I promised myself that I'd wait till Sept 11th to cop this but once I heard that it leaked I caved under the pressure of my own anticipation and downloaded it (Sorry Jay!). Did it live up to the hype on the first listen? For me no but that's only because of the epic proportions that I had envisioned for this album so it was almost impossible to live up to them. But upon a second playthrough I fell in love with the album. Like I just said it takes a little getting used to but I think that's just what Jay wanted. He wanted to make us REALLY listen to it and then have it inject into our systems like a drug. Ima go out on a limb and say that I enjoyed this album almost as much as I enjoyed The Black Album and American Gangster (my favorite Jay-Z albums) which will probably get me a lot of flack from people but then again i don't give a fuck lol. Instead of give a straight out review ima go track by track.
1. What We Talkin About feat Luke Steele from Empire of the Sun: 5/5
This is one of the many productions by Kanye on the album and definitely one of my favorite beats on his in recent memory. As soon as the song starts you get attacked by this powerful synth and the trademark Kanye drum kit. Jay-Z talks about how he's not gonna cater to everyone's expectations on this album and just gonna be coming from where he's at mentally throughout the album. Kanye's continuing to grow as a producer and continues to experiment with different sounds and obscure/odd samples to give tracks his signature feel and this is no different. This song serves as an perfect album opener and gets you excited for what the rest of the album has to offer.
2. Thank You: 5/5
This may just be one of my favorite Jay-Z songs ever mostly because of his flow on the track. He attacks this song with the swag and bravado that only he can to show the naysayers that he hasn't lost a step. He kind of gives a nod to Encore in the chorus by saying "Thank you thank you thank you, You're far to kind, Hold your applause, this is your song not mine" almost signifying that he's not going anywhere anytime soon. Jay sounds like the president of the rap game addressing the masses at the inaguration party on this track and Kanye's fun production on the track which consists mostly of loud horns and J Dilla-esque drums makes this song a fun listen. So far so good!
3. D.O.A.: 4.5/5
We've all heard it and there are no changes so I don't think I even need to critique this song lol. I won't lie though I think I overplayed it so I'm a little tired of it. The live band feel of the song is still ill though. I could see him playing this live with the roots.
4. Run This Town feat Rihanna & Kanye: 5/5
Once again another song that everyone's heard so there's no need for me to critique it but I will say that this is one of my faves on the album. A re-occurring theme on the album is Jay-Z's resurgence as the King of the rap game and the album almost feels like a giant campaign. A lot of people have criticized Rihanna on the chorus but I personally think that she's perfect on the track. I think that if someone with a really powerful voice would kind of ruin the somewhat dark and militant feel of the song and Rihanna's voice has a sort of rockstar quality that makes it effective on the chorus. This song also does a good job of highlighting Kanye's lyrical prowess and passion. He's done a really good job this year of silencing anyone who thought that he'd lost his ability to rap once he dropped 808's and Heartbreak. If anything this song makes me really excited to hear his next album.
5. Empire State of Mind feat Alicia Keys: 5/5
This song is another one of my favorite songs on the album and will definitely go on to be one of Jay's classic years down the line. The production is done by someone named Al Shux who I've never heard of but whoever he is he kills this beat. Probably the closest thing we get to the old Jay-Z on the album the beat takes you back to Jay's Blueprint 1 and 2 days. This song is a love letter to his home state New York and how it made him who he is which is something that he's done before on other songs but I believe it's more effective now because he's more experienced and mature now. Alicia Keys (who I'm really glad to hear from) KILLS the chorus on this song and really projects it to anthem status. I know that New York natives will eat this song up because it definitely makes me wish I was from there lol.
6. Real As It Gets feat Young Jeezy: 3.5/5
I think this may be my least favorite song on the album and that's only because it kind feels like it's "just there". In no way is it a bad song but I feel like it would've fit better on Jeezy's album because it sounds like a song made for his style. Nothing really spectacular here but it's also not an earsore so I guess I'm cool with it.
7. On To The Next One feat Swizz Beatz: 5/5
This is my favorite Swizz Beatz production EVER! I think this is most infectious song on the album because I've listened to it more than all of the other songs because of how fun it is to listen to. It's been a long time since I've heard Swizz kill it on the boards and he sure picked a good album to bring the hotness. Taking D.A.N.C.E. by Justice (one of my favorite songs) and doing something really interesting with it to make it sound like a chant, this song is the first club-banger I've heard from Jay in a good while. To some people the sample will probably get annoying if you're just listening to it for leisure but I guarantee you if you hear this shit in the club with some heavy bass you'll go nuts. Jay also enhances the song with some really clever wordplay. It pretty much talks about the same thing that Off That does but in a more slick way. One of my fave tracks from the album.
