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Entries in Jay-z (2)


A Tale of 3 Kingz: Fathers, Sons, Holy Grails & Hip-Hop - Chris "Preach" Smith

A Tale of 3 Kingz:

Fathers, Sons, Holy Grails & Hip-Hop - by Chris “Preach” Smith

This might seem like blasphemy to write about on a Sunday for some,
but we’re here. So.

The past three weeks have basically been an adrenaline shot into the veins
of hip-hop. We’ve seen three albums dominate the landscape of the culture
in ways we haven’t seen before. J.Cole’s sophomore release, Born Sinner,
Kanye West’s highly anticipated Yeezus and the latest of the trio, Jay-Z’s
Magna Carta Holy Grail. Each album has their respective differences, but
they all also have some common ties that may take a minute to fully grasp
and appreciate. The most obvious one is the theme of religion as a driving
concept. Interestingly enough, outside of a few people commenting how
they’re tired of religion being used as a thematic tool for rappers, there’s
not much buzz about how these three MC’s use religion throughout these
albums. Or at least, their perspective on it.

And their perspectives are unique. Kanye pretty much caused an uproar
as it got closer to his release, proving how he can capitalize on gossip and
speculation to build momentum. It’s nothing new to ‘Ye; Yeezus sits with
throwbacks to the days when he had to defend himself about his infamous
Jesus piece designed by Jacob The Jeweler. Anyone who could wriggle out
of that shouldn’t surprise you when they say as he does on ‘I Am A God’,
‘I just talked to Jesus/He said ‘What up Yeezus?’I said shiiit I’m chillin’/
tryin’ to stack these millions’. It is finely blended arrogance and awareness
that Kanye has made the core of this track and this album. In some ways,
this is the evolution of ‘Jesus Walks’, but now he’s found a path that he’s
clinging to with Louis Vuitton driving gloves on, criticism be damned. ‘Ye
has gone from being a pious, populist rapper with soul and a backpack to
being a pious, preening artist with high-end fashion and an anger born
from being under-appreciated. It’s a conceptual sleight-of-hand that goes
from Christianity to Five Percenter teachings, and adds depth to a seemingly
minimalist aura that dictated Yeezus’ creation, from album covers fans
could create to the production.

With J.Cole, Born Sinner stands out because the MC made it a point to
utilize the church as a central theme for reflection. Cole then makes the
album a kind of a time capsule, baring his soul about fame, success and
his own demons along the way. With comical skits involving television
preachers and a disappearance from choir practice, there’s an appreciation
for poking fun at the more outlandish aspects of the church. With the 
track ‘Chaining Day’, you have Cole rhyming about the love of chains and
Jesus pieces in a way that advances the conversation Kanye began with
‘Jesus Walks’ ten years ago. It also shows his growing artistic dexterity
with the way the track flips halfway through from happy-go-lucky to
sobering. With ‘Forbidden Fruit’, he gets Compton’s own Kendrick Lamar
to assist on his contemporary take on male-female relationships using
the Adam and Eve story from the Old Testament, flipped over an interpolation
of ATCQ’s ‘Electric Relaxation’ beat. Born Sinner speaks to the duality of
a man with his faith in a world that tells you that it isn’t worth much
in comparison to the worldly things that can be gotten with a label deal
and a platinum card. It’s no accident that this flows into ‘Chaining Day’
on the album.

With Magna Carta Holy Grail, Jay-Z uses religion as a foil in an adept way,
although it’s not in heavy usage. For a veteran MC of this caliber, it’s 
the wise move. ‘Heaven’ is probably one of the strongest tracks, with
Hov delivering blistering rhymes like ‘I arrived at the pearly gates, I had
luggage/meaning I had baggage’. The beat is as alluring as a hymnal
offering. Jay also shows a keen awareness of the criticisms hurled at
him for being ‘an Illuminati member’ and a ‘devil worshipper’ and uses
that to stoke the fires of interest. Remember, this is the same cat that
had YouTube and other sites ablaze once he put out ‘Lucifer’ produced
by who? Kanye West. The same song that used a key sample from the
Jamaican singer Max Romeo. You don’t get to be at the top of the game
without utilizing all of the tools in varied, intricate ways. Look at ‘Holy
Grail’, the track with Justin Timberlake on the hook. It’s a mix of his
usual bragadoccio along with cited examples of Hammer and Mike Tyson
on how fame and money debilitates as much as it uplifts. And this is
with a trap-styled beat as a backdrop, much the norm these days. With
MCHG, you get these moments here and there, much like truffle garnish
on a salad accompanied by filet mignon and whiskey.

