On "Do It Again (Put Ya Hands Up)," the party-hearty first single from Jay-Z's new album, the Brooklyn-bred rapper and cohorts Beanie Sigel and Amil warn would-be competitors that "the game is over, we'll never foul out/ you all just better hope we gracefully bow out."
Don't expect that to happen any time soon, though: "Vol. 3--The Life and Times of S. Carter" (Roc-A-Fella) is solid platinum, chock-full of hot tracks and sharp lyric attacks on pretenders, player-haters and critics of hip-hop's current No. 1 hit man.
"Do It Again" and the posse cut "Pop 4 Roc" both recall the skittish rhythms of "Can I Get a . . ."; the latter drafts not only Amil, the female rapper who first broke big on "Can I Get," but Sigel and Memphis Bleek, who look ready to stake their own claims. As Sigel puts it, "I bring heat like June and July/ spit like August/ I'm the truth I'm not lying/ I'm the reason Jay-Z feels comfortable retiring."
And that's unlikely to happen any time soon because, as Jay-Z puts it on the opening track, "I consistently take 'em out of the park like Ken Griffey." The album is full of reputation-building swagger, cataloguing of lyrical skills and autobiographical perspective. On the defiant "Come and Get Me," Jay-Z, using his given name, muses, "Whoever thought Shawn Carter would change the game/ used to rap on the raindrops off my windowpane." On the lighthearted "Things That U Do," a Swizz Beats track with a burbling backing chorus by Mariah Carey, he points out he "could've got lost in the system/ instead I'm involved with the rhythm." And on "Hova Song," Jay-Z himself boasts "I'm the illest nigga/ prove me wrong!"
Cropping up on several tracks, the "Hova" business (as in "Jehovah") is part of an annoying megalomania that undermines the album. It's particularly evident on "Dope Man," part of a played-out tradition of scenarios in which rappers go on trial for real or imagined crimes. This time, Jay-Z serves up Brooklyn biography ("as a prisoner of circumstance/ frail nigga, I couldn't much work with my hands/ but my mind was strong"), defends himself against attacks from both within and without the rap community, and eventually triumphs against all. Running commentary is provided by MTV's Serena Altschul, which should make for an interesting video, equal parts MTV and Court TV!
Aside from Carey, there are few guests from outside the Roc-A-Fella roster: Dr. Dre makes an appearance on "Watch Me" (Jay-Z ghostwrote "Still D.R.E." on Dre's comeback album) and Juvenile brings a little Dirty South bounce to "Snoopy Track." The latter is one of four produced by Timbaland, and they're all strong, particularly "It's Hot (Some Like It Hot)" with its snappy bass-and-handclap frame, and "Big Pimpin'," with its sinewy, swirling Middle Eastern melody.
Another Timbaland track, "Come and Get Me," is a compelling challenge to all comers and critics, as well as a spirited defense of Jay-Z's success: "I ain't crossed over/ I brought the suburbs to the hood/ made 'em relate to your struggle, told 'em about your hustle/ went on MTV with doo-rags/ I made them love you/ you know normally them people wouldn't be [expletive] with you/ till I made them understand why you do what you do."
Other highlights include the DJ Premier-produced "So Ghetto" and "There's Been a Murder," built on a mesmerizing Alana Davis sample. The album also includes two hidden tracks, though they're listed on the back cover as "bonus hidden tracks." Easter eggs are harder to find.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8181.)
DMX, ". . . And Then There Was X"
DMX (a k a Earl Simmons) favors the staccato delivery sometimes used by Jay-Z, but his raspy, aggressive growl is much more in-your-ear and confrontational. That's particularly true when he projects an edgy, adrenaline rush on tracks like "One More Road to Cross," a Gothic funk-robbery scenario fueled by a buzzing bass line, and "The Professional," the tale of a psycho hit man whose mantra is "I gotta pop-pop-pop-pop."
". . . And Then There Was X" (Def Jam/Ruff Ryders) is DMX's third album in less than two years and it's pretty much in keeping with its immediate predecessors, "Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood" and "It's Dark and Hell Is Hot." It's full of in-your-face defiance ("Comin' for Ya") and unwelcomes-to-the-neighborhood ("More 2 A Song"). When he's not defending his turf on "What's My Name" ("DMX and I be the best/ you see the others looking like they need a rest"), he's being harshly judgmental on "Here We Go Again," in which compassion for a transgressing posse member leads to betrayal and worse.
There are several infectious, up-tempo jams--"Party Up" and "Good Girls, Bad Guys"--but women don't fare any better in these lyrics than wannabe rap stars. The worst offender is "What These [Expletive] Want," a duet with Dru Hill's Sisqo in which they resort to a lame listing of conquests a la Lou Bega. On the introspective "Fame," DMX tries to enlist our sympathies over the perils of, well, fame, money, success, stardom: "What it is about who I am that makes me unforgettable?/ Is it about what I've done that makes it so incredible?/ Mo money, mo problems." It's a silly conceit, but effectively put over thanks to a taut, propulsive track by Grease.
Overall, the music is strong, courtesy of a Ruff Ryders production team anchored by Swizz Beats and P. Killer Trackz. Also making a good showing is producer Irv Gotti on "Angel," a ruminative track featuring singer Regina Bell. In it, DMX engages in testy dialogue with God, clearly a move up after his last album's "The Omen," where he spoke to the Devil.
Though this new album is replete with violent, sexist imagery that the Devil would likely enjoy, DMX also includes the recitation "Prayer III." Like the previous album's "Ready to Meet Him," it is a heartfelt reflection on social responsibility, a humble sermon delivered from the bully pulpit of rap stardom. Unfortunately, it's out of sync with the rest of ". . . And Then There Was X."
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8182.)