When speaking of the best hip hop album in the 2000s, people automatically think Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, Nas’ Stillmatic, Ja Rule’s Pain Is Love, and 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’. All of those albums were great albums and they were defining points of hip hop in the 2000s. One album that is often overlooked is Jay-Z’s final studio album.
People always credit Jay-Z for The Blueprint. They deem the album as a classic and one of the best albums in history. The album was all of those things, but it is not the best album of the decade. For that matter, the album is not even the best from Jay-Z. That honor would have to go to The Black Album. At the time, Jay-Z had grown tired of hip hop and he decided to call it quits.
Since it was his last album, he went all out for it. He tried things that he had never tried before, after all it was his last album. When a person knows that they are leaving, they experiment. Then, Jay-Z was certain that he would never release another album, so he was not afraid of damaging his brand with such songs as “99 Problems.” Had Jay-Z planned to return with another album in 2004, that song would have never been recorded.
Frequently, this album is lost in such a long discography. While his best creative effort came only a few months ago, he was at his lyrical peak with The Black Album. Jay-Z came with signature Jay-Z style, but on beats that he had never tried before. Never before had there been an album that was goodbye-themed. It was not so much his lyricism that makes this album so great, it was the fact that Jay-Z was leaving.
He spoke almost directly to his fans. Finally, he opened up and told, fully, of his past as a drug dealer, and he spoke of his strained relationship with his father. On this album, Jay-Z reminisced about the good times and even shed light on the bad times. It was all because this was his last time out doing this. Never before had a rapper been so candid on an album. This album also affected the hip hop world, because there have been too many rappers to count that have planned “retirement” albums.
It is not even that, once Jay-Z released The Black Album, there were so many mixtapes that were named after colors. They were all based off of this album and they featured remixes of the songs that made up this album. One phrase that has been thrown around for the past few years has been the “Best Rapper Alive” phrase. It originated from this album and the single, “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” has been sampled by too many artists to count. For three years after the album was released, it was also a popular slang term.
One of the biggest Jay-Z detractors of the decade has been Compton rapper, Game. But, even he pays homage to The Black Album. He does this on his 2006 album, Doctor’s Advocate. The album has been such an inspiration to Game that he is titling his 2010 album, The R.E.D. Album. On top of that, many other artists have paid homage to The Black Album.
With as many albums as Jay-Z has released, it is hard to pick a favorite. For some reason, this album is always lost among such titles as Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint, American Gangster, and The Blueprint 3. In their own way and in other opinions, these are all Jay-Z’s best albums. But, it would be unfair to pick any of those albums as album of the decade. First off, Reasonable Doubt was released in the 1990s and the other two albums did not affect the hip hop culture the way that The Black Album has.
Before the release of this album, rappers only talked about retiring. Without the release of this album, the phrase, “I have 99 problems, but a b*tch ain’t one” would not be as popular as it is. Right now, Game would not be in the studio preparing The R.E.D. Album and there would not be as many rappers retiring as there are. Plus, many rappers would not have had hit singles because they could not have sampled “Dirt Off Your Shoulder.” T.I.’s buzz would have never grown the way that it did and Juvenile would have fallen off long before 2006.
Hands down, The Black Album by Jay-Z is the album of the decade.