Jay-Z And Charles Dickens Linked
I was reading about a a shooting in Marcy’s Projects last week –a thirteen year old boy shot to death. I bet somethings don’t change, not even when you up a modern day Madison Square Garden a stones throw from the place you were raised slinging crack rock. Even when you don’t get dropped, you drop the label. There ain’t enough distance to tear yourself away from it.
Being raised in a single parent household in Marcy’s Projects haunts Jay-Z the way being a child laborer in London haunted Charles Dickens. It isn’t the subtext of their work, it isn’t something you have to search out to find. It is there. Always. Right in front of you. All the bragging, all the millions and millions, all the misanthropic loathing: all of it comes from the Marcy Projects.
Jay-Z can’t get past his childhood and I don’t realy blame him but I am sick of hearing about it. This sense of where he has been and how it effects where he is going is where Magna Carta And Holy Grail is really at: the art references are a bugaboo, the charted fashionista money wasta, life is one big accessory . What bothers Jay-Z as an adult is what bothered Dickens: he can’t get past his being abused and ignored as a child, he can’t get used to being a hardcase, one mutation away from a life of sin, one day away from life in prison.
Then he is stuck, looking at everything he has, reveling in it, spending an album really telling you about it, but still (I know it is a Frank Ocean line but it is a Jay-Z’s presentiment) the point is worry whether his black skin will make his white tux dirty. It’s the best line on the album because he is also always trying to get over it, to deny it. Chris Rock once said, “No white person here would want to be me and I’m rich”. Jay-Z’s fight with himself, and with his past, is poverty laced, fatherless, mean mean really really mean streets and incipient racism which follows him about and which is money can’t besmirch and his fame can’t belie. Jay-Z can’t walk the streets because of his fame and he is still not feeling the respect he wants, he desires, he prefers.
From black and poor to black and rich. Now what? Music saves West but it can’t save Jay-Z because West proves his superiority through his songs and Jay-Z wants to prove it with his boot at your throat. He wants you to look at him and think, damn I wish I was Jay-Z. I wish I had all his money, and power, and smarts and looks and wives and women. I want to be him.
With the Black Album and the awesome Fade To Black concert, Jay-Z stopped himself. He became a business man, he became a member of society, a CFO, a money machine. Because he wanted to stop, not being black as such, but of having to deal out in a secondary world. He wanted to play with the big boys. But his problem was that his skills lay elsewhere. Is it any surprise that the closest he has come to a great album since then is American Gangster?
What Jay-Z does best is fight his past through sheer willpower. On Magna Carta, he is consistently getting up close to his demons and then doubling back. He keeps on looking at himself and not being certain what he is seeing so he responds with bluster and because he is a great rapping and rhyming, he does it very well. All the best songs here have bluster to spare. But it isn’t really fun whereas Kanye West is and the reason is completely counter-intuitive. West is satisfied and Jay-Z isn’t.
Forget the obvious question, is Magna good? And ask another question: is it his best in awhile.? Will it build somewhere? It might. “BBC” builds on “N—-s In Paris” and take it somewhere fun (I wish Kanye was on it –it misses him), “Jay-Z Blue” is a future history, it is Biblical in this sense: “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” Jay-Z’s father’s absenteeism was suffered by Jay-Z and will be suffered by Blue. Or at least that is the fear.
So why is the album so bland. Yeah, OK, there is hidden depths and an inner struggle but it shows itself, it appears as egocentric self-satisfaction. Have you ever had a friend who is really good with the women tell you about his conquests. After awhile you’re like “OK, I got it, I get the concept, move on already”. Stuff like “Picasso Baby”, a song I don’t hate, gives me a headache. It is like “American Psycho” –check the fucking tags yourself.
As good as it can sound, it drags. By the last two songs of the album, it is enough already.