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Opinion: Hov’ Don’t Run, Hov’ Stand and Fight

After Jay’s retroactive all time classic debut Reasonable Doubt was mostly ignored on it’s initial release, he released a pair of increasingly mainstream minded albums. The second of those, Volume 2: Hard Knock Life, was a cultural phenomenon and would go on to sell over 5 million copies and catapult Jay-Z to the king of a new breed of hip-hop. Still, there were many who felt that Jay-Z had sacrificed the ferocious brilliance that defined his earlier, more intellectual rewarding work for a less complex, radio friendly approach.

Ever the obsessive worker, Jay had another album ready to release in a year, Volume 3, the name itself a harbinger of the more-of-the-same approach the album took. This isn’t to say Volume 3 is a failure, far from it, it garnered mostly positive reviews, and sold well (if not as well as the previous installment). However, as Jay said hi to 30, many were wondering if this was the beginning of his decline. After label showcase The Dynasty was greeted with a muted shrug, the pressure was on HOV to prove he wasn’t going to go the way of so many aging rap superstars before him.

The album Jay-Z would release in September 2001 was The Blueprint. An instant all-time classic, The Blueprint saw Jay rhyming with an agency and fury unheard since his debut. He eviscerated all challengers on the Wagnerian victory proclamation “The Takeover,” which then effortlessly drops into “Izzo,” the mega-hit produced by then new comer Kanye West. The Blueprint would redefine hip-hop by proving that a man in his 30’s can still be a commercial and artistic leviathan in a genre so intensely associated with youthful energy.

Fast forward to today. Jay-Z is now bigger than the frame of just rap music, a near billionaire, and legitimate captain of industry. However, he seems to have lost the drive that inspired his greatest work, and settled into a comfortable sedation. Again, a lot of this feel like history repeating itself. If Jay still has visions of being the genre defining figure he once was, he needs to remember what he did at the dawn of the millennium. If he is looking for a new narrative, how about that of a man who still has a lot to prove, of a man who knows that preconceptions about how an artists age effects his viability are meant to be broken. As elder statesmen like David Byrne and Al Green have proven, there is still a place for artistic viability once an artist is well past 40. Jay-Z is the greatest rapper of all time, if he wants to be the greatest rapper right now he needs to drop the sales gimmicks, pick up the mic, breathe easy and remember that proving his critics wrong is all the fire he’s ever needed.

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