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Rap - Released January 1, 2011 | Universal Music Division Barclay

Booklet Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Pitchfork: Best New Music - Sélection Les Inrocks
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Rap - Released August 12, 2011 | Universal Music Division Def Jam Recordings France

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Ideal Audio Discography - Pitchfork: Best New Music - Sélection Les Inrocks
£17.31
£12.86

Rap - Released January 1, 2011 | Universal Music Division Def Jam Recordings France

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Pitchfork: Best New Music - Sélection Les Inrocks

Rap - Released July 7, 2017 | Universal Music

Distinctions Pitchfork: Best New Music
Jay-Z's June 2017 was momentous. The 44th president of the United States inducted him as the first rap lyricist into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The Beyoncé Knowles-Shawn Carter family added fourth and fifth members. Going by a jocular shot at specific Al Sharpton social media activity within, there was also the completion of 4:44, delivered on the last of the month. Approach-wise, the 13th Jay-Z studio album is a change of course for its employment of only one beatmaker, No I.D., whose previous Jay-Z credits across a decade plus -- a comparatively flashy crop that includes a major portion of The Blueprint 3 -- amount to an album's worth of tracks, primarily as co-producer. Even more noteworthy is its chronological distinction as a follow-up to Beyoncé's Lemonade, a cathartic album prompted in part by Jay-Z's extramarital behavior. This somehow makes album 12 seem older than its true age. From any other artist, 36 minutes of repentance, self-satisfaction, and wisdom regarding issues such as faithfulness, vast wealth, ethical consumption, and the deficiencies of a younger rap generation would likely fall flat, but Jay-Z continues to write at a Hall of Fame level and raps with high levels of conviction, contrition, and wit. He and No I.D. are consistently attuned. The whole album has a fine matte-like finish with nuanced rhythms and soul, funk, reggae, and prog samples that frequently enhance the tracks on an emotional level, not just a sonic one. Even the Frank Ocean and Beyoncé appearances sound sourced from a crate. Filled with references to profit and forms of pride granted by birth and earned by hustling, 4:44 nonetheless is an unglamorous set well suited for solitary and reflective late-night listening. There are no radio play bids. Jay-Z has been in this mode at various points, but never in such concentrated, enlightened form, whether the subject is his mistakes as a husband, the struggles of his long-closeted lesbian mother, the effects of enduring systemic racism, or the assertion of his supremacy. ~ Andy Kellman

Rap - Released January 1, 2013 | Def Jam Recordings

Booklet
Like few other album openers, "Holy Grail" encapsulates what follows it and reflects a particular point in an artist's career. It's a vigorous if not particularly moving track, principally produced by Timbaland and J-Roc, which expresses bewilderment and conflicting emotions about rising from poverty to opulence. The first of a few early-'90s references is made -- the chorus of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is quoted -- and Jay-Z is as triumphant and as troubled as ever. He doesn't enter until the 80-second mark, preceded by a theatrical verse and hook from summer 2013 tour partner Justin Timberlake. As with a significant portion of Magna Carta...Holy Grail, it has a dashed-off, created between business engagements quality -- maybe there wasn't enough time to ask Timberlake who translated his version of the Hebrew Bible ("Sippin' from your cup 'til it runneth over"). Likewise, the album's remainder is sporadically energized and frequently hasty-sounding, played safe with just enough timely pop-culture references and sonic curveballs to demonstrate that Jay-Z still has his finger on the pulse. He has Timbaland and J-Roc -- also co-producers of Timberlake's 20/20 Experience -- involved with most of the tracks, highlighted by a pair that sample Adrian Younge's 2011 psych-soul masterpiece Something About April, as well as some brilliantly bleary and prickly work on "F.U.T.W." Significantly lighter lifting is done by a cast that includes the likes of Pharrell and Swizz Beatz, as well as Kyambo Joshua and Mike Dean, who shine on the scuffed-up Gonjasufi-sampling finale "Nickels and Dimes." For all the lyrical flaunting of material wealth -- revolutionary art, designer fashion, yachting, globe-trotting -- the greatest ostentatious display here is in the enlistment of 2012/2013's hottest producer, Mike Will, for a single minute-length track. Unsurprisingly, it's the wildest, most advanced moment on the album. Jay-Z is armed with and weighed down by an immense back catalog. Any given track is bound to be compared to a past highlight. The MC indeed can't help sounding more mechanical than novel and, as a 43-year-old referencing Internet memes, he's possibly a little desperate to relate to younger listeners. He still drops some casually brilliant reminders that he remains one of the best, as on "Oceans" ("Only Christopher we acknowledge is Wallace/I don't even like Washingtons in my pocket") and on "Nickels and Dimes" ("Pardon my hubris, Stanley Kubrick/With eyes wide shut, I could cook up two bricks"). The album is an adequate addition to one of the most impressive artist discographies within any genre, not great enough to overshadow the heavily scrutinized corporate alliance that assisted with its ascent. ~ Andy Kellman

