Category Archives: Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday Review: Holiday 2015 Edition: Ceelo’s Magic Moment | Ceelo Green

Ceelo's Magic MomentOn Christmas or in the month preceding it, I never thought of Ceelo Green as a musical staple. I solely thought of him as the jazzy, soulful, freak that wore his personality proudly on his sleeve, and for that I respected him. He was never the type of musician I would listen to when I wanted to hear something mellow and definitely not the type of artists you would consider seasonal. That was until 2012. Somewhere, mixed in with all his sexual and dark exuberance is the capacity to make an incredibly cheerful, upbeat….Christmas album. Yes, a Christmas album people, and it is not the slightest bit bad.

The album consists of all of your parents’ favorite Christmas tunes but they are Ceelo-ified for a new era. For the most part, this project/experiment works wonderfully and if it were not for the sheer fact that it is, truly and simply Christmas music at its core, it would be one of the more memorable projects of the year. But it being one of the more memorable, full-length Christmas albums ever is good enough. He starts this musical sleigh-ride with a re-imagining of the Stevie Wonder classic, ‘What Christmas Means To Me’. Ceelo uses his big voice and technology to his advantage. Everything just sounds more like it sits on a much more grand of a scale.

Replacing Doris Day with Christina Aguilera and taking on the role of Dean Martin, Ceelo Green manages to spice up a classic that until hearing this, I had not thought I would ever question the original’s legitimacy. The range occupied by Aguilera and Green are on a whole different level. His renditions consistently hold this power, of forcing you to question your childhood and the holiday music you were subjected to as Ceelo sincerely and beautifully supplicates for you to, ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’. This is quickly followed up by the energetic clatter of drums and piano keys on ‘Run Rudolph Run’. Ceelo’s passionate voice runs over updated Christmas backdrops and it often sounds better than it should for songs that we have all heard more than the voice of our own mother come December 25th.

There isn’t much revolutionary happening here, as it shouldn’t be. It reaches only as far as it likely should and finds a comfortable place around the fireplace between classic and updated. It sounds good and will likely provide people who can’t stand Christmas music a little bit of solace around those who, “Need it damnit!” For the most part, this project evokes a smile and emits good vibes and what more could you want from a Christmas album? If anything, check it out and see if it doesn’t cause you pause when your family asks for Christmas music and passes you the aux this Christmas.

Merry Christmas Ceelo and Merry Christmas to all of you, from all of us here at The Early Registration!

6.7

Throwback Thursday Review: Love King | The-Dream

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BY: EVAN VOGEL

After hearing The-Dream on Pusha T’s new track, ‘M.F.T.R.’, I’ve been on a bit of a Dream kick. So, it only felt right to review what is perhaps his best received album to date, Love King. Having always been known for his audibly salient, lush and expansive productions he only improves on his previous works here. There is honestly no end to the layers that can be heard within each song, yet everything is more meticulously placed than support beams in a skyscraper. Piano notes and diverse synth compositions intertwine without overlapping or overwhelming. The man simply knows how to craft fantastic symphonies of sound. His knowledge extends beyond production and songwriting into territories that are reserved for few individuals.

His musical style is that of giving his biggest influences brash and arrogant makeovers. His music still bears its resemblance to these artists from the Prince-fashioned falsettos and MJ-style shouts to the overtly sexual R. Kelly utterings. The literal manifestation of this occurrence can be heard on ‘Turnt Out’ which features the slow jazzy-elements and some sexually forward falsettos that transition into updated synths and light finger snaps. The-Dream’s roots go deep but his branches spread far, that is to say that he maintains elements of his predecessors but is definitely not stuck in the past; in fact he probably pushed R&B forward a few years with each album.

One aspect of his music that I feel may never be topped, is his writing. Maybe it’s a matter of personal preference but I find it phenomenal how he can elicit such strong sexual themes while giving it a slight touch of hyperbolic and aware humor. ‘February Love’ literally has me laughing out loud every time I hear it. From him asking the girl he’s with to check his taxes to verify his financial worth to this line…“I know this may sound stalkerish, but that’s because you are the shit, alright?”, it’s hard to not applaud the man who can make this all sound so right and so good. It is also another example of how ear-catching his production can be, as we hear it build from a monotonous piano to a complex arrangement of sound over a two-minute span of time.