It’s funny. These albums also reflect a new territory in terms of marketing
and appeal. Think about how leaks factor in. J.Cole and his label hold a
series of intimate listening sessions to hear his album. The next day,
the album is leaked out over the Internet to the surprise of many. But
the reaction is positive. With Yeezus, the album leaks the Friday before
its release. Kanye, when asked about it, says ‘I gives no fucks’ in the new
spirit of giving to his fans with this album as he expressed before. This
leak has mixed reactions that range from absurd to calculated. Then you
have Jay-Z, on Father’s Day, during Game 5 of the NBA Finals, announce
he’s dropping an album on July 4th. But one million Samsung users will
get it first, courtesy of a new collaboration with the company giving birth
to an app that delivers the album. That winds up being a near-disaster,
with 20 million trying to access the app and crashing Samsung’s servers
at a few minutes past midnight on July 4th. We have to appreciate that
this may create a bigger divide in terms of how artists can market their
albums. Jay-Z’s done collaborations with mobile phone companies before;
he had a deal with Nokia in 2003. But constructing an effort that not only
got supreme buzz by releasing lyric sheets and studio photos via Instagram
and even convincing RIAA to count those million downloads as SALES? It
is genius. And fitting when you also consider how Kanye debuted ‘New
Slaves’ on the sides of buildings all over the world. But you can’t do that
without having the capital to back you. That is the disadvantage to those
deserving MCs with a smaller budget. But these new initiatives by these
three are pushing others to approach outreach in an entirely new way,
a needed thought process in a rapidly shifting industry. Fans are getting
their critical appreciation skills back; ‘Ye’s album sales dropped in his second
week, surpassed by J.Cole in a surprise to some. Jay-Z’s already established
that MCHG will be a success sales-wise thanks to his deal. He even recouped
his losses with the app crash in a way by having Funkmaster Flex play the
album in full on NYC’s Hot97. And as a flourish, the album artwork is now 
currently on display at Salisbury Cathedral in England. The same cathedral
where the four remaining Magna Carta documents signed in 1215 reside.

One last thing that stands out is, each of these albums reflects the respective
quests of each MC. Cole sought to rise above criticisms of being lackluster
as an MC. He was viewed as promise unfulfilled after breaking on the scene,
fodder for jokes and nonsensical beefs. Kanye? Hell, the man has had a CAREER
painted with the brush of swagger and tabloid-like spectacle. He also has been
dealing with being somewhat shunted to the side by Jay-Z in recent months,
especially as Jay began working with Justin Timberlake. As for Hov, this was
another way to assert that he was still the dominant lion on the savannah in
a calculated way. You can’t tell me anything different when you get your
album announcement during one of the most-watched NBA Finals series in
history. All while you’re establishing yourself as an NBA agent AFTER being a
part owner of a franchise that you brought to your home borough. It speaks
to the constant power struggle in hip-hop. Who’s the best? What can he do
next? What has he got left? Cole is trying to move from being one of the young
cats to veteran status. Kanye is entering a new, bolder artistic realm with his
music that may not be grasped fully at first. And Jay is essentially looking to
say, ‘I can be a businessman and still out rhyme these upstarts.’ With these
questions and the drive behind each of these MC’s, you see each man’s Holy
Grail. Their latest albums being released in such a short span of time have
introduced a brand new shift in hip-hop. Maybe the new-found artistry will
bring people who lost faith in the culture back. 


Shiny Suits and Metaphors - Chris 'Preach' Smith

Jay Electronica is now part of Roc Nation.

But if you ask others, especially on the blogs, it would seem
as if he's joined hands with Satan himself. It's even becoming
somewhat trendy to state that Jay Elec is now part of the
Illuminati. This isn't only a case of 'damned if you do, damned
if you don't' gone haywire...this is a direct look at how much
popularity can wane in an instant within today's hip-hop.

Personally, I'm not going to join the crowd who feel that Jay
Elec is now part of the New World Order because he joined
up with Jay-Z. Especially when some of the naysayers more
than likely have never read up on the subject or get their
facts from arguments in the comments section on Youtube.
Mispelled words and all. Because this is a move that had to
be made for one simple reason: he would've gone stagnant
under Sean Combs. Diddy has been dying to have an MC
just like The Notorious B.I.G. again. And Jay Elec must've
felt that with the release of 'The Ghost of Christopher
Wallace'. The song could've been so much better, should
have been so much better. But Diddy stole the stage, then
proceeded to urinate on it with almost 4 minutes of ad-libs
that ran from playful drunken bravado to gibberish. Most
notably 4 minutes and 4 seconds in. Then Jay-Z comes in
and makes the deal and Jay Elec does 'Shiny Suit Theory',
and you know the pairing of bars in that first verse was all
about depicting Diddy's guidance. And Combs did himself
no favors going off on Twitter like a jilted prom date.

I think it would be interesting to see the kind of album that
could come from Jay Electronica on Roc Nation. But this can
only happen with certain conditions. Jay-Z in his own way
can help or hinder careers. Electronica has got to put his
foot down about his vision. He needs to forge ahead with the
Dogon Society plans. He needs superb production. And he
needs to maintain that same fire he had getting here. Now is
the time where he needs it the most because a shiny suit can
blind you only for a moment...but metaphors with no weight
leaves the public with an empty feeling.