Rap - Released January 1, 2004 | Def Jam Recordings

If The Black Album is Jay-Z's last, as he publicly stated it will be, it illustrates an artist going out in top form. For years Shawn Carter has been the best rapper and the most popular, a man who can strut the player lifestyle with one track and become the eloquent hip-hop everyman with the next, an artist for whom modesty is often a sin, and yet, one who still sounds sincere when he's discussing his humble origins or his recurring doubts. After the immediate classic The Blueprint found him at the peak of his powers, and The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse came as the most deflating sequel since Star Wars: Episode I, his follow-up (and possible siren song) impresses on the same level as the best of his career. As he has in the past, Jay-Z balances the boasting with extensive meditations on his life and his career. The back history begins with the first song, "December 4" (his birthday), on which Carter traces his life from birth day to present day, riding a mock fanfare and the heart-tugging strings of producer Just Blaze, along with frequent remembrances from his mother in This Is Your Life fashion. The other top track, "What More Can I Say," opens with Russell Crowe's defiant "Are you not entertained!?" speech from Gladiator, then finds Jay-Z capping his career with another proof that he's one of the best of all time, and a look into what made him that way: "God forgive me for my brash delivery, but I remember vividly what these streets did to me." He also goes out with a few words for underground fans who think he's sold too many records for his own good. On "Moment of Clarity," he lays it out with an excellent rhyme: "If skills sold, truth be told, I'd probably be lyrically Talib Kweli/Truthfully I want to rhyme like Common Sense/But I did five mil, I ain't been rhyming like Common since." The first single, "Change Clothes," is much more interesting than the lightweight club hit it sounds like, a keyboard-heavy pop sequel to the Neptunes' "Frontin'" (the anthem that rocked the summer of 2003, and his last collaboration with professional beat-maker and amateurish falsetto Pharrell Williams). And he can rock with the best as well, working with Rick Rubin on a cowbell-heavy stormer named "99 Problems" that samples Billy Squier and outrocks Kid Rock. The only issue that's puzzling about The Black Album is why one of the best rappers needs to say goodbye -- unless, of course, he's simply afraid of being taken for granted and wants listeners to imagine a rap world without him. ~ John Bush