The song length keeps a steady average pace of over four minutes and it is perhaps the best move The-Dream made on this project. Just listen to the production and disagree with me after. Honestly, he gives each song enough room to blossom a few times over. Elements drop out just as soon as you notice a new one and this process is as mentally engaging as a you could possibly ask from music. No two songs sound overly identical, not even ‘Sex Intelligence’ or ‘Sex Intelligent Remix’ which are placed back to back on the tracklist sound like the same song. The-Dream is a synergistic machine. Each song retains intense individuality yet the entire three-album arc of Love/Hate, Love Vs. Money and Love King, can be played in sequence and sound like it was meant to. This level of quality is hard to match; music that is perfectly tuned for radio play, yet daring enough to escape the mainstream’s undercurrent. For music that sounds this good, nearly any lapses in quality can be forgiven.

9.4

Throwback Thursday Review: Kid Cudi | Man On The Moon: The End Of Day

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BY: EVAN VOGEL

As listeners, we are given many roles by musicians. Their albums can beg us to come along on a journey through their youth, they can also simply wish for us to indulge through their words, a lifestyle we will never experience. But, so few times have we been invited on an intergalactic adventure by someone that seems convincingly not of this world. We are familiar with most things of this Earth and therefore have a certain image of self we find within most artists we listen to. This relationship is likely lost when we are faced with something we are not familiar with and have little to base our perception off of. The person who handed out the invitation on this space conquest happened to be Kid Cudi on his debut album, Man On The Moon: The End Of Day.

Returning to the topic of familiarity now, that is actually what makes Cudi’s album so intriguing, the sole fact that it is not. We weren’t familiar with the man himself upon the release for this project and he boldly makes his entrance a conceptual one. Opening with an entrance to our protagonists dreams we hear the highly electronic sound construction that carries us through to the philosophical narration by Common which is a nice touch. We slingshot into Cudi’s problems, which are assuredly not related to any females but rather are deep rooted in his family’s less than fortunate history. Distorted guitar chords begin to lift the sound to the outer atmosphere.

From the deeply personal to the profoundly simple on ‘Simple As…’, Cudi explains his humanity through his desires of women and weed over drums an interestingly spacey-sampled voice that is counting and starting the alphabet to reiterate Cudi’s simplicity as a man. The intrigue begins climb as his dreams turn into nightmares, represented by tracks like ‘Solo Dolo’ and ‘Day n’ Nite’ which contain some of the projects most incredible sounds. Pounding drums that hit all the more harshly over light pianos and strings which are all backed by intense distortions. His earnestness and comfort are instantly opposed by loneliness and desperation. By electronically tuning his voice, he adds further to the guise of outer space and it fills this void in his heart and mind with sound.

His verses consist of clandestine thoughts that seem to rumble out of his mouth alongside his “hmmms” and “ooos”. His raps come across as streams of consciousness that don’t always rhyme but are always rhythmically on point. He repeats words and phrases which drive home this idea that we are inside of his dreams, separated from reality. Syllables of his words are stretched with synths and tandem with percussion. Nothing here is ordinary but thoughts and emotions are still tied to Cudi’s lifestyle, ambitions and fears. Past that, anything can happen and this erraticness is what we are hearing when Cudi battles his nightmares and his reality with marijuana and psychedelics.

This journey an optimistically pessimistic one that has Cudi reaching for joy around the darkness, but at least he’s trying. It’s dark, it’s depressing, it’s happy, it’s uplifting and it sounds like almost nothing else out there; but it’s definitely “out there”. A space-out journey through the mind of a conflicted artist sounds semi-typical, but believe me, it’s anything but. Cudi is a stoner with the capacity to put his medicated thoughts into a musical and tonal form, and it works beautifully.

8.8

Throwback Thursday Review: Megadef | Styles Of Beyond

Megadef

Styles of Beyond are like those out of control kids in your neighborhood that kick trash cans over, light fireworks at midnight and tag buildings and signs with spray paint just for kicks. Nothing they do is inherently violent because they are actually decent kids but they like to wield a mask of “I don’t give a shit” when they are together. Be honest with yourself, we have all been or wanted to be those kids at one time or another – and Megadef is their soundtrack. Musically, what this sounds like is tight-aimed verbal aggression spit over hectic wrecking ball beats. This is exactly what Styles of Beyond gave listeners with their sophomore album.

