Rappers don't retire, they get chubby and move to Miami. In Jay-Z's case, his faux-retirement attempt in 2003 appeared to be the perfect exit from the rap game. In fact, one theme is consistent throughout Kingdom Come, Jay's first album since he angrily tossed his mike on "What More Can I Say"; he doesn't want to be here. Which begs the billion dollar question: why come back? Simple: Hov's long term ambition is to earn the coveted "Greatest Rapper" insignia. What would Biggie and Pac sound like if they had managed to live another ten years? Jay, now 37, reluctantly answers that question with Kingdom Come.
Jay-Z Backpedals on 'Kingdom Come'
Perhaps the most obvious testament to Jay's reluctance to un-retire is "The Prelude" which finds him contemplating: "Forget this rap sh** I need a new hustle.../ I say that reluctantly because I do love you.../10 year veteran I been said I been/ Through with this b**s**t game but I never can." The subject is revisited on "30 Something," where Hov dreams of being "somewhere under palm trees/ Calmly listenin' to R&B," and on the Chris Martin-blessed "Beach Chair" where he wakes up on a beach chair.
An Unnecessary Plan "B"
Essentially, Kingdom Come is Jay "getting his grown-man on," as evidenced on the aforementioned "30 Something." The problem is, he sounds tired, if not grumpy, for the most part. That's understandable, seeing as Hov has Beyonce and Cristal to worry about these days. He taps the former for the album's worst collaboration ("Hollywood"), and makes it a point to namecheck the latter, while acknowledging that it's not an important issue.
What really ruins Kingdom Come is not the boring ode to strippers ("Anything" featuring Usher), it's not even the minimalistic Just Blaze-prepped single "Show Me What You Got." It's the shabby production that bugs down this album. Chief collaborator Dr. Dre, who supplies five tracks here, only shines on two of those: "Lost One" and "Minority Report." Swizz Beatz's "Dig A Hole" rivals Neptunes' "Anything" for the worst production on Kingdom Come.
Jay-Z vs. Naysayers
Predictably, Jigga resurrects his inner thug and lets mudslingers have it throughout Kingdom Come, particularly on "Dig A Hole." Put all comparisons to "Takeover" aside and this is still an embarassing battle track by Jay-Z standards. But, even on his worst day, Jay has moments of bliss: "Only time you went plat/ My chain was on your neck, that's a natural fact."
Surprisingly, Jay sounds more compelling when he lets it all hang out. Take "Lost One," for instance, sans the silly Shakespearian sommersault ("So we ain't we/ It's me and her.../ So I have to allow she her time to serve"). Over Dr. Dre's electrifying piano shower, Jay flips rhymes about emotional setback, romantic dysfunction, and loss, modulating his oft-imitated flow on each verse. Another highlight is "Minority Report," a heartwrenching response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Teary-eyed, Jay cracks as he rails against President Bush’s inaction in New Orleans. A backdrop of rain, interspersed with news reports plays, as Jay gripes about women and children on rooftops. Remarkably, he stops to admit his own guilt: "Sure I ponied up a mill but I didn't give my time/ So in reality I didn't give a dime/ Or a damn... I just put my moneys in the hands/ Of the same people that left my people stranded."
The Bottom Line on 'Kingdom Come'
Where The Blueprint showcased Hov's ability to rebound in the face of adversity and solidified his status as one of the best living emcees, Kingdom Come reveals a wishy-washy Jay-Z. Unlike the superhero from the 1996 D.C. comic that inspired Jay's album title, this self-anointed rap Superman falls flat on his face this time.Top Tracks from Kingdom Come
- "Oh My God"
- "Kingdom Come"
- "Do U Wanna Ride"
- "Minority Report"
- "Beach Chair"