Rap - Released January 1, 2010 | Def Jam Recordings

Rap - Released January 1, 2000 | Def Jam Recordings

Rap - Released January 1, 2006 | Universal Records

Jay-Z's retirement from making albums was more like a working holiday. After he announced his retirement, released The Black Album, and threw the Fade to Black party, he collaborated with Linkin Park on Collision Course, teamed with R. Kelly for the abysmal Unfinished Business, and appeared on tracks by Beanie Sigel, Bun B, Memphis Bleek, Kanye West, Pharrell, Lupe Fiasco, and Beyoncé. He kept busy behind the scenes as Def Jam's CEO and president, and he also stepped up as a major philanthropist, donating a million dollars to the Katrina cause and actively addressing the global water crisis in Turkey and South Africa. In the midst of these and other well-publicized activities, Jay-Z recorded Kingdom Come, his eighth and weakest studio album. When placed in the context of his prolific discography, the greater part of the album wilts, and it's not a good indicator that Jay-Z continues to lean on a familiar cast of producers rather than actively seek up-and-comers. (The fresh talent here is limited to Syience and Gwyneth Paltrow's Chris Martin; they contribute one track each.) There's only a small handful of highlights. On the title track, Just Blaze's masterful contortion job on Rick James' "Superfreak" backs Jay's nearly top-form, Black Album/Blueprint-worthy boasts: "I been up in the office, you might know him as Clark/Just when you thought the whole world fell apart/I take off the blazer, loosen up the tie/Step inside the booth, Superman is alive." Two of the four Dr. Dre productions feature assistance from Mark Batson (Anthony Hamilton), and they both strike a fine balance between maturity and ferocity -- much more so than the clumsy "30 Something," where Jay proclaims that "30 is the new 20," which would actually make him 27 and a fourth-grader a zygote. (He might as well say, "You wear Huggies, I wear Depends/You drink from a sippy cup/I sip my solids.") Apart from the above-mentioned bright spots and a poignant, somber track about the Katrina disaster ("Minority Report"), the album is a display of complacency and retreads -- a gratuitous, easily resistible victory lap -- that slightly upgrades the relative worth of The Blueprint². ~ Andy Kellman

Rap - Released January 1, 2007 | Def Jam Recordings

"Y'all n*ggas got me really confused out there. I make 'Big Pimpin' or 'Give It to Me,' one of those -- that had me as the greatest writer of the 21st century. I make some thought-provoking sh*t -- y'all question whether he fallin' off." When you've built up a back catalog of eight studio albums and walk the earth as one of the biggest, most high-profile artists of the '90s and 2000s, you're bound to get some mixed signals from those who pay attention to you. However, the jury did not take long to reach a verdict on 2006's Kingdom Come: the consensus on it (as a major fall-off) was as swift and strong as the consensus on Reasonable Doubt (as a classic). Once used copies of Kingdom Come became easily attainable for less than two dollars, it was apparent the next Jay-Z album might not be so anticipated. He'd need to get some fresh inspiration and make some corrective maneuvers. Fortunately, both came unexpectedly -- rather than by desperate force -- after he saw an advance screening of the early-'70s period piece American Gangster, which played a direct role in nine of the songs on this album of the same name. While several tracks connected to specific scenes are also rooted in productions trading in the regal grit that made up so much '70s soul, the album is not a straight narrative, broken up by tracks like the boom-clap of "Hello Brooklyn 2.0" (produced by Bigg D) and the glitzed-out pair of "I Know" (a half-icing Neptunes layer cake) and "Ignorant Shit" (where Just Blaze transforms the Isleys' quiet storm staple "Between the Sheets" into a high-gloss anthem). Combined with the tracks laced with '70s soul -- including six produced by Diddy & LV & Sean C, one by Toomp, and two by a newly forged partnership between Jermaine Dupri and No I.D. -- it all adds up to an album that seems nearly out of time, at least when it comes to the years spanning Jay-Z's career, without resembling a true regression. "Success," for instance, takes its lead from The Black Album's "Public Service Announcement," with blaring organ over heavily weighted drum knocks, yet despite the likeness, it's one of the album's highlights. And while Jay mentions American Gangster and protagonist Frank Lucas directly, and intersperses some tracks with dialogue, the connection does not overshadow the album. It's not like he's yelling "Shaft's Big Score 2K7!" or "Leonard Part Six, Part Two!" It's all as natural as Scarface riffing off Scarface. And that might be the most common complaint about the album -- it's really just another case of Jay-Z being Jay-Z, albeit with different presentation. Unless you know each verse from Reasonable Doubt through Kingdom Come, it might sound like he's dealing with no variation on well-worn themes, the exact same thoughts and emotions that make up older tracks about his past as a drug dealer -- the rise, the arrogance, the conflictedness, the fall, and all stages in between. When he's in the right frame of mind, though, as he is throughout much of the album's duration (it is a bit sluggish in spots), he's as affective with his subject as Isaac Hayes and Marvin Gaye were with romance. Just as key, the level of insolence and spite on display here is as high as it has ever been. "I got watches I ain't seen in months/Apartment at the Trump, I only slept in it once/N*ggas said Hova was over, such dummies/Even if I fell I land on a bunch of money" has more of those qualities than all of Kingdom Come. One could say that's not really saying much, but regardless of context, this is a very good Jay-Z album. He is, for the most part, doing what he has done before: what he does best. ~ Andy Kellman