Just like the aforementioned random acts of mischief, Cheapshot and Skully, the groups two DJ’s, cooked up a bevy of hectic, brutal, rock-riddled instrumentals for Ryu and Tak, the MC’s, to machine gun spray with words of caution. Though their lyrical attributions aren’t particularly diverse, they are ripe with energy and linguistic technicalities. Syllables align word to word and bar to bar forming and maintaining a steady head-nodding rhythm. They are definitely skilled rhymers. Consistently referencing the speed and level at which they can spit. From self-declared “freaks of nature” to being the definition of sick, humbleness is wrought by narcissism.

Luckily, their claims are hard to dispute. Partly because their claims sit somewhere between metaphorical assault and murder, but mostly because they are backed by some of the most powerful deliveries of any two MC’s ever. The voices are abrasive enough to sit disguised on a shelf next to 26 grit sandpaper which only helps to add weight to the fist that is this album. The biggest hits though, are owed to the overly medicated instrumentals that incorporate everything from, a The Stooges sample from 1969 to a Bob Marley sampled, ‘Mr. Brown’. The latter of the two an incredibly innocent sounding original; then Styles threw some hard percussive hits on it and turned it into a banger with a dash of age-old soul.

The album isn’t revolutionary and the style isn’t from too far beyond, but it’s definitely high quality music that begs to be heard. Anytime this level of aggression is backed by an equal amount of skill and know-how, there’s something worth listening to. Don’t come in looking for a mapped-out history of the centralization of urban violence in L.A., but rather, listen to the passion and creativity that can stem from such an environment, especially in a time not long after or an area far from the L.A. riots of the early 90’s and prepare to get amped up.

8.1

Throwback Thursday Review: Camp | Childish Gambino

Camp
BY EVAN VOGEL

Obtaining credibility in hip-hop is not a task easily done. Fundamentally, it’s an art form that manifested from an extensive history of systemic violence that targeted African Americans. Hip-hop music became the voice of the people in underdeveloped and neglected areas like The Bronx, in New York. The artful expression of anguish. Throughout the late-70’s and 80’s, hip-hop started diversifying its sound and began its stretch into mainstream appeal where it has since remained. When the art form itself took a grand ascension into popularity, with it came a number of imposters. Rappers who talk a life they never lived, tearing at the very roots of hip-hop. “What’s the point of rapping if you can’t be yourself huh? That’s why I come first like my cellphone.” Childish Gambino’s cry of acceptance rings out with all the gusto of a new school rapper who has found identity in his nerdiness via pop-culture reference-rap on debut album Camp.

Rather than be imposter, Gambino plays the role of outsider. Outsider to a genre that he loves and respects yet feels suspect because of his social status, mixed-appearance, nerdish tendencies and the fact that he grew up knowing both of his parents. All outdated concepts, even in 2011 but his statements retain their earnesty because of ‘show, don’t tell’ rap style. Over the chime of a high piano chord and orchestral drums and violins that switch to a distorted synth, Gambino reminisces on stealing Tommy Hilfiger from the 7th grade lost and found, and pointing out racism’s subtlety in society by not feeling black enough for the barber shops he frequented as a teen. His infatuation seems to be with changing the perception of those doubt him as a serious threat in hip-hop.

How does he follow through with that? Well, the man can definitely rap. Rhythmically, he is as advanced as any veteran and it’s extremely noticeable over the largely self-produced instrumentals that often sound grand and complex enough to echo influence of Kanye’s, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. His verses are internal conversations with himself and the choruses become declarations of self-awareness sung beautifully by Gambino himself. By now it is fair to identify his effectiveness as at least a triple threat on the album. Serving as producer, rapper and singer work to make the album all the more personal. He is at his best when he leaves behind his dominant wielded metaphors and bares his emotional soul on the track. Tracks like ‘Bonfire’, ‘LES’ and ‘Hold You Down’ show that Gambino has more to offer than wit. He competently reflects on relationships and life in a way that is both critical and heart-grabbing.

