By C. Patterson
You can probably bet that somewhere sitting in a dimly lit swanky Manhattan hotel’s presidential penthouse is a gruff but soft spoken man with the body of your father, the mind of your mentor, and the tenacity of the really good kid on your high school rival’s basketball team silently orchestrating his next move. I don’t use the word orchestrating haphazardly. Jay-Z has evolved past planning and has undoubtedly surpassed the level of success that strategizing can afford. To reach the echelon of success that this media juggernaut has, you do nothing less than orchestrate your moves – producing a symphonic chain reaction the likes of which Beethoven would be proud of. Beyoncé’s husband is a bit of a thinker.
Fresh off a radio promo tour for his new album Magna Carta Holy Grail, rap’s perennial ambassador seems for now at least to be a comfortable man. Not because of his economic status, which by the last count from Forbes is substantial ($500 million), but rather comfortable in his own skin – skin that has seen the appearance of a few more wrinkles as he creeps towards his 44th birthday. That milestone is more of tombstone in hip-hop years, yet the genres brightest star just doesn’t seem to care.
Which leaves me to wonder, why should he? Did anyone tell Sting on his on his 60th birthday to put down the guitar or tell B.B. King on his 85th, 86th, or 87th birthdays that the singing the blues is a young man’s game? So why is Jay-Z being prompted to pick his spot out in the pasture? Perhaps it’s that we unanimously agree that Jay can finally rest easy knowing that his name is as eternal in our culture as Tupac and Biggie and we just think it’s better if he goes on to the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton-like concert victory lap of semi-retirement. Go out to perform to sold out stadiums every so often, play your hits and smile because the people adore you. Sure you’ll still record new music but only your diehard fans want it because we all love your old stuff and thought that you were better back then. But Shawn Corey Carter isn’t ready to play shuffleboard with The Beastie Boys just yet. The way he sees it his story hasn’t reached an endpoint yet. But we are the ones left with the choice to bob our heads or not.
The release of MCHG was in no way, shape, or form a swan song for Hova and maybe we are all the better for it. Let’s be honest with ourselves, the over the imaginary hill rapper’s album was at the very least one of the ten best releases of the year so far. It was a complete and well-put together work of art that would have for any other artist been held as a masterpiece, but because we cynically skew the judgment because this particular artist has more classic material than we deem appropriate, we say that it’s good but not great. We criticize his talent for not being as impressive as…well…his talent.
Now, it’s pretty fair to ponder that Hov’s biggest years are likely in the rearview mirror, but that doesn’t mean that every record from here on out will be subpar – especially when par for him would be Grammy worthy. Could you imagine how short your life would be if you only got to live on your most amazing days? In between those amazing days were some pretty damned good days that you wouldn’t mind reliving either. Then there were fair days and shitty ones – so on and so forth. What makes life great aren’t just the awesome days, what makes it worth the experience is the collective work. The same goes for an artist, Jay-Z’ journey from Reasonable Doubt (1996) to MCHG (2013) up until whenever his final album is released is the measure of his career. It would be doing ourselves and music a disservice to mute that sound before its time. That being said, I do think “Big Pimpin” will have a slightly different affect on us when a 64-year-old is rapping it. Then again it’s our choice to stay “Forever Young” or not.