I’m a self-doubting kind of guy. Often, I’ll analyse the way people respond to my jibber jabber to the point of obsession, deliberating over how they perceive me, the level of their sincerity, and other stuff that normal people try to avoid thinking about. I had always assumed that if I were to, say, become extremely famous and well-received, that these pangs would disapparate, as people would ostensibly be falling over themselves to please me, or perhaps just to be near me (my God, that sounds so arrogant). But after listening to Jay-Z’s latest album, The Blueprint 3, I’m not too sure this would be the case.
Now, I’m not the world’s biggest rap/hip-hop fan. I appreciate that sometimes it can be lyrically transcendent, a postmodern poem set to a thumping beat. I love how the storyteller stylings of Bob Dylan and the likes has transformed into something that potentially has almost uniform acceptance. But I dislike many more aspects than those I care for.
I hate the derogation of women into ‘bitches ‘n’ hoes’. I hate the posers who just rap to rhyme words, believing that people won’t care if they just spout mountains of unrelated crap. I hate 50 Cent and his exploitation of his bullet wounds. I hate Kanye’s ego. Essentially, I like what rap stands for; I just don’t like how it’s carried out.
So what’s my point? Probably that I’m a white guy, totally unqualified to comment on rap, yet will do so anyway because I feel entitled to. And with that in mind, I’d like to give my thoughts on The Blueprint 3. Actually, scratch that, I think I’ll just concentrate on one song: “Empire State of Mind”, his ode to New York and all that it symbolises.
It seems that a lot of rappers feel they need to have this braggadocio that, whilst meant to show how anyone can succeed, instead help them come across as the most egotistical dudes ever. Jay-Z employs it as well, but there’s a difference; he’s earned it. When you’ve got 11 no. 1 albums in a row, more than even Elvis had, then you can boast all you want. And Jay-Z uses this license to its utmost extreme in this song. He claims he “made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can” and that he is “the new Sinatra”. Mixed in with this hyperbole is the philosophical (“The city of sin is a pity on a whim”) and the random (“Rest in peace, Bob Marley”. Really? REALLY?) But the main messages from the song remain these: that if you put a soaring Alicia Keys chorus into any half-decent rap song, it instantly becomes crazily infectious, and that New York is the greatest city in the world.
Yet… I still feel that it’s all a bit of a façade that Jay-Z is hiding behind. Considering that he’s possibly the most ubiquitous music star in the world, it’s amazing that he still feels the need to remind us of his status and success. I think that when he says
“they love me everywhere”, he doesn’t really believe it- rather, it is something that he wants, but will never truly feel justified in claiming. I think that Jay-Z has analysed the presence Sinatra still has in New York, and has turned his focus to gaining much the same.
Jay-Z is so obsessed with his own immortality, and so limited by his medium of expression, that his attempts at ingraining the concept of this larger than life rap star come across as contrived, and only seem deep as though by accident.
And we can’t forget this: the guy is 41 years old- it’s about time that he had a mid-life crisis.