In this bloggers opinion, Jay-Z is legitimately one of the top 5 rappers of all time, and may arguably be the greatest. Of his catalogue, The Black Album stands out, and towers above every other CD Jay put out as well as a clear majority of the music dispensed by his peers.
And of that album, there is one song, with one verse, that contains the depth, complexity, truth, wit, style, substance, and lyricism, to be hailed as the greatest Jay-Z verse of all time.
It is none other than the Public Service Announcement Interlude’s second verse:
Ving ain’t lie
I done came through the block in everything that’s fly
I’m like, Che Guevara with bling on, I’m complex
I never claimed to have wings on
*** I get my “by any means” on whenever there’s a drought
Get your umbrellas out because, that’s when I brainstorm
You can blame Shawn, but I ain’t invent the game
I just rolled the dice, tryin to get some change
And I’d do it twice, ain’t no sense in me
lyin as if, I am a different mayne
And I could blame my environment but
there ain’t no reason why I be buyin expensive chains
Hope you don’t think users are the only abusers ***
gettin high within the game
If you do then, how would you explain
I’m ten years removed, still the vibe is in my veins
I got a hustler’s spirit, *** period
Check out my hat yo, peep the way I wear it
Check out my swag’ yo, I walk like a ballplayer
No matter where you go, you are what you are player
And you can try to change but that’s just the top layer
Man, you was who you was ‘fore you got here
Only God can judge me, so I’m gone
Either love me, or leave me alone.
To be clear, I hate much of what Jay-Z raps about, and the life he appears to have lived before his foray into and utter domination of rap. At this exact moment, I can’t think of one single family member or close childhood friend who wasn’t deeply impacted by the social and communal scourge that was the crack cocaine epidemic. Everyone I knew was either addicted to it, a peddler of it, or helplessly connected by blood or fictive kinship ties to someone who was caught in its vice. As a person who saw firsthand, on an empirical level, the type of hell crack could unleash on a person, a family, and a community, I grew up detesting people who engaged in its trafficking.
And then, my beloved Hip Hop began to spiral into a toxic, codependent relationship with Crack. An instance of art imitating life, and in this case the unfortunate lives of literally millions of Black, Brown, and poor White people, who were cattle-herded into urban areas by circumstance, and forced to live where economic forecasts, and the prospects of realizing American dreams were bleak. It was destined to be. How could Hip Hop, which contained all of the hopes and lofty aspirations of a people forever in the margins of the very society it built, not also contain its deepest, ugliest, most fatal pathologies? If Hip Hop is the Stop the Violence Movement, three high school friends freestyling at lunch time, and “conscious” rap, then it is also Menace II Society, corporate suits devising exploitation schemes, and lyrics that reflect the critical levels of unconsciousness plainly visible in urban boroughs and towns across this country.
And that’s why I identify with Jay-Z in this song. In fact, I feel for him. He embodies it all. The good. The bad. The torture. The triumph. The proverbial yin and yang. He probably should have been dead, or locked under a jail somewhere. Instead, he’s the most successful, engaging, and thought-provoking rapper in Hip Hop. He is the success story that project parents point to while rearing their children, yet he is the same guy they once warned their children to stay away from and to avoid at all costs.
How he pulled this off is nothing short of fascinating. But what is clear is that Hip Hop, America, and Black folks were destined to create him, whether you love him or hate him. He has lived the American nightmare and has surpassed America’s loftiest dreams. I’m coppin Blueprint 3 when it comes out!