TOP TRACK: “99 Problems”
The Black Album was supposed to be Jay-Z’s last. After seven years of cutting an album a year – no small feat, by any measure – the legendary emcee announced that he was leaving the world of hip-hop for good.
Thankfully, that was not the case. But even if his career had ended at The Black Album, Jay-Z would still have quite a legacy. In fact, no album epitomizes his story and relevance in American pop culture quite like this one. On it, Jay-Z molds the image of hip-hop from a gritty, angry sonic landscape to one of class, style and sophistication.
Lyrically, he has never been more playful than on The Black Album. Be it the pure cockiness of “Public Service Announcement” or the venomous onslaught of “Threat,” Jay-Z contrasts the fire of his words with the stark ease of his relaxed delivery. Even better, A-list producers like Pharrell and Kanye West back him with soulful and refined instrumentation. More than the highlight of Jay-Z’s career, this is the sound of hip-hop transitioning from ruggedness to grace.
— Greg Fitton