Released at the perfect time to reflect on the seismic shift hiphop culture made in 1996, this retrospective offers an insightful yet guarded Shawn Carter musing on his life during the birth of his brilliant debut.
The album's contributors all shed light on their creative process, from an excited Irv Gotti and a smirking Pain in Da Ass (voice of the Tony Montana opening skit) to a stoic Mary J. Blige and a respectfully humble, naive Memphis Bleek. Footage of a babyfaced Jay-Z spitting Fu-shnicken-like flows is priceless, but the omission of Dame Dash's perspective is glaring.
There's a breakdown of Jigga's notorious mnemonic songwriting process (he memorized rhymes between drug deals), plus rare concert footage with Biggie Smalls, and Barry Michael Cooper's grown-up perspective on what Jay-Z symbolizes. A pneumatic Foxy Brown charmingly explains her urge to compete with Jay, and Kanye finds a way to slight Jigga while praising him.
Jaz-O (Jay-Z's now-estranged mentor) is included, as well as the rugged DJ Premier, suave and pivotal producer Ski and BK legend DJ Clark Kent. When Lyor Cohen admits that 'dreaming has gone away from the record biz,' you rejoice that a major executive is honest enough to say so.
Jay-Z could contribute more of himself, but as the classic song goes: gotta learn to live with regrets.
EXTRAS Can't Knock The Hustle promo video, Ski discusses D&D Studios, photographer Jonathan Mannion talks about the album cover, and more.