Hip-Hop Fridays: Jay-Z, America's Most Overrated Rapper by Ben Westhoff
Rap's Grateful Dead? Hova? Young? The No. 1 MC of all time?
None of the above.
A more appropriate title for Jay-Z is Most Overrated Rapper. Ever. With Tuesday's release of his second post-retirement album — inspired by the movie American Gangster and, if the leaked single "Blue Magic" is any indication, crappy — it's time to clear the air. Rap critics fear that the guy they've loved for so long has fallen off, but it's time to face facts. He was never really on.
The American Gangster project went from conception to shelves in about two months, illustrating Jay's career-long tendency to rush out songs that aren't art.
He's long bragged about not putting his lyrics to paper before he spits them, and sure, his freestyling ability and flow are first-rate.
But this is not Scribble Jam. Bragging about not writing down lyrics is like Albert Pujols boasting he simply goes to the plate and swings. That's cool, but wouldn't he be better if he took BP? Would it kill Jay to give his songs some extra consideration and editing?
Placing Hova alongside Biggie Smalls, Nas and Wu-Tang Clan on the list of the greatest rappers of all time is ridiculous. They were personalities; they had stories. Jay has little charisma and only one story, the one about how great he is.
While expressing self-love is nothing new in hip-hop, Jay takes it to another level. His new album, for example, is ostensibly based on the story of Harlem heroin dealer Frank Lucas, but if the following lyrics, as related to The New York Times, are any indication, it appears to be all about...guess who?
"Please don't compare me to other rappers. Compare me to trappers. I'm more Frank Lucas than Ludacris. And Lude is my dude, I ain't trying to dis. Just like Frank Lucas is cool, but I ain't tryin' to snitch."
Jay's ego manages to ruin other people's songs as well. "Never Let Me Down" should have been the best track on Kanye West's The College Dropout. Kanye's second verse is poignant, while Saul J. Ivy's third verse is a revelation. The song should have ended there, but then Jay — who not only leads off the track but comes back for another verse — pulls a Bill Buckner. See accompanying pie chart for the gory details.
Jay-Z is a good rapper whose talents are overshadowed by his hubristic megalomania. But he really should retire — for real this time.
This article first appeared in The Houston Press
Friday, November 2, 2007