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This album was released on November 14th in 2003. This is JAY-Z’s third, and final classic album. I’m expecting it to be pretty good. It was marketed as his “final” album; he’d been releasing one album every single year ever since 1996, so this was a pretty big deal. He eventually came back three years later with one of his worst albums to date, but we’ll get to that… Anyway, I’ve only heard a few songs from this album. Well, I really think I’ve only heard one song, but I’ve heard bits and pieces of other tracks. This album contains some of his most popular singles ever. When JAY-Z ranked all of his own albums, he put this as his third best project under Reasonable Doubt & The Blueprint. I think this’ll be good. Not great. I’m looking forward to it tho. That’s pretty much all I’ve got to say. I’m ready to go ahead and listen now.
Track 1: Interlude (Prod. Just Blaze)
Oh fuck. This beat is dope af. I’m not sure who this is talking right now, but he’s saying how “all things must come to an end.” So he was letting all the listeners know right from the start that this was supposed to be his last album. It’s not really a song. Just Blaze also produced the following track, so hopefully Jay actually does end up rapping over this beat. It’s really fuckin’ good.
Track 2: December 4th (Prod. Just Blaze)
Okay, he’s not gonna use that beat from the previous song. Smh… That’s unfortunate. Whatever it doesn’t really matter. This beat is dope af too. Just Blaze fucked this beat. Jay’s killin’ this first verse. His flow is awesome. This song basically serves as his autobiography. There’s no hook; there’s just a break between each verse with Jay’s mom speaking about her son. This is a really well produced song. I’m not just talking about the beat. Everything about this song is well done. The way it’s structured just works really fuckin’ well. I can’t think of a better way to open up the album. This is one of those songs that really could’ve worked as an intro or an outro. I definitely fuck with this one. This is dope af.
Track 3: What More Can I Say (Prod. The Buchanans)
Wow. Of course he had to start this song in the most cliché way possible. He sampled that Russell Crowe quote from Gladiator. I’m not even gonna say it because you should already know what it is. I hate when rappers sample that line. It always just sounds corny as hell to me. This is a major nitpick tho. This beat is dope. Oh shit. That line that Tyler sampled for Jack & the Beanstalk is in this song.
These fucks too lazy to make up shit; they crazy / They don’t paint pictures, they just trace me.
Oh fucking shit. The line that T.I. sampled for Bring ‘Em Out is also in this song.
Bring ’em out / It’s hard to yell when the barrel’s in your mouth.
The first verse was great. I’m not sure who this is singing on the hook. It kinda sounds like Cee-Lo. It’s a bit over the top. It’s not bad tho. The second verse was dope. Gotdamn. He killed that second verse. This is another great track. I like the previous song better, but this is still dope af.
Track 4: Encore (Prod. Kanye West)
I’ve never actually heard this song, but I heard that fucking God awful mashup with Linkin Park’s song, Numb—R.I.P. Chester Bennington ☹️. That shit was terrible tho. Anyway, this song’s starting now. Oh God… Okay, this beat is dope af, but honestly… That line where the background vocalist sings “what the hell are you waiting for?” has always been unbelievably corny to me. It’s even worse in the Linkin Park version. I don’t know what it is. It just makes me cringe every single time I hear it. Aside from that, the hook is fine. The first verse was great. I guess it’s kinda weird that I’ve only ever heard the Linkin Park version. This is so much better. Uuugh… I definitely could’ve done without this interlude where there’s a crowd chanting “Hova.” The final verse was dope tho. I fuck with this song. I have some gripes with it, but it’s still an enjoyable track. This is dope.
Track 5: Change Clothes (Prod. The Neptunes)
This beat is dope af. The first verse was cool. The hook isn’t bad. There’s an uncredited feature from Pharrell. The second verse wasn’t bad. I kinda wish he didn’t spend four bars rhyming the same word with itself tho.
Young Hov in the house is so necessary / No bra with that blouse; that’s so necessary / No panties and jeans; that’s so necessary / Now why you fronting on me; is that necessary?
