Jay-Z embittered fans when he said he was retiring just so he could take two years off, then came back weak with the cushy, career-low Kingdom Come. But it's all water under the bridge now, baby. Ya boy is back with another dark soul-saturated album in the vein of The Blueprint.
True to his constant quest for innovative self-promotion, this is an unofficial soundtrack for the film of the same title. But the real coup here is that Puff Daddy - forgive me, Diddy - produces nearly half of it. Puffy's heavy sampling experience and signature touches (like the blaxploitation-style female monologue on Pray) work well, especially on Roc Boys, a horn-led glower like Encore with nice ad libs from Beyoncé, Cassie and Kanye.
Hello Brooklyn features the increasingly eccentric Lil Wayne, who's from New Orleans, singing about Brooklyn more passionately than the rapped verse by Jay-Z, who's from Brooklyn. Then there's the hearty gospel organ on Success featuring Nas. And the lyrical swagger is back - no more of this Beach Chair shit. "Move coke like Pepsi, don't matter what the brand name is." Hovi's home.