The year was 1997. (Insert laugh here). And I am cleaning the basement of my childhood home. My mom owned a daycare at the time and it was my turn to disinfect it, in its entirety. I was just about finished but I still had to mop. It was about two or three o’clock in the morning. That’s when the good, lyrical shit would play on the radio; at least in Detroit. Method Man’s “All I Need” just went off and the deejay said check out this new Jay-Z.
Full disclosure, I was originally a Nas fan. “The Message” off of “It Was Written” can still send me into a melodic, introspective trip. The line “a thug changes, and love changes and best friends become strangers” is always at the back of my mind when I interact with people. “It Was Written” taught me that change is inevitable; that it’s nature’s way. How “Street Dreams” drops next is supreme. I had seen the Reasonable Doubt videos, but I was the daughter of a middle class mother, whose father’s ambitions were a mystery; so I couldn’t relate.
Back to the basement, the beat dropped. I stopped mopping, long enough to listen—to feel it. The song was “A Million and One Questions/Rhyme No More.” I became a fanatic instantly. I sat in one of the yellow toddler chairs. I was just impressed with the word play. The thing about rap for me is that it lets you know that the King’s English is bastardly. It reaffirms that the things that we create as people whose hue is darker is sweeter. Worth stealing is what they could argue. Then, the beat switched mid song. And that was it for me. I’ve purchased every album since.
That break is also why I love me some Kendrick, reference “DNA” and “The Heart Part IV.” Furthermore, this idea that DJ Premier is somehow not succinctly sonic is the most asinine thought I’ve ever heard.
I have been waiting for this album since then. Jay-Z has since created valid songs but I’ve always felt like he was holding back. It’s not easy being vulnerable or speaking freely politically once you reach a certain status. On Magna Carta Holy Grail, I could hear Shawn seeping through and I definitely heard it on Jay Electronica’s “We Made It.” It was a long journey for true fans. We had to endure through two best of both worlds. [Disclaimer: I did not buy these albums. I abhor the Pied Piper and individuals like him]. His crossover status meant not hearing B-side records at concerts. Honesty is probably the most lyrical way to approach any song. We ask for responsible, conscious artist; what is better than rapping about the importance of family, wealth and the necessity of maturity.
I won’t critique this album like I have others, because it’s much too precious. Each song has something to offer. Each song left my soul full. I will say this (insert laugh here too). I can appreciate that he didn’t just have Damian Marley on the chorus of the song.
Now, back to my all day listening party.
Yo… a thug changes, love changes, best friends become strangers. You took that alllllll the way back. But yea 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾 … amazing job Shawn. Way to grow up, be vulnerable, and tell the truth to the kids.