Jay-Z: Vol. 3... Life And Times Of S. Carte

Jay-Z: Vol. 3... Life And Times Of S. Carte

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Jay-Z

Album: Vol. 3... Life And Times Of S. Carte

For the past year or so, Jay-Z has withstood everything from massive overexposure (he seemed to release a new single every few weeks) to the odd arrest, to an ultra-commercial collaboration with Mariah Carey. Sure, Jay-Z is overwhelmingly arrogant, but at his best ("Brooklyn's Finest," "Friend Or Foe"), he turns cockiness into an art form, soaring like Michael Jordan over a sea of contenders to his throne. On his fourth album, however, he seems to be treading water, coasting on his reputation and authoritative voice in lieu of anything more substantial to say than what a wonderful thing it is to be Jay-Z and how much it must suck to be anyone else. It should serve as a warning sign that in the liner notes to Vol. 3... Life And Times Of S. Carter, he reprints some of his best-loved verses, and only one comes from the new album. Vol. 3 is not without its highlights—"Big Pimpin'," featuring a spotlight-grabbing turn from UGK, "It's Hot (Some Like It Hot)," and the first single, "Do It Again (Put Ya Hands Up)," all stand out—but nothing approaches the emotional complexity or pop savvy of his best work. Jay-Z has exhibited such potent lyrical skills that it's frustrating to hear him on such weak tracks as "Things That U Do," a rinky-dink Swizz Beatz concoction that sounds like it was made using a pocket-sized toy keyboard. Even worse, Jay-Z recruits such heavy hitters as Juvenile and Dr. Dre, only to keep either from spitting a single verse. Speaking of Dre, it's unexpected and disappointing that the best song Jay-Z has written in the past year isn't on this album; it's the ghostwritten "Still D.R.E.," a song more propulsive and resonant than anything here. Jay-Z has said in interviews that he wants Vol. 3 to be his Thriller, but it's more like his Dangerous, good enough in its own right but nowhere near the home run he intended.