A 47-year old Shawn Carter coming off of marriage controversies and a few Khaled collaborations…what could we expect? I can say that most of us expected WRONG. Jay’s 13th studio album, which came at us 10 tracks deep, proved to shatter expectations and made it clear that age never phased Jigga’s lyrical prowess. The project features an array of sounds, ranging from party-anthems to racial-analysis pieces. HOV begins his 13th studio album with a dynamic take, including a self-proclaimed diss right in the title. The intro is followed up by “The Story of OJ”, a quick listen for yourself will say more than I could ever say about it. And then we arrive at “Smile” where we recognize a familiar voice from Jay-Z’s ‘Black Album’; HOV’s mother Gloria Carter. A Frank Ocean feature fills in the fourth track and the title track at number five features a truly motivating production. The constant reciting of “I apologize” throughout the title track is Jay’s acknowledgment of his mistakes throughout his career; a true measure of maturity. From the back half of the album, we have another few notables (simply my notables, yours could be different). I focus on both “Bam” and “Marcy Me” here for the B-side set. “Bam” can be instantly recognized as the project’s hype up track, and HOV’s use of the Damian Marley feature is pretty fucking brilliant. I see this feature as a way to bring out this “island sound” that rappers like Drake have popularized throughout “More Life” on tracks like ‘Blem’. From the B-side, the final track that just kills it every damn time is “Marcy Me”. An homage to Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Me”, and a tribute to the unmistakable Marcy housing projects that birthed a young HOV, the track is purely beautiful. From the lyrical B.I.G. shoutout in the intro, to The-Dream effortlessly ending the song with perfect vocals; the track is a winner by all accounts. Well, I don’t believe many expected this out of Jay, but the project is a true bright spot in hip-hop not only this year, but I’d say in the past five. 21 years after his famed debut on “Reasonable Doubt”, the maturity of one of hip-hop’s Mount Rushmore figures remains evident; HOV’s still got it!
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