I guess house rhymes with blouse, and he was trying to rhyme jeans with me. I’ll allow it. Uuugh… I’m not feelin’ this bridge from Pharrell. I’ll never be able to enjoy someone singing the words “sexy sexy” like that. It’s giving me PTSD flashbacks to that fucking horrific song by Tech N9ne called Enjoy. I’m about to throw up just by thinking about it. This is definitely my least favorite song on the album so far. This album is slowly declining in quality with each track. I’m almost positive he’ll pick it up with the next song tho… He recycles the lines I quoted earlier for the beginning of the third verse. It just ended. Meh… This isn’t really a bad song, but it’s not the kinda song I’d ever wanna hear again. It’s alright.
Track 6: Dirt Off Your Shoulder (Prod. Timbaland)
Alright, here we go. I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard this song, but I’ve definitely heard that beat. Timbaland put his ASS in this song. This is probably in my top 5 favorite beats Jay’s ever rapped over. The hook’s nothing special, but it does it’s job. The first verse was nice. Actually, I take back what I said about the hook. It’s dope af. The second verse wasn’t bad. The final verse was pretty good too. There’s not really much to say about this song. It’s got a really tight structure. Just three 12 bar verses, a catchy hook, and an irresistible beat. I don’t really see what’s not to like about this track. I mean, nothing he said was really that interesting in my opinion, but this song is sonically undeniable. It’s dope af.
Track 7: Threat (Prod. 9th Wonder & JAY-Z)
That intro from Cedric the Entertainer was not necessary. This beat is dope af. Jay killed that first verse. This shit is gangsta as fuck. The hook is nothing special. The second verse was fantastic too. He’s spittin’ his motherfuckin’ ass off on this track. This is so fuckin’ hard. The final verse was great too. This is probably one of my favorite tracks from JAY-Z lyrically. He slaughtered this shit. I could’ve done without the interludes from Cedric, but aside from that this shit is fantastic.
Track 8: Moment of Clarity (Prod. EMINƎM & Luis Resto)
This beat is dope af. Same goes for the hook. Same goes for the first verse. Man… This is a really fuckin’ good album. Lol. The first verse was about his father who he never had a very good relationship with. The second verse was nice. This line always kinda bothered me…
If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be lyrically Talib Kweli / Truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense / But I did 5 mill; I ain’t been rhyming like Common since.
He pretty much just admitted to being a sellout. Lmao. I mean, you can still make great music as a sellout, but Jay’s content has always been people’s number 1 criticism of him. From what I’ve heard, he apparently fixed all that on his latest album, so I’m really looking forward to that. Anyway, the final verse was great as well. This is another fantastic song. This album is fucking awesome so far. Lmao. I may end up liking this even more than Reasonable Doubt. This shit is dope af.
Track 9: 99 Problems (Prod. Rick Rubin)
I don’t know for sure, but I’m assuming this is Jay’s most popular song ever. Even people who don’t like Hip Hop know this song. It’s got one of the most famous hooks ever.
If you havin’ girl problems I feel bad for you, son / I got 99 problems, but a bitch ain’t one.
That line is fucking genius. That shit is so fuckin’ hard. This beat is incredible by the way. I didn’t used to like it, but it grew on me pretty quickly. It’s hard as fuck. The first verse was great. The second verse is really the best part tho. The way he had an argument with himself as a police officer was fucking awesome. I don’t know why more rappers don’t do shit like that. It kinda reminded me of something Eminem would do. The final verse was great too. This song is amazing. It’s gonna be fucking impossible to choose a favorite song from this album…
Track 10: Public Service Announcement (Interlude) [Prod. Just Blaze]
Oh shit. Okay, I’ve heard the opening line from this song. I forgot about this track. This beat is nice, and Jay’s flow is fantastic on this first verse.
Fresh out the fryin’ pan into the fire / I be the music biz number one supplier / Flyer than a piece of paper bearin’ my name / Got the hottest chick in the game wearin’ my chain.
The first verse was really good. The second verse was nice too. It just ended. I like this song. It’s one of the better tracks I’ve heard from Jay lyrically, but I honestly wasn’t blown away sonically. It’s still really good tho. I fuck with this.