In the end, I think Gambino gets lost in the assumption that hip-hop music is as unaccepting of nerdiness as his high school classmates were. In reality, hip-hop artists have a rich history of being classically defined a nerd. From being huge fans of chess like Wu-tang Clan’s GZA or Eminem’s child-like sense of love for comic books. His nerd-status in life becomes a metaphor for how he is looked at in the rap-game but it isn’t incredibly accurate. To the average listener, Gambino never was that nerdy kid in high-school, their first perception of him is that he is a well rounded rapper/singer. Luckily his wittiness and wicked flow carry him through the songs that focus on loose metaphors about his feelings of false-insecurity while the songs focused on things other than his own perception of self show signs of that fuel that made artists like Drake famous.

8.4

Throwback Thursday Review: Rappa Ternt Sanga | T-Pain

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BY EVAN VOGEL

T-pain crafted both a dance-floor/bedroom epic with Rappa Ternt Sanga. Chalked full of layered harmonies, acoustic six-strings, rhythmic snaps, claps and just the right amount of bass. T-Pain took his southern coast-style of rap and infused it with intense vocal pitches and alterations, effectively becoming the poster boy for autotuned music. Let’s clear one thing up too, T-Pain has an incredible natural voice. People tend to think that he uses autotune because he can’t sing, but that couldn’t be more incorrect. He is a perfectly competent singer but simply strives for a different sound by utilizing the vocoder. That is actually what makes his music so interesting to listen to, its uniqueness.

Take the tonal changes and other altered elements out and what you have is an R&B album. What autotune did was give him the ability to amplify his voice and turn a typical, soft-spoken verse into an orchestral, room-filling emission. Clean vocal echoes stream over both light electronic and acoustic elements with efficiency and ease. Really, the only purpose the instrumentals need to serve is to give us something to rhythmically nod our heads or move our feet to. In that, they more than fulfill their musical duty. Highlighting T-Pain’s voice as an instrument makes every note, be it instrumental or vocal sound as though they have a cohesive bond to one another. From the sporadic hi-hats of ‘I’m Sprung’ to the revolving flute sounds of ‘I’m In Luv’, few elements mean few distractions.  

The subject matter never strays too far from T-Pain’s adoration of love and women. Clearly easily persuaded by the sight and touch of a beautiful woman, T-Pain succumbs to his sexual vices more often than not. And more often than not, the music’s subject matter and vocal arrangements work as audible advantage, contextualizing it to the bedroom. The moments where he steps out into the world and deals with the stress of bills and even family alienation reveal how much more there is to this sang-rappa.

His music doesn’t need to be particularly deep, honest or telling. Rather than trying to be an open book here, he instead concerns himself with his fantasies. It plays much like a dream. His sweeping vocals layer the musical landscape with enough energy and emotion to keep his narrow lane of subject matter engaging for most of the 71-minute runtime. T-Pain crashed onto the scene with a sound that no other artists possessed at the time. It came as a sort of culture shock to both R&B and Hip-hop because of its unique take on both. It polarized conversations about music for years to come. Is autotune really singing? Yes, yes it is. Far from a perfect album but close to a revolutionary one that would go on to change elements of music production forever. T-Pain will always hold a special undocumented place in Hip-Hop and R&B where there are no rules to abide by and autotune runs rampantly and beautifully free.

8.0

Throwback Thursday Review: Ceelo Green and His Perfect Imperfections

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BY EVAN VOGEL

Stepping outside the box in the music industry has always be a risky task. Labels expect their artists to garner mainstream appeal with their records and even fans get weary when they hear about their beloved artist stepping into a new musical lane. So, what better way to overstep these barriers than to form a massive musical collective and develop your own sonic expectations based on what you want to do. That is exactly what Ceelo and his ‘Dungeon Family’ collective of Atlanta-based musicians did. Given complete creative freedom on his solo label debut was the best thing that could have happened to Ceelo.

