If you can't respect Jay-Z's "The Black Album," your whole perspective is wack.
The lore surrounding The Black Album reveals the scope Jay-Z’s ambition, and more importantly, his artistry. So the story goes, Jay intended on handpicking instrumentals from his favorite producers, an honorary group made up of The Neptunes, Timbaland, Just Blaze, Kanye West, Eminem, DJ Quik, Rick Rubin, 9th Wonder, and more. In that regard, his swan song was tailored to score his exodus from the rap game, the punctuation to a profound closing statement. In that sense, the soundscapes had to be grandiose, the message equally so. “I'm supposed to be number one on everybody list, we'll see what happens when I no longer exist,” raps Jay, a hint of curiosity shrouded beneath his unyielding confidence.
Today, The Black Album turns fifteen. Many hip-hop fans consider it to be Jay’s magnum opus, objectively speaking. The Mafioso-themed Reasonable Doubt holds weight as a seminal endeavor, and The Blueprint marked the introduction of “visionary Jay,” capable of piecing together a coherent and powerful project. Yet The Black Album seems transcendent in its craftsmanship. Those unfamiliar with Jay’s legacy need only listen to “Lucifer” to understand his depth as a lyricist. Or “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” to understand his ear for hitmaking. Or “99 Problems” to observe his proficiency as a storyteller. No features necessary. The list, and the praise, only grows with every passing listen.
His recent effort 4:44 was praised for being a personal effort, with the implication being that new territory was explored. Yet The Black Album brought listener’s into Jay-Z’s world, through tracks like “December 4th,” “Moment Of Clarity,” and “My First Song.” Never has a rapper come close to encapsulating the sheer braggadocio of "Public Service Announcement." Consider that Jay stood as one of hip-hop’s reigning entities, examined on the basis his artistic merits, rather than his proximity to Beyonce or Kanye West. In that sense, The Black Album feels like the strongest exhibit for any “Jay as GOAT” line of discourse; the album is so uniquely crafted, from the production to the brilliant lyricism, that it can confidently stand against any entry of hip-hop’s notable canon.
On The Black Album’s fifteenth anniversary, take a moment to revisit a classic from start to finish.