14 Songs, 55 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

No one could have known just how visible Jay-Z would remain after needling detractors with “Maybe you’ll love me when I fade to black” in the opening minutes of his “final” release, 2003’s Black Album. But credit his skills for a resonance that the album holds even after his official return to performance. His mom’s spoken reminiscences of Shawn Carter’s childhood on “December 4th” help set the elegiac yet boastful mood, while “Encore” and “What More Can I Say” shade that vibe into a “My Way”-style claim to immortality. After that opening trilogy, he mostly drops the conceit and just rocks the mic, with the help of some of the most imaginative tracks he’s ever used. Rick Rubin hooks up Mountain and Billy Squier samples for the philosophical “99 Problems,” while Jay describes a traffic stop in one of his most trenchant verses. Kanye West’s reggae stylee-zation (the sampled voice is Max Romeo’s) on “Lucifer” adds aural depth to a gun-laden cautionary tale. And the Neptunes provide a soft-soul bed for “Allure.” That cut’s allusion to Michael Corleone sounds prophetic in light of “the worst retirement ever:" “Every time I felt that was that, it called me right back.”

EDITORS’ NOTES

No one could have known just how visible Jay-Z would remain after needling detractors with “Maybe you’ll love me when I fade to black” in the opening minutes of his “final” release, 2003’s Black Album. But credit his skills for a resonance that the album holds even after his official return to performance. His mom’s spoken reminiscences of Shawn Carter’s childhood on “December 4th” help set the elegiac yet boastful mood, while “Encore” and “What More Can I Say” shade that vibe into a “My Way”-style claim to immortality. After that opening trilogy, he mostly drops the conceit and just rocks the mic, with the help of some of the most imaginative tracks he’s ever used. Rick Rubin hooks up Mountain and Billy Squier samples for the philosophical “99 Problems,” while Jay describes a traffic stop in one of his most trenchant verses. Kanye West’s reggae stylee-zation (the sampled voice is Max Romeo’s) on “Lucifer” adds aural depth to a gun-laden cautionary tale. And the Neptunes provide a soft-soul bed for “Allure.” That cut’s allusion to Michael Corleone sounds prophetic in light of “the worst retirement ever:" “Every time I felt that was that, it called me right back.”

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