8. Off That feat Drake: 4/5
One of the 3 Timbo productions on the album and definitely the most upbeat of them. It took me a little while to get into this song I won't lie. Wasn't feeling it on the first listen and then as time went by I started to like it. For some reason Jay's voice annoys me on this a little bit (probably the adlibs) and the fact that Drake is only on the chorus disappoints me because I think he could've really gotten clever on this song. Hopefully they make a remix where Drake spits on it because I think it'd be dope. This is far from the best track on the album but it serves it's purpose. The instrumental gets really dope at the end when Tim starts messing with it a little. Catchy song.
9. A Star Is Born feat J. Cole: 4/5
Another Yeezy production (you can tell because of the echo noise that he uses on a number of songs) and a solid song. On the song Jay gives props to a lot of other artists such as Jeezy, Wayne, T.I. and Em to name a few and talks about how the game will never die because there will always be a star brought into the game to keep it going. Now I'm not sure if J. Cole is on the chorus or not but I know he provides a short verse at the very end of the song which i think was a little misplaced but it was solid. I liked his wordplay and am interested in what he'll bring in the future.
10. Venus vs Mars: 5/5
The second of the 3 Timbo productions and my favorite of the 3. Backed by a dark and somewhat sinister beat by Timbo, Jay tells the story of his relationship with a girl who he believed was his perfect match only to find out they were complete opposites. This song really showcases how clever of a wordsmith Jay-Z really is because there are alot of dope parallel lines in the song. I really like how the song starts off with Jay and his girl being essential one in the same and as the song progresses we start to see the differences show up until by the end they're complete opposites. The "Takeover/Ether" line is one of my favorite lines on the entire album. Even though it probably won't happen, I'd really like to see a video for this song.
11. Already Home feat Kid Cudi: 4/5
Now this is one of those songs that I got disappointed in when I heard it because I was expecting something completely different. I'm used to Kid Cudi's very spacy and eccentric style and whenever Kanye and Cudi hook up (with the exception of Make Her Say) it's always a darker song so I was expecting the same for this one but it's not like that at all. Much like Drake on Off That I wish Cudi or Ye would've gotten a verse on this song because the beat suited their styles (especially Ye's) but Cudi does a good enough job on the chorus to make me ok with it. Kanye's production on this song kind of reminds me of The Glory off of Graduation. I could see this song being the album closer.
12. Hate feat Kanye West: 4.5/5
This is probably the most experimental song on the entire album and I already know that a lot of people aren't gonna like this song but I love it. It's a very risky kind of song. The beat is probably the weirdest beat that I ever remember hearing from Kanye and there for it makes it really easy to not pay attention to what Kanye and Jay are saying. Jay and Kanye trade off verses on this song but it's clear that Kanye feels more at home on the beat because Jay starts to bite his flow a little. It would be in my top 5 songs on the album if it wasn't so damn short! It's my firm believe that you should leave songs that are 2:30 and under for mixtapes because it's too short to truly appreciate on an album for me. I feel like if the song were longer not only would it give people more time to get into the beat but they could've even added another rapper onto the song to get some shine (I'm thinking Big Sean or Lupe could've killed this track). Dope song nonetheless.
13. Reminder: 4.75/5
This is probably the "toughest" song on the album which has Jay addressing rappers who talk down his presence and legacy in the rap game (The Game?, Joe Budden?). I was suprised to hear that this was a Timbo production because it seems kind of Dr. Dre-esque. They don't let you know who's on the chorus but it sounds kind of like Rihanna. Jay's style on this song is reminiscent of "Justify My Thug" off of the Black Album. Definitely a song I could see myself riding down the street too lookin mean lol. I wouldn't be suprised if this was made into a single.
14. So Ambitious feat Pharrell: 4/5
This is another song that I'm a little disappointed with because every collab I've heard from the Neptunes and Jay has been fire and this one is just kind...meh. This is my least favorite Neptunes/Jay-Z collab. It's an okay song but i think it should've been made into a bonus track and replaced with Jockin Jay-Z or something. This probably would've been a better song if it was a lesser artist on the track but I expect better from Jay.
15. Young Forever feat Mr. Hudson: 4/5
I'm still not exactly sure how to feel about this song. I wanna really like it but I can't get past the fact that It sounds like it should be a Mr Hudson song feature Jay-Z. The production has Mr. Hudson's name ALL over it and so I enjoy him singing on the chorus more than Jay's verses. This is one of those songs that I'd probably appreciate more if saw it live in concert than in CDQ. It's an okay album closer but I think they could've done better.
So after going through all 15 tracks on this album I realize that it suffers from something that alot of albums suffer from these days. A strong first half that begins to cool down over time and by the time you get to the end of the album your left wanting a little more. Once again I great enjoy this album and I believe that in time it'll be considered a classic but It'll take some getting used to. It's not up to par with some of Jay's other albums but it's a solid effort and a good showing for Hov. Rock on from Krypton
Replay Value: 4/5
1. Empire State of Mind
2. What We Talkin About
3. Thank You
4. Run This Town
5. On To The Next One
6. Venus vs Mars