Jay-Z vs. Jay-Z

Suddenly vulnerable hip-hop superstars go to war with themselves

Don Imus, for one thing. Jay has a reliably sure hand with current events: post-Katrina soul-searching and hand-wringing on Kingdom Come's "Minority Report," and now a brief dip into the nappy-headed-hos debate on his new addition to "Ignorant Shit," wherein he deftly swats aside his old pal Russell Simmons's attempt to lay society's malaise at hip-hop's feet: "Scarface the movie did more than Scarface the rapper to me." Here's the problem: In 2007, Scarface released the bleak, vicious MADE. Al Pacino did Ocean's 13: dapper but fantastically dour men surrounded by opulence they clearly don't enjoy, chasing One Last Big Score because that's all they've ever known, seeking money and power almost joylessly, playing their nonchalance for cheap, flashy laughs.

Furthermore, this approach is plainly logical, the best of several terrible options. American Gangster is a relative success, while Lupe Fiasco, for one, piously refused to "Dumb It Down"—and flopped. But even dumb doesn't play too well anymore. Thus chastened, Jay-Z and his brethren can either write a new script or just give up and play out the final scene in Goodfellas: "See the hardest thing for me was leaving the life. I still love the life." (Chorus: Nigga fuck shit ass bitch trick plus ice.) "And that's the hardest part. Today everything is different. There's no action. I have to wait around like everyone else." (Nigga fuck shit maricón puta and drugs.) "I'm an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook." Of course, 12 years later Ray Liotta gave his voice to another fresh, exhilarating symphony of power, money, and violence: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. There will always be hope.

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