I have listened to hip hop for basically only six years, with somewhat increasing frequency. I feel like I am starting to get a grasp on the flow and technique of rap, and I’ve long felt like I know what I like when it comes to the production side. But I still find myself flummoxed by certain types of hip hop, hip hop that is so far removed from my personal life experience and especially hip hop that is both removed from that experience and also features production that I absolutely don’t like. At those times, I find it harder to evaluate flow and technique. And so here we are again.
I can’t relate to gangsta rap because I’m a white guy who grew up in a middle class/upper middle class family in one of the safest major cities in the world. But I can at least try to understand it. But mafioso rap is a different story. I have an even harder time understanding it. It strikes me a little bit like fantasy lyrics in prog and metal – just extremely hard to relate to unless you’re into that particular literature/film genre. Anyway…
A few of the songs with guests singing hooks are pretty catchy. Some of the other tracks are catchy too, and there are a few that have a certain rhythmic appeal (science I’m white).
I have hard time hearing that Jay-Z is one of the greatest rappers of all time. I understand that a lot of that comes from the mafioso themes and the production (more on that in a moment). He certainly seems really talented but I think about other rappers who I’ve just been blown away by – Nas basically always come to mind first, here – and I can’t seem to get there. Now, I know nothing about this, so it’s likely I’m missing something, but I don’t hear it. (Some people hold this up to be his best display of his flow too, so I must really be missing something.)
I am not a hip hop fan but if I am going to listen to hip hop I often prefer east coast to west coast on account of the production. In my very limited experience, east coast production is almost always more interesting than west coast. (There are some notable exceptions, of course.) But this album isn’t very interesting in that sense, at least as far as I can hear. It’s clear what Jay-Z cares about – his rhymes – and that’s totally fine. But I’d definitely like it more (at all, really) if the production was more interesting.
But this is supposedly one of the great hip hop albums of the 1990s. And I know that and I know that I am not the person to tell you any different.