Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On the Down Low

Retirement is not permanent. Not in boxing. Not in entertainment – especially not in the rap game. Anyone who was surprised that Jay-Z released his “Kingdom Come” comeback CD after “quitting” to head up Def Jam, well, Kanye and Fiddy have a bridge they wanna sell you.

However, I was surprised to hear recently that Jay-Z has another album coming out – less than a year after his last one. I first heard the news, and I kind of groaned a little bit – we all know what can happen when a comeback is hurried into the marketplace before the audience is actually hungry for it.

I had heard nothing about this until a piece came out in the NYT about Jay-Z’s new record and its ties to the upcoming American Gangster macho Oscar bait from Ridley Scott. Apparently the whole album is “inspired” by the Russell Crowe – Denzel Washington scenery chew-fest.

“It immediately clicked with me,” said Jay-Z, who has made passing references to gangster movies in previous recordings but has never delved so deeply into the genre. “Like ‘Scarface,’ or any one of those films, you take the good out of it, and you can see it as an inspiring film.” – NYT

So far, none of this sounds good to me. It’s too soon, the album seems to be shackled to a film which makes it more of a marketing piece than inspired creation. And of course, Jigga’s last music was very underwhelming.

And I was also troubled by the over the top look of the videos for Kingdom Come. Sure Jay looked amazing selling Budweiser in that Monaco Tourism Board spot – but was that what we wanted from Hova? Most people passed on Kingdom Come, which made me question even more the motives for Jay’s quick come-back. All signs pointed to a bloated, ego-fueled disaster … then I saw ...

The clip for “Blue Magic” – all stripped back menace and desolate urban drug rhymes. This is Jay out coke-ing the Clipse – as raw and real a record as Jay has made in years (ever?). My fears went out the window – at least for this first song. This is the b/w intensity of “99 Problems” with the late-night, broken-glass beats that first got Pharrell noticed. Hell, Jay's not even in the damn vid.

The video has been added and pulled all over the web. Anyone who has a stable link should send it along to me. But you should def watch the video - my rambling will make more sense. Try onsmash or YouToogle.

Read the NYT interview and you can see that Jay seems really amped up by the movie that the album is inspired by. Jay has spent a few years being professionally non-plussed so that kind of fire seems like a good thing.

The clip – directed by Rik Cordero – feels like an episode of “The Wire” come to life with a million and one things sure to make MTV/BET nervous (but watch them still play it anyway – it is JAY after all). This video (or “trailer” ?!?) is all the things that “Show Me” was not – and that is a good thing.

Jay has been a lot of things, but he must have realized that “self-satisfied mogul" is not a persona that we are too interested in. Bigger is not necessarily better. This first track off American Gangster heads in a new direction and the video (assuming this is the “real” video for the track) is spot on perfect for the music.

All in all, “Blue Magic” seems like the perfect comeback video – and Jay (label prez and artist) didn’t have to pay a million bucks for it either.

Update - over on antville, spit posted this link to photos from Pharrell's blog. These images apparently show the "real" video shoot being directed by Hype. Sigh. My enthusiasm is waning as I see the glossy cars and flashing light sets. Who knows if this glossy stuff will be intercut with the b/w drug stuff or if this trailer is really just a teaser to up the street cred.

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Oh let's call it a trailer. The b/w seems more inspired by the cover art for the film than in "99 Problems", where it was the goal to give a "pseudo-documentary" of his own death. (aka retirement)

That was, the only Jay Z video, and song, I've ever liked, and the concept itself was refreshing and different, not at all like his normal flash and awe.

The name in lights gimmick is slightly disheartening, but I believe from what I've seen of the trailer for the film, he intends to cross over the concepts of being an OG, then and now.

For the record, all of his features seem to do that.

But we'll see, afterall, it's not like he actually saw the film before he created the album, that means he did extra research or knew the story behind the film all along.

Either way, he's going to take it seriously, or he would have stayed "dead", especially after all that hype.
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