Sunday, May 14, 2006

Some early Jay-Z

There is something odd about finding an album years after its first release. I’m always being forced to think about music both in terms of its meaning and impact on first release and its relevance to me in this moment. The same thing happens with movies and it’s sometimes very disconcerting. For example, I watched The French Connection the week after I watched Bullitt. I loved French Connection, but found Bullitt severely lacking, from story to characterization to the driving sequence that made the movie famous and inspired the car chase in the French’s Connection that I loved so much.

Anyway, I’ve just downloaded and am listening to Jay-Z’s In My Lifetime: Vol. 1. It is not a good album. Released in the space between Reasonable Doubt’s commercial failure and Jay-Z’s ascendance to pop dominance with Hard Knock Life’s Annie sample, In My Lifetime finds Jay-z flapping around directionless, biting Biggie, making unimpressive threats and jumping on every musical bandwagon of the moment. The appalling beat that powers “Sunshine” is echoed in this garish video, one even Jay-Z can't defend.

Onto more inspiring things though, let's check Jigga out when he actually knows what he's doing. I was listening to Ne-Yo's album (slightly above mediocre R&B) when in the first five seconds of the track "It just ain't right", I heard a sample of someone who obviously knew music. It was obviously a sample, because there's no way Ne-Yo could have created that and then used it just to lead off the song rather than building the track around it. That layering of instruments and slow build up of goodness is something I miss in pretty much all contemporary pop music.

In honor of people who know what instruments are supposed to sound like, here is Jay-Z stealing from Isaac Hayes. The Isaac Hayes track, "The Look of Love," itself a remake has pretty much the most wonderful intro I've ever heard. Long, drawn and plush, Isaac has a full orchestra going with flutes, strings, horns, the guitar and horns punching in for some of the most exciting music I've heard. I've played the first 45 seconds of this track about a hundred times. Jay-Z's crew loses most of the orchestra, making the track jazzier and punchier but no less grandiose as Jay-Z talks over the intro before waxing rhapsodic about the difficulties of life on the streets. Except maybe Beanie Sigel, no one does rap like this anymore. Bleeding amazing.

Isaac Hayes - "The Look of Love"

Jay-Z - "Can I Live"

Jay-Z - "Regrets"


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