Track 11: Justify My Thug (Prod. DJ Quik)
This beat isn’t bad. Okay, I’m really not feelin’ the way he started this first verse. Lmao.
It goes one o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock, Roc / Five six seven o’clock, eight o’clock, Roc / Eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock, the party ’bout to pop / Then, Roc-A-Fella y’all, it’s your boy S. Dot.
It seems lazy as hell to me, but it’s not a big deal. This is definitely the most underwhelming beat on the album so far. The first verse wasn’t bad. Oh God… This hook is atrocious… I don’t know who that female vocalist is. She’s doing a Madonna impression. It’s not good… The second verse was great, but Jesus Christ… This hook is unbearable. The third verse was awesome, but… The hook completely ruined this shit for me. Smh… This is easily the wackest song on the album so far. I hope that doesn’t change… I’m not feelin’ this one.
Track 12: Lucifer (Prod. Kanye West)
This beat is dope. The hook is cool. The first verse was nice. The second verse was dope. I’m almost finished with this song. I don’t really have much to say about it. There are a lot of religious references and mentions of sins. I think it’s really good. I just don’t really have anything to say. The final verse was fantastic tho. I definitely fuck with this track. This is dope af.
Track 13: Allure (Prod. The Neptunes)
The way the previous track segued into this one was unbelievably seamless. I honestly had no idea it was a different song. I thought the beat just switched up or something. Anyway, this beat is dope af. The first verse was nice. The hook isn’t bad. He’s rapping about being addicted to the dangerous lifestyle that he used to live before becoming a famous rapper. Gotdamn. He fucking killed that second verse. That rhyme scheme that he carried was awesome. The final verse was fantastic too. This is definitely another one of my favorites. This shit is dope af.
Track 14: My 1st Song (Prod. Aqua & 3H)
This beat is really dope. Hmm… This is most likely just a coincidence, but Jay’s using a very similar flow to that of Nas on the final song from God’s Son, Heaven, which was released 1 month after this album. The first verse was great. Uuugh… That hook is pretty bad. Lol. It’s definitely not bad enough to ruin the song for me, but it definitely hurts it. I don’t ever wanna hear Jay sing. EVER. I don’t even like his voice when he’s rapping normally, so I sure as fuck don’t ever wanna hear him try to sing like this. It could definitely be worse tho. The second verse wasn’t bad. Jesus. This hook is just so fucking bad… Actually… Honestly, I don’t really like this song. It’s okay. It’s just the hook and the long winded outro. Aside from that it’s pretty good. But nah. I’m not gonna listen to this again.
This album is fucking great. It’s definitely my favorite JAY-Z album so far. I honestly wasn’t expecting to like this more than Reasonable Doubt, but I actually do. I think this is Jay’s second best album when it comes to his rapping, but when you take the stellar production into account, it manages to inch past his debut LP. I wish all of his albums were as focused and well-produced as this. It’s like the opposite of The Blueprint²; there’s little to no filler here. It’s not just a collection of decent songs. He managed to hold my attention throughout the entire album. When it comes to the production, this is probably one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. I really don’t have any consistent problems with this project. A couple of the hooks were pretty shitty, but aside from that I have no complaints. This is a dope album.
Favorite Song: 99 Problems
Least Favorite Song: Justify My Thug
Man, how could you say the PSA beat is “nice”? It’s one of my favorite beats of all time… Different tastes I guess
I remember reading XXL (yes back when it was respectable publication and came out monthly on store shelves.) And man people were going wild at the prospect of Jay retiring…..me, not so much as I too busy listening to Better Dayz to even bother.
It’s been a minute since I heard this project, but I remember it being semi decent and that I liked it better than previous entries. Which says a lot (then again I’m biased towards most East Coast acts lol).
Out of the tracks I liked, I dug What More Can I Say, December 4th, 99 Problems, Allure, and Justify My Thug (moreso for Quik’s involvement.)
Fun Fact: 99 Problems, is actually an Ice T song from his 93 album “Home Invasion” (Jay never gave public credit to Ice besides in the liner notes). I’ll let you decide which is better.
Great Job Nick!