 1 for 13 weeks [on popular New York station Hot 97]," he says. Of course, "Big Pimpin'" is a great pop song, while "Song Cry" is a mediocre love ballad. These are distinctions that Jay-Z doesn't compute -- or at least pretends not to understand. For him, each record is a gift for the public to consume, a means for him to make money as an entertainer. But it doesn't matter whether we like The Black Album. Jay-Z will still believe that he is the consummate rapper, with more hit records than the late Notorious B.I.G., more lyrical diversity than 2Pac, and more musical consistency than Nas.

Such a conceit smacks of arrogance, but who can blame him? After all, Jay-Z is the artist, and we are the audience. Our acceptance or rejection of him doesn't change that. "I don't know," he finally shrugs, in response to the journalist's question. "I haven't figured out the world."

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