Jay-Z The Black Album (Roc-A-Fella) Rating: NNN
No one makes a scene quite like Jay-Z. Proclaiming The Black Album (out Friday) to be his final one, the MC went about getting the best beats from the top producers in the music (Pharrell, Just Blaze, Kanye West and Timbaland), even tossing out tracks by top guns like DJ Premier and Dr. Dre. As with most acts designed to leave a legacy, though, Jay-Z sounds misguided and more self-obsessed than usual. With no guest MCs and an eye on history, he rhymes with typical eloquence about his impact on music, his crack-dealing past and how he's "Che Guevera with bling on." Rick Rubin returns to hiphop with a crunching riff-heavy rock beat, the Neptunes and Timbaland toss off beats that sound like everything else they've done over the past two years, and Madonna's Justify My Love is rewritten as Justify My Thug. The Black Album is a solid record but not a career highlight by any stretch, and not exactly a grand farewell. The real shocker isn't how much the Eminem-produced Moment Of Clarity sounds like Lose Yourself, it's how close the touching My First Song (featuring Jay-Z's mom and two minutes of goodbyes) is to Heaven by Jay's arch-enemy Nas. Oops.