Ceelo Green and His Perfect Imperfections, left almost no territory untraveled. Everything from blues to rock to hip-hop and gospel has a place on this project. Tried plenty of times before, this formula often ends up sounding like an incohesive mess. Rather than sounding like a confused artist trying to find his place, Ceelo manages to stand out as a man that simply is able to juggle styles with competence and ease.

His voice is his most masterfully wielded tool. Capable of swinging bluesy croons over the working man’s country ballad ‘Country Love’ and modulated, soulful vocal over a funky-guitar riddled track like, ‘El Dorado Sunrise’. His voice, undeniably bluesy and soulful, is the element that allows us to make sense of how this eclectic album works. His rapidly delivered bars and screechy yelps on the intro, ‘Bad Motha’ echo the sounds of funkmaster, James Brown. Not only can the man belt out some incredibly pitched sounds, but damn, the man can rhyme. His adept singing voice make it all the more interesting when you hear him spit some incredibly rhythmic and intellectual bars over the airy instrumental of ‘Big Ol Words’. Incredibly wordy, it comes across sounding like spoken-word poetry at an open mic night was put to music.

The instrumentals were another extension of his weird, expansive style. He essentially handled the entire production of the album himself. It is reminiscent of Timbaland in the way it plays with and combines sounds that very few other people were at the time. There’s really no order to this chaotic album. Its sound will move from funk to heavy rock and back to neo-funk in a matter of minutes, genres be damned. His strengths are illuminated by spotlights and made easily recognizable thanks to his hasty variations in style. It becomes clear that his more mellowed out, soulful tracks are where Ceelo is in top form. It is so apparent that the other tracks begin to feel slightly underwhelming. It’s not that the other songs are bad, they just fail to match the level of beauty that is Ceelo’s voice. Ceelo pulls in so many different directions, even as efficiently as he does it, it still ends up lacking an identity. Even without an identity, the music is competent enough to stand on its own as a collection of well made, genre-blending tracks that more than confirms Ceelo’s status as a future pop-culture mainstay.

8.2

Throwback Thursday Review: Supa Dupa Fly | Missy Elliott

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BY EVAN VOGEL

Hip-hop, a genre undeniably dominated by men telling stories of their raucous club nights, potent drugs, bodacious women, aggressive tendencies, chaotic love lives, heated rivalries and anything else deemed worthy of putting a pen to paper. Little room is left for the opposite sex under this crowded spotlight and what room there is, is typically overlooked. It hasn’t always been this way though, let’s take a journey back to the 90’s, back to the days of Lil’ Kim, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliot. All names that anyone who considers themself a fan of the genre should know and respect. Odds are, this is not the case. Why? None can say for sure, but for some reason a negative stigma is readily and unjustly associated with female rappers much of the time. If Mythbuster’s were to do an episode pertaining to the misconception, “men are better rappers than women”, they need only to press play on one weapon in the double x chromosome arsenal. Supa Dupa Fly

Supa Dupa Fly was the debut album of Missy ‘Misdemeanor’ Elliott in 1997. The album came at a time when Hip-hop had begun to garner massive mainstream appeal and was crossing any and all ethnic boundaries. It didn’t matter your race, age or social standing; hip hop was cool. It was time for women to show that hip-hop could be made both sexy and hard, simultaneously. Elliott’s album is definitely the manifestation of this idea. Combining almost unfeasibly progressive production from a then, relatively unknown Timbaland and the inventive rhymes emitted from a beautifully smooth voice, became the formula to something revolutionary.

This album altered the course of both hip-hop and R&B forever, in a way that no one could have seen coming. Elliott’s rhymes were intelligent, liberating, humorous and above all unique. Her flow seemed to bounce to the exact digitized cadence of Timbaland’s erratic instrumentals. It’s also important to note that at this time especially, Timbaland was doing things within beats that no other producer had even begun to experiment with. To shamelessly bump a female hip-hop artist in your whip was revolutionary in itself. The hard hitting drums on tracks like: ‘Izzy Izzy Ahh’, ‘Why You Hurt Me’ and ‘I’m Talkin’ beg to be pumped through a stereo and Elliott could ride their hits more capably than any artist you could think to put in her place. She could cut off the air to her stark voice at the immediate end of any word just as easily as she elevates her vocals to the airy clouds of R&B (‘Don’t Be Commin’ (In My Face)’).