Rap - Released November 30, 2004 | Warner Bros. - Roc-A-Fella

Rap - Released January 1, 2001 | Def Jam Recordings

Following the success of Blueprint, Jay-Z took a break from the studio productions of Timbaland and Just Blaze and stepped into acoustic surroundings for a taped edition of MTV's long-running Unplugged series. With the talents of the Roots as his backing band, Jay-Z fails to miss a step and feels just as comfortable in the unplugged arena as he does with drum machines and a mixing desk in front of him. The skills of Roots drummer Ahmir Thompson emulate even the slightest nuance from the originally programmed electronic beats, and Jay-Z fails to take this for granted, gently shifting from one song to the next in medley form with ease. With a strong track listing spanning his entire career of chart-topping hits, this album is the perfect introduction to Jay-Z's prolific catalog and a fun listen for the most dedicated of fans. ~ Rob Theakston

Rap - Released November 30, 2004 | Warner Bros. - Roc-A-Fella

Rap - Released January 1, 2008 | Shawn Carter

Rap - Released November 30, 2004 | Warner Bros. - Roc-A-Fella

Mash-ups -- two songs stuck together that were never meant to be stuck together -- have their roots in the bedrooms and basements of computer-savvy music geeks who spend countless hours sticking Christina Aguilera's vocals over the Strokes' chugging backbeat or Missy Elliott's raps over George Michael, Joy Division, the Cure, and about a thousand others. MP3s were the medium of choice, white-label 12"s a distant second. It seemed like it was time to put a fork in the pranky genre when collections like The Best Bootlegs in the World Ever and Soulwax's As Heard on Radio Soulwax series exposed the mash-up to a wider audience, but then Danger Mouse came along. His headline-making Grey Album -- Jay-Z's Black Album vs. the Beatles' White Album -- inspired a ton of spirited imitations, and most likely the MTV-spawned, artists-involved Collision Course. The fact that the artists are involved with the project totally goes against the mash-up philosophy, but luckily Linkin Park -- who are revealed through the DVD as the main architects of the EP -- have that pop-loving prankster spirit and don't let their high-profile, well-funded life ruin it. The liner notes talk of a "once-in-a-lifetime performance" and "music history," but Collision Course is just plain old fun and all the better because of it. Jay-Z's "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" sits nicely on top of Linkin Park's "Lying from You" on the CD's studio version, but it's the fist-pumping live version on the DVD that really justifies Collision Course's existence. The Z-man -- who's "retired" from the rap game while being busier than ever -- has had his excellent "99 Problems" rocked up before, so the version here with Linkin Park's "Points of Authority" and "One Step Closer" isn't so much the revelation the liner-note hyperbole makes it out to be, but it's got an awesome beat and you can still dance to it. If the CD were released on its own, the collection wouldn't be as exciting. Linkin Park's genuine excitement about the project on the "behind the scenes" segment of the DVD is infectious, and watching the furious and fast teaming of "Jigga What/Faint" teeter on the edge of falling apart is gripping. Check the DVD first, and then throw the CD in the car for when you feel half-mack, half-punk. It's doubtful mash-ups will survive corporate handling this well again, and to paraphrase a post-show Linkin Parker, Collision Course is awesomely fun. ~ David Jeffries