Hova's Slight Return

Jay-Z's aura finally outshines his art—what a drag it is getting old

On "Do U Wanna Ride," Jay gets at nameless detractors—namely Cam'ron and DMX—who revoked his ghetto pass for wearing Birkenstocks ("Wear sneakers on the beach if you want to"). It's the stance of a man with nothing to prove, but it also serves to pit him against keepin-it-realer-than-thou young'uns as officially older and proud of it. (He also takes potshots at "li'l niggas" on "Trouble," which contains some hilarity about making 106 & Park's Free his babymama.) "Dig a Hole" is the summit of the record, likening Cam'ron's summertime Jigga disses to the disciples dissing Jesus. He needn't have bothered—his rep was nowhere near in danger, and he knows it—but the track and rhymes are typically entertaining.

Mere braggadocio won't cut it for an Event Album, though. "Minority Report" finds Jay in emotive voice, like he's taken sensitivity lessons from Ghostface, rhyming on the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and lackluster government efforts. The Black Album first betrayed his desire for a space like Common's in the hiphop landscape; "Report" ends with Kanye's infamous quote about Bush. But just a few songs earlier, Usher and Pharrell help Jay encourage strippers and aerobics strippercisers to bounce their asses on "Anything," shouting out Magic City in Atlanta not once but twice. And "Kingdom Come" comes chock-full of superhero imagery: a Clark Kent at The Daily Planet/Jay at Def Jam analogy, Jay climbing the charts like Spider-Man. The entire album is named for a graphic novel depicting the return of old, archetypal heroes. In between John Legend's vocals, the MC flies a kite for his boy locked down in prison through "Do U Wanna Ride." And the "Show Me What You Got" single is for the club, a commercial Just Blaze ditty neither could've gotten away with unless it was a first taste for a salivating public.

Life begins at 30. . . uh, 37.
photo: PR News Foto/Cingular Wireless
Life begins at 30. . . uh, 37.

Jay-Z's seminal Reasonable Doubt shocked the world 10 years ago, a personal touchstone for fans then Jay's own age who were getting their own hustles on—hiphop's young, gifted, and black. Hearing Kingdom Come, we gauge our progress. What this might mean for that 16-year-old suburban white male mesmerized by flavor-of-the-month Southern MCs is anybody's guess.

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