Elliott offered a flip to the usual hip-hop script of men rapping about sexual exploits and made one of the most interesting sex songs of all time, plenty thanks to Timbaland. ‘Sock It To Me’ starts off with deep, dooming brass horns and evolves into a juxtaposition of the hard and the soft. A heavy beat accompanied by mysteriously intimate lyrics about creeping into a house for a late night rendezvous. Her versatility is palpable when you listen through the album in its entirety. She skips from slow-jam to eclectic pop to g-funk styles as though there is no separation between them. The outcome is endless entertainment and an irreversible cohesion between different brands of hip-hop and R&B becomes completely apparent, all while that negative female rapper stigma fades into nothingness. If anything regarding your perception of hip-hop has changed since before reading this review, by someone who has no more right than the next person to judge the merits of any composition, I hope that it’s the realization that gender is irrelevant. Music knows no gender. Instead of saying, “She’s one of the best ‘female’ rappers of all time!” Just know, the word “rapper” alone will do just fine.

9.3

Throwback Thursday Review: Black Star | Mos Def and Talib Kweli

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BY EVAN VOGEL

Back in the 90’s hip-hop was finally establishing itself as a concrete art form with more than enough substance to justify its existence. Artists were creating the music that they wanted to make and more often than not, poetically depicting the harsh lifestyles of the hood or experimenting with lyricism. All of that is fine and dandy and actually thrust the art into what many will defend as the golden age of hip-hop, but being concerned with progression, few were actually reflecting on its current state. This all changed in 1999 when two MC’s decided to postpone their debut solo projects and create one of the most eye-opening hip-hop albums of all time. Mos Def and Talib Kweli effectively took on the role of street prophets, laying down some of the most critical and lyrically sensical rap of the decade.

They didn’t just make songs about street violence or the value of money, but rather critiqued artistic glorifications and depictions of them, turning hip-hop on its head. From the very first track, save the intro, the duo bonded over the word black being used as a term of endearment rather than a limitation. It contains bass-heavy, funky guitar strings and impeccable flows from both Def and Kweli. Def swings the chorus with subtle back-up vocals from Kweli and it solidifies the equation for the remainder for the remainder of the album.

Then, on ‘Definition’, we get two rappers standing up for the hood as examples of what you can become, rather than simply reflecting on their rough upbringing. “Best alliance in Hip-hop”. Their words, also mine. I have yet to hear a hip-hop duo top the palpable chemistry between these two verbal acrobats. Their analogies bleed the wisdom of two guys who could deliver hip-hop-based sermons, “Me and Kweli close like Bethlehem and Nazareth.”

The boom-bap style reflects that of the classic and lethal combination of KRS-One and DJ Premier. Here though, it is Cincinatti-based producer Hi-Tek that helms a majority of the production. Its combination of rumbling bass guitars, snappy drums and and other low tones, roots the project’s sound in the years preceding it. The simple, organic tones allow the two MC’s to explode with multisyllabic rhyme schemes, occasionally even pushing out grocery lists of rhymable words one after the next like Kweli on ‘Brown Skin Lady’,

“You fruitful, beautiful, smart, lovable, huggable,

doable like art, suitable to be part,

of my life.”

Coming out at the end of a decade that showcased so much diversity in the genre afforded them the opportunity to take a little bit of everything from the musical buffet and put in on the plate that was their album. The colorfully playful, 80’s style that Eric B and Rakim came up on is resurrected on ‘B Boys Will B Boys’. They also allowed visions of the future to infiltrate their sound on the highly electronic synths of ‘Hater Players’. The album’s main exhibit is the lyrical proficiency and consciousness of Kweli and Mos Def. Its poetry that can be picked apart and listened to differently each time you hear it. Even sitting here now, realizing that this came out a ridiculous fifteen years ago, it is made all the more astounding that it is as eye-opening and as sonically pleasing as just about anything I have ever heard. Bar for bar, this is one of the greatest album’s of all-time.

 9.8

Throwback Thursday Review: Vol. 3…Life and Times of S. Carter | Jay Z

Jay Z Vol. 3
BY EVAN VOGEL

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.

8.6