The album still lives up to its “classic” label. Go ahead, listen to it and tell me I’m wrong, go ahead.
The album’s tracks touches different topics, and it’s one reason why this album is great. From the autobiographical “December 4th” to the retrospective records like “Moment of Clarity,” “My 1st Song” and “Allure” to his “retirement speech” that is “Encore,” Jay Z gave use his final farewell. It’s the blueprint, pun intended, for how a rapper should end his career.
Hov let it out on the first track, properly named after his birthdate. He even had his mother, Gloria Carter share childhood stories. This autobiographical and retrospective record gives us a glimpse of his younger days, touching on how Jay got into the both, the rap and drug game. He speaks on his introduction to selling drugs and how that situation helped lean him towards becoming a rapper. The stress and paranoia were just too much to burden after a while.
On “December 4th,” Jay spoke on something that a lot of adolescents do. He mentioned giving his mother “a scare” (selling drugs). I think most sons and daughters give their parents a “scare,” although, like Jay’s, it’s never their true intention to hurt their love ones, it just happens.
Backed behind a memorable “Gladiator” quote, Jay attacks “What More Can I Say” and tells to his peers and fans exactly that. He’s done it all. He’s been relevant longer than most rappers, has maintained his rap skills, gotten rich multiple times, has platinum records, has unimaginable influence on pop culture and culture in itself, etc.
Fun fact, after this record, a lot of dudes in my high school, (my dude Eddie too!) began wearing button-ups, that’s how much influence Jay has, just like what he did to the auto-tune in 2009.
“Encore” was a perfect fit for the album because it would be something Jay would’ve faced it the future. It’s brilliant because he’s asking us if we want an encore—uh, yeah, Jay, we do—but it can be taken in a different way. He could’ve meant in the style of having guest verses on future songs. But now it’s just his concert-ending song.
Both “Change Clothes” and “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” were radio hits and were self-explanatory. Jay jumped-started the trend of wearing button-ups within my high school and the rest of the United States. He stated that it was time to put those jerseys away and become a grown-up. It was time to start dressing better, more designers and urban wear and less bullshit.
Meanwhile, “Dirt…” had a banging Timbaland-produced beat. If you weren’t nodding your head to the beat, I don’t know what to say, everyone fucked with that song. Everyone could relate to what the hook was saying, maybe not literally but metaphorically. If you had a problem you could overcome it by metaphorically brushing off your shoulders, hence, not letting it get to you, great advice from Jay.
The 9th Wonder-produced masterpiece “Threat” is just that, it’s ill! The way 9th Wonder chopped up R. Kelly’s “A Woman’s Threat” is crazy. The story behind the making of the beat is amazing in itself.
Also, the I-don’t-give-a-fuck-I-am-threatening-you and the I-can-hurt-you-slash-kill-you-in-many-different-ways lyrics are top notch. So many memorable bars in those verses, including the chilling and clever line: “I will kill you, commit suicide, and kill you again.” The song is one of the standouts of this album. Plus, the addition of Cedric the Entertainer in the intro and outro is comical.
The minimalistic Eminem-produced “Moment of Clarity” often gets overlooked but it should be praised for Jay’s honesty. He raps about his non-existent relationship with his father and how he was unemotional when he heard of his death. However, as he grew up, he was able to forgive his father for not being there. His father’s got sucked into the same life Jay did, but on the opposite side of it.
Also, he spoke on why he started leaning towards a more mainstream direction. In the past, Jay shied away from that scene, peep “Reasonable Doubt”, but once he saw how successful “Hard Knock Life” was, sold over five million records, he made an executive decision and choose what made more money. Money talks, so, from then on, Jay began working on radio hits and chart topping singles, and it worked. It worked because he was able to find a balance. He gave us “Show Me What You Got” but also “Lost One,” he made “I.Z.Z.O.” then hit us with “Renegade.”
The rock-influenced “99 Problems” was a surprise hit. The line “I got 99 problems but [whatever you want]” became an instant phenomenon, becoming a popular phrase.
California meets New York on “Justify My Thug” were Hov raps about growing up in the metaphoric school of hard knocks and everything related to the thug subculture. He drops a clever and incredible play on one of Newton’s Law of Motion, saying if you kill one of mine, I’m going to kill one of yours, hitting us with a connection to Newton’s law were he says every action has a reaction, which in the ‘hood is true.
“Lucifer” is a banger. It also caused people to speculate whether or not Hov was part of a secret society, ahem, the illuminati. Those rumors are still around.
Backed by an aggressive hard knocking/head nodding Kanye West beat, “Lucifer” is filled with religious and satanic wordplay, death and murder metaphors and a tribute to a fallen friend, Bobalob, that you began to question the depth of his rhymes. That’s all I will say about that before the illumi…
I don’t think there’s a better way to end the album then having “Allure” and “My First Song” back-to-back.
“Allure” is so smooth. It’s his favorite song and I can see why. The whole song reflects on being in the drug game and the adrenaline it gives, especially for Jay, which was one of the things he loved about it. References to Jay’s former life, crime films, mobsters, guns, cooking crack, smuggling, groupies, hazy smoke-filled rooms, etc. anything you could picture that would be seen on a Hollywood screen is in this track.
The first bar of the third verse says, “I never felt more alive than riding shotgun in Klein’s green five, until the cops pulled guns,” that’s crazy. Those seventeen words are the premise of whole song. That high/adrenaline Jay gets is remarkable and unparalleled; therefore, he continues in that life. Ironically, that same adrenaline could be the reason your life comes to a halt: either death or in prison.
The way Jay ends “My 1st Song” by talking and shouting out people is dope. The way he’s reminiscing about old stories is a true gem. It allows us to imagine what was occurring behind the scenes.
It resembles a retirement speech. He’s thanking people who were helpful and loyal. It’s a beautiful thing.
The song is about treating your last song just like your first one, staying true to yourself despite your success. Or in simpler terms, never forget where/how you started, stay humble is my interpretation.
I could continue writing about these two songs but I am forcing myself to stop and just let the music speak for itself, along with the rest of the album. It already stood the test of time, what’s left?