Rest easy Hova. Your song is safe. You may have 99 problems but a court case ain’t one. A verdict has finally been reached on the copyright infringement case over chart-topping 2000 hit, ‘Big Pimpin’ was tossed by the presiding judge. So what better way to celebrate than by looking at the entire album in question, Vol. 3…Life and Times of S. Carter. Dropped mere days before the turn of the century in 1999, Jay Z invigorated the 2000’s before they even started.
Taking on a much more sinister and lethal persona than the previous two entries in this album series, it brings his hustler mentality to the forefront. He has clearly reached a point of success within the rap game by now and it affords him the opportunity to compare that lifestyle with that of a successful drug dealer. Starting off with a little well deserved “rap god” likenings in the introduction, we get an idea of how Jay looks down on the direction the industry is headed. Then, Jay rides a bouncy yet ominous piano arrangement accompanied by some classic DJ Premier scratches on ‘So Ghetto’. He may have topped the radio charts countless times, but the murderous lyrics remind us that Jay is not too far removed from his Brooklyn lifestyle.
Jay clever uses the metaphor of a court case to explain his unprecedented rise to the top of the rap game. Separated by the interjections of an MTV reporter, his verses come across as testimonies to the appeal his music has and how he is simply a successful product of Brooklyn’s systemic violence and poverty. A central theme becomes apparent in the form of how a young black gangster from “that off-limits part of town” all suburban kids grow up hearing about, came to make it even with every imaginable obstacle impeding his path. It’s a success story disguised as gangster music.
The album has some of the most overlooked production of Jay’s entire discography. The Mariah Carey assisted Swizz Beatz track, ‘Things That U Do’ has some of the most expertly implemented flute whistles that provide a smooth surface for Jay to lay what may be his most rhythmically articulate lyrics to date. The back to back Timbaland produced joints, ‘It’s Hot’ and ‘Snoopy Track’ incorporate his mastery over the electronics as Jay steps into new territory behind the sound of intensely distorted synths.
By the time we reach the song in question, Jay has cleverly aligned the Roc-A-Fella name with the depictions of a journey from dirt to dynasty. Weaving stories of women, money, drugs and the police often in the same song. It sounds like the epitome of what we don’t want from anymore rap artists but Jay manages to do it in a very self aware way on ‘Watch Me’. He glorifies splurging and spending stacks on ridiculous cars because there’s a good chance you could get killed by the system anyway. References to cops distributing drugs in the hood only to turn around and arrest or kill them right after can’t help but to maintain their relevance in a modern-day context.
Now, we reach the holy grail of controversy. Not only was it the subject of previously mentioned recent copyright case, but Jay himself has expressed his discontent with his own words. To this day I find it a hilarious example of the lack of attention people pay to the words in a song. How did a whole nation get behind a song where the first two bars are, “You know I thug em, fuck em, love em, leave em, Cause I don’t fuckin’ need em.” Looks plucked straight out of the misogynists handbook (which hopefully doesn’t exist). But here is the paradox – the combination of the flow that is uttered and the instrumental are fantastic. Both catchy and infectious, I can still put this on at a party today and not a single person expresses any lack of satisfaction; it sounds really good.
Then our ears are geared back to the conscious hustler Jay, as he discusses the ability to connect with deaths in the hood on ‘There’s Been A Murder’, while still being looked at as hard as ever. Even thugs cry. Then he reestablishes his realness and that of his neighborhood on ‘Come And Get Me’ and ‘NYMP’. No matter the environment, be it the harsh streets of Brooklyn in the late 20th century or a studio with a microphone, Jay Z had proven his dominance in his crafts with the best sounding album he had released up to this point.