It has been about six months since I last cruised with the sunroof open through Palos Verdes in a white shirt and Ray-Bans. Around Portuguese Bend in the black BMW you could have seen me with the bling hanging out the driver's side. The best rap on the planet blasting. That would be Steve Coleman & Metrics. Since '93 rap has has only been a mood-enhancer and there are only certain moods I enjoy having enhanced by beats and rhymes, driving bogard is first. There was a time when I threw out some couplets, but I couldn't live for making blue collar teens wanna be. So my heart wasn't in the core of the art. I might have thought a broader mix of mental juices could be loosed by the right combination, and a few have tried that hiphop chemistry, but most of the young punks can't hack it. They confuse H20 with H2SO4. I third degree that mimicry of shit we heard before.
And so I take my pleasures elsewhere.
I couldn't estimate who it would be that would not look as stupid as Snoop Dogg, who is now officially the oldest man in the club. He blew up a truck for Zynga, and that's the state of the art. But Jay-Z has done the extraordinary. He has become middle aged, appropriately. So I was literally brought to tears when I saw this piece this morning. It is what hiphop should have become, and now, if this is any indicator, has actually become - because this is the man at the top.
There are several things that strike me about this tribute to NYC in this performance.
The first thing you have to recognize is Jay-Z himself. Everything about his performance says pro. He's up to make the perfection exuding confidence, ease and energy at the same time. He's right in the moment and he knows he is the performance. The chorus, busted out by BK just soars. It's flat out majestic. The stanzas chop with the same piano highlights that made 'Hard Knock Life' groundbreaking, but now all empty space is orchestrated right through to the dramatic swelling cinematic drama tumbling down like boom boom boom. It dances with poise and lets the bittersweet poison of the gritty lyric sink in. But like the best hiphop and why the whole genre always has the potential to change music, you don't get it until you read the lyrics, memorize their poetry, internalize their associative imagery and then spin it back with the dBs up into the plus.
What's excellent here is that so long as Jay-Z stays in the game there's a level of mediocrity that he won't stand for, and we all stand to win for that. I thought about Linkin Park last month seeing that they put out a new album that's less hiphop and more something else. After their collab with Jay-Z what else hiphop is there for them to do? My prediction. If Jay-Z is all that he portends to be in this performance, then fifty years from now, this will be the sort of stentorian lyricism that rules 4:4 time, and you'll have to go to Bob Dylan and get sparse and rambling to find its equal. And so there is the reason that he's like Sinatra